Speaking at the Transforming Dreams into Successful Business event yesterday, Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma shared four trends about how the business world will progress alongside new technologies.
1. It's all about data
For Ma, big data presents enormous opportunities for the next two or three decades, with big data and related automation such as cloud computing at the forefront.
"A lot of people think these types of automation will take jobs away from humans but actually they will bring good things to society. Data is what we need to enter the age of creation," Ma said.
"In a sense, our businesses seem to be in technology or finance or eCommerce but at the end of the day, even Taobao is just another way of managing and sharing data - that's the core of what we do. The data is not ours and we simply process data for other people."
He sees no short-term and permanent solutions to privacy and cybersecurity being found right now. Instead, they present opportunities for the younger generation to find solutions to them, riding on an earlier point he made in his speech about how people's complaints about a problem are actually veiled business opportunities for entrepreneurs.
2. The future will be C2B
"In the past, businesses think of an idea for a product or service, produce it and sell it to the customer. Scale is achieved through standardisation," Ma said.
"In the future, it will be a C2B world where businesses produce what the customer requires and the level of individualisation of products is much higher. This will present more challenges to businesses."
3. Technology and commercialisation go hand-in-hand
New technology is needed for businesses, without which it cannot stay competitive in the long run. Meanwhile, if a business has the technology but does not commercialise it, the entrepreneur's ideas will live in a lab and not be able to see the light of day.
"You need both and in the case of Hong Kong, where things are mostly commercialised, the city needs to embrace technology," Ma said.
"Hong Kong needs to use its IT infrastructure well. In the past, the city relied on real estate. But in 20 years' time, if the city still relies on real estate then it isn't real estate's fault - it's because young people haven't taken action to change that by first changing themselves."
4. Free service provision is a form of crowdsourced participation
The Internet is a place where things are often provided free-of-charge.
"'Free' is not always the best business model but it gets people to participate in helping you create a better product," Ma said.