Hamburg is hosting the eighth China Summit in the Chamber of Commerce. More than 550 Chinese companies make Hamburg the key location in Germany for China’s interests. The Hamburg-based dgroup is one of the leading consultancies for digital transformation in Europe and part of the global Accenture network. The start-up culture in Asia is particularly conducive to innovation, according to Olaf Rotax, Managing Director of dgroup, and urges founders: “Don’t look into the valley, but into China”.
Hamburg News: Mr Rotax, you are chairing the panel “Understanding China’s Digital Consumers – the Preferences of Chinese Online Buyers” at the Hamburg Summit. How do Chinese consumers consume, how does their consumption differ and to what extent do we have to take this into account?
Olaf Rotax: Chinese users are clearly ahead of “us” in Europe in terms of usage behaviour. They have skipped a development cycle and can be regarded as a forecast of development for us in many respects. Their use is almost exclusively mobile. Payment is nearly entirely digital and applications are bundled in a few “super apps”. There is also significantly higher acceptance of transparency in the use of personal data for individual and general added value.
Hamburg News: What is behind the high speed of innovation among the Chinese?
Olaf Rotax: China has realised, among other things, that a leading role – including economic leadership – cannot be achieved by copying the existing economic system, most of which is still dominated by the West, but hinges on systematic investments to stay ahead in key industries of the future. The aim is to “overtake without catching up”. At the same time, due to its current size of more than 1 billion online users, the Chinese market offers an ideal “breeding ground “* for fast growing and high-investment start-ups especially with the “raw material of future data”, the expected growth of new middle classes consisting of several 100 million people and the openness of people and government to testing new things. In China, classic further industrialization and future digitalisation are taking place simultaneously, and both developments are intensifying.
Hamburg News: What are the most important trends in Asia (China) at present?
Olaf Rotax: The rapidly growing Chinese digital ecosystems around Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are only the preliminary stage of a holistic, digital new economic system. For the first time, real competition to our “social market economy” is emerging in China – a “digital sharing economy ecosystem” that does not adhere to our understanding of Western democracy, but goes its own way.
Future key industries such as “Future Moblility, Future Banking, Future Energy, Future Retail” and “Future Health” are currently emerging in China and not in Europe. China has almost left the “copy & paste” development stage behind and will become a driver of innovation and perhaps even the most important one. Realistically, the most important key technologies including artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing are expected to occur in China at eye level with the U.S. China will shape the crude oil and oil industry of the future by relying on data, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Hamburg News: Where do the biggest challenges/risks for the European/German economy currently lie in your opinion?
Olaf Rotax: In Europe and Germany, we can continue to take pride in the achievements of classic industrialisation and are still leaders in areas such as industry 4.0. At the same time, Europe is not playing any role presently in the platform and ecosystem economy of the future. Without a stronger collaborative approach, the several hundred billion euros required and the need to pool the best talent cannot be brought together by any single government or company. It is presently unclear whether we will have a third digital ecosystem of the future alongside the U.S. and China. We need a far more realistic view of our future, in which the “keep it that way” attitude will not be successful and the optimization of economic interests, presently left to very free forces, will no longer be the only leading system. We don’t need less Europe, we need more Europe. We may need ideas like a “data union” and a “key technology union”.
Hamburg News: Hamburg is the most important trading centre in Germany for China. How can we maintain this position?
Olaf Rotax: Hamburg will continue to occupy an important position in trade with China in future due to its function as one of the most important global ports and represents an important, albeit non-exclusive, pillar of the German-Chinese bridge. At the same time, it is now time to turn that bridge, which is still too often seen as an analogue one-way street for exporting goods, into a digital bridge and an import bridge for innovation. We have good bilateral relations between politics and companies. The latest Hamburg Summit is a great opportunity to use this good starting position for further development.
Ultimately, we should continue to be Hanseatic – less bluff and bluster and more reliable action and long-term co-operation, especially in the key industries of the future, including New Retail.
Hamburg News: Many thanks for the interview!
Interview by Karolin Köcher