Gartner: how Chinese companies have adapted to COVID-19

By Daniel Sun
Daniel Sun, Research Vice President at Gartner discusses the successes Chinese company’s have had when adapting to COVID-19...

When the Hangzhou Intime department store in China realised customers would not be able to access its brick-and-mortar location during the COVID-19 quarantine, it partnered with Taobao of Alibaba Group to focus on a new channel — social marketing. Using its own employees and sales clerks to host, Hangzhou Intime reported one livestream event generated the same as pre-coronavirus weekly in store sales.

This partnership enabled them to maintain relationships with their customers and, more importantly, build up a positive cash flow channel that continued to bear fruit even as stores opened and the lockdown was lifted. 

Essentially all businesses were affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Those that demonstrated innovation increased business model resilience and adapted to the new business environment.

Under such challenging circumstances, China provides some great examples of business model resilience among companies within traditional industries that the rest of the world can learn from.

Two types of Chinese organisations demonstrating strong business model resilience were those that leveraged digital giants successfully and those with a strong automation foundation.

Partnering with digital giants

With movie theatres closed during the coronavirus outbreak, Huanxi Media risked losing millions of dollars on its movie “Lost in Russia.” The company partnered with ByteDance, a digital media platform best known for TikTok, as a new distribution channel for the movie specifically because the platform covers the majority of the movie’s target audience. As a result, Huanxi earned $91 million and a share of the advertising revenue.

More than 40% of CIOs and IT leaders consider their relationship with digital dragons (a more impressive subset of digital giants) to be tactical and view them solely as technology providers. In addition, less than 2% of businesses think of the digital dragons as strategic business partners. This is a major mindset issue, which makes CIOs and IT leaders a main “barrier” to companies partnering with digital giants to raise business model resilience.

These numbers may change as the world recovers from the pandemic because the giants emerge and recover relatively strong. CIOs might also still shy away from partnering with the competition, however, the reality is that many of these partnerships forged during the crisis have proven successful for both parties and will be built upon.

A fundamental step for successfully leveraging digital giants is to evaluate your current business models and see if they fit within it, only then can you decide where to use digital giants in order to optimise your activities and plans. 

Leverage automation successfully

Automation is not something that every company can achieve immediately however, it evidently and undoubtably helps companies to successfully navigate crisis recovery in China and across the world. If the COVID-19 pandemic becomes cyclical, automation can allow companies to navigate any future instances of this pandemic more comfortably and economically. Given that the achievement of automation is largely driven by digital technologies and capabilities, CIOs should take the lead. 

A rapid and successful deployment of automation was when China Minsheng Bank (CMB) invested heavily in digital transformation and process automation for years. It knew the business loan application process could be cumbersome and complicated, which was not ideal for the organisations most in need during a pandemic.

CMB created a new product supply chain product with the capability to review online applications, verify accounts, mange online lending and automatically approval the right customers. The product reduced the approval process time to 30 minutes which massively improved customer experience and CMB’s operational effectiveness which made it an attractive offering for businesses during the pandemic and today. 

Obviously, it’s not possible to automate every piece of the business, but you should look for vulnerable areas where frequent human error, slow completion time and tedious manual work are the main issues. Once these areas are identified, work with stakeholders to match them with the key automation technology instead of always relying on better skilled labour. 

By focusing on the three key technologies of automation: robotic process automation, intelligent business process management suites, and integration platform as a service, businesses can find a solution to almost all of their automation needs.

For organisations looking to establish automation during the post-COVID-19 recovery, hiring an entirely new team to build your automated system isn’t feasible. Instead, look to current employee skill sets and try to leverage those by upskilling and reskilling you best talent.

Focus then on minimum viability automations over fully comprehensive automation to reach milestone that earn you more time to invest. It is an organisation-wide project and by keep less tech-savvy stakeholders looped into the process the end result will strongly focus on achieving key business priorities more effectively.

For more information on business topics in Asia Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief APAC.

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