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​We think, therefore WeChat: The rise and rise of the people’s ecosystems

​We think, therefore WeChat: The rise and rise of the people’s ecosystems

As CIOs, if you aren’t adding Asian ecosystem platforms into your repertoire of consumer options, you’ve already fallen behind.

I’m not at all surprised by the recent news that Tencent has broken into the top 10 global companies by market cap. Nearly 889 million people now choose to socialise, message, consume and share content, buy, sell and ‘virtually live’ online in its WeChat ecosystem. That’s well over half of China’s 1.4 billion population and over 10 per cent of the world’s 7.5 billion population.

Where’s this heading? Over the edge into a more sophisticated, curated and consumer-centric digital life. How do we respond in traditional Western markets? As CIOs, if you aren’t adding Asian ecosystem platforms into your repertoire of consumer options, you’ve already fallen behind.

Your post-Easter action plan – a ‘strategy+’ – should be short, sharp and Asia-oriented. Prioritise a new task to the top of your innovation portfolio, actioned in a few sprints – explore rising Asian platform options; design fast- track experiments; influence decision makers; identify risks and opportunities; and deliver tangible executive level advice.

Don’t wait until the end of the year. Aim for July 2017. To ignore this phenomena, or fear/dismiss it, is arguably irresponsible for your enterprise.

Last year I was a WeChat naive. The rise and rise of this people's ecosystem first struck me, unexpectedly, at an unlikely venue – a business panel at a Melbourne Fashion Festival in March 2016.

My ears pricked up when WeChat was included in a set of usual suspects for social media platforms that fashion retailers were told were ‘the new black’. Be there or be square, if you want to sell to China.

I found, I downloaded, I WeChat-ted and I was conquered. I loved the WeChat interface design, which the company says takes hard work to keep simple. I marvelled at the app options including WePay. The cohesion of QR codes to identify and connect with people, products and things was an eye-opener – no need to use text to search. And the simple intuitive functionality was a quick study.

I found a whole new world where my colleagues in China were ‘WeChat-ting’ away day and night. Better conversations than Twitter; more extensive photo and video options than Instagram (and even Snapchat at that time); and less noise and angst than Facebook. Despite some occasional translation issues due to my poor grasp of Mandarin and inability to use the character set on my smartphone, I was hooked on this compelling ecosystem.

The great success of digital-born companies in China, like Alibaba and Tencent, is making more Chinese enterprises want to build or participate in digital ecosystems.

Sixty-one per cent of CIOs in China today work in enterprises that are building or participating in digital ecosystems, according to Gartner’s 2017 CIO Agenda survey. This is higher than the 49 per cent global average, which is the same for Australia and New Zealand. Seventy-eight per cent of these Chinese enterprises are running their digital ecosystem, significantly higher than the global average of 60 per cent.

The big drivers are revenue growth and the compelling incentive of a central government push. The Chinese government's “Internet Plus” action plan encourages more Chinese enterprises, especially state-owned enterprises, to explore a new and digital way to work with their customers, vendors and other partners.

Chinese CIOs are focused on digital priorities, rather than on traditional IT. They want their businesses to reap the benefits of digitalisation. They spend, on average, 28 per cent of their IT budgets on digitalisation. In 2018, Gartner expects this number will increase to 39 per cent. Both numbers are around 10 per cent higher than the global average.

If you’re a CIO operating in an Australian-based business or public sector agency, the rise and rise of digital business in Asia should spring you into action. Share this information with your CEO and accelerate your organisation’s efforts to seize the digital ecosystem opportunity with both hands – building, running and participating.

You should be excited and inspired to be operating in a region with over half the world’s population, where we can rationally expect to see more Asian-based digital giants rise.

Plan your tactics. Prioritise your digital investments. Embrace these interesting (digital) times.

Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner’s CIO Advisory team. Previously, she has served as a CIO in global enterprises, held VP and GM roles in consulting and technology firms, worked as a hands-on enterprise agile coach, an innovation lead and a digital transformation director.

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