Why Data Is the Most Valuable Commodity in China Now

Jeremy Goh

General Manager (China)

In China today, a smartphone is arguably more important than a wallet. The gadget has become an all-in-one device that meets every need, ranging from hailing a taxi to making payment.

In fact, the country leads the world when it comes to e-payment. The People’s Bank of China estimated in a report that close to 780 million people – more than half the country’s population – are using mobile payments in 2020.

Data has been key to this digital revolution. It has also played a critical role when China was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the city of Wuhan struggled to accommodate an explosive rise in cases, authorities built the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital in just 10 days – a remarkable engineering feat that would have been impossible without data sharing.

The hospital showed the power of data at work. During construction, developers harnessed digital tools like Building Information Modelling (BIM) that allowed hundreds of BIM designers to work on the project collectively. Onsite, a digital management platform precisely coordinated thousands of construction machines to work simultaneously.

To rally people behind the building efforts, the construction of the hospital was live streamed, with an estimated 25 million Chinese netizens tuning in and offering comments of encouragement.

China wants to continue building up its data expertise as it enters a human-first digital era. Now, the country wants to further harness data to increase more connections among people and enhance sustainability within cities.

Singapore’s digital capabilities complements China’s efforts. The city-state is well positioned to collaborate with China, as both nations look to help people get the best experience from going digital.

Harvesting data, creating experiences

Just two decades ago, China did not even possess the infrastructure to provide the most basic Information and Communications (ICT) technology. But today, the country is home to tech behemoths like Alibaba and Tencent, and is a leading proponent of using data.

In a Sensemaking Maturity Index study by market research firm Forrester in 2020, China topped the table when it comes to turning data into relevant insights. Without proper data, it is impossible to predict what people want, and how products and services can better serve them. Sharing this data also keeps productivity high. With a common platform, companies no longer need separate data centres. This avoids the need for repeated investments while still providing services at high standards.

Data can also be converted into relevant information and applied practically. For example, online platforms can rely on data to implement better user interfaces and provide more personalised experiences.

With greater data sharing, however, security becomes a graver concern. A key priority is to ensure that the information shared is not misused. A universal standard for information protection is needed, a solution that we hope to develop.

Singapore expertise, Chinese connectivity

Singapore is also looking to ride on the data wave. In 2015, we signed a framework agreement with the Chongqing Government to enhance connectivity in four main areas: financial, transport and logistics, aviation and ICT.

Through this agreement, we hope to combine the vast Chinese talent pool with our expertise to formulate digital solutions that bolsters connectivity and sustainability that drive towards digitalisation of smart cities.

We have had the chance to showcase our capabilities in China. Over at the Xiantao Big Data Valley in Chongqing, our smart street lighting has not only lit up the district, but was also used to improve the city’s liveability. Cameras and sensors attached are able to observe traffic flow, parking lots availability, crowd behaviour, and even environmental conditions such as temperature and air quality.

The data collected have the potential to be used for better planning of services so as to improve the quality of life for residents. For example, we are exploring the possibility of lamp posts to serve multiple purposes. They can be used as charging points for electric vehicles, or serve as a public warning system for floods and other natural disasters.

We have also introduced autonomous shuttle services that are able to customise their routes. During non-peak hours, commuters can use an app to book these buses to pick them up. Their safety is ensured, as the vehicles have advanced sensors to navigate complex traffic situations.

All this is only possible with the effective integration of data into the various systems – from street lighting to autonomous shuttles. For instance, the combination of a global navigation satellite system, ultrasonic sensors, and the buses’ capability to harness high definition mapping data ensures that these vehicles are safe and secure when ferrying passengers on the road.

To further enhance safety, these fleets will be actively monitored by a robotics management system, allowing for instantaneous responses to any emergencies.

The potential of data is limitless. Through greater collaboration between both countries, we can use data to produce specific solutions and services never thought possible. Lives will improve and cities will become safer, more vibrant and sustainable.

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