Innovation & Technology
• 6 minute read

The Next Big Frontier

Come 2014, the next big frontier of business innovation in Greater China is open for exploration. What are the leading trends?

By Louisa Wah Hansen

When the word “innovation” is mentioned, very often images of iconoclastic technologies pop up, and the faces behind them — from Polaroid founder Edwin Land to Apple founder Steve Jobs to founder of SpaceX, PayPal and Tesla Motors Elon Musk — give a mystical overtone to what innovation is about. Often though, behind the flashy products and services, hums the silent whispers of data. When data are analyzed in smart ways, they could galvanize into a brilliant product idea, a highly customized solution, a service that fits like a glove, a brand new business model or even a disruptive invention.

The Year of Big Data

The sheer amount of data being accumulated and stored by organizations all over the world has led to a phenomenon is known as “big data,” and it is quickly reshaping the business world.

Big data has made a lot of noise over the past year. This is the year that businesses do something about it. “Business must be combined with technology to make use of the big chunks of data gathered—especially in China, where the market is not very developed and the room for development is huge,” says Prof. T.J. Wong, Dean of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School.

“As we look ahead, whether it’s finance, accounting, management or marketing, we need a huge amount of data to be able to understand consumer behavior and make strategic decisions—and China is only starting to do this,” he continues.

It’s Time to Crunch

To help companies in Greater China better understand how they can make use of big data in their operations and management, CUHK Business School offers courses on both the undergraduate and graduate levels that not only provide state-of-the-art research facilities and platform, but also lots of hands-on application opportunities.

“The trend of big data has been the driving force behind some of our latest courses and it continues to provide the direction of our new curriculum development,” says Prof. Wong.

An example is the new Master of Science degree program on business analytics, which has just been launched by the Department of Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics. The course is about data mining and aims to improve students’ understanding of the China market and its consumer behavior.

The Marketing Department continues to offer an undergraduate course in marketing engineering, which provides excellent opportunities for students to work within companies, using IBM’s sophisticated data-crunching software to help them make better marketing decisions.

In research, the Center for Institutions and Governance is currently using big data to map the social networks of Chinese companies’ top executives in order to find out how such networks help the companies with their investment decisions, how knowledge sharing takes place within the companies, how much resources they can obtain from the government and so on.

The latest development at the Business School is its collaboration with CITIC Bank to set up a joint center to research risk management, credit analytics and consumer preference using big data.

Unique Positioning

Thanks to its unique positioning, CUHK Business School has evolved to become a trailblazer in the research of big data mining and application in the Greater China region.

CUHK will be opening a new campus in Shenzhen and the Business School will be the first faculty to offer its undergraduate course in 2014.

“Being the first university in Hong Kong to set up an undergraduate program on its own campus in Shenzhen, we are rapidly expanding our network with Chinese companies,” says Prof. Wong. “Our unique positioning comes from our ability to apply Western technology in the China market.”

He explains that CUHK’s Shenzhen campus provides a solid base for the Business School to research the China market. “Shenzhen is the most market-oriented city in China,” he points out. “It is very competitive and its companies demand rigorous scientific management.”

Prof. Wong says through the Shenzhen campus, the Business School aims to build solid relationships with the academia, government and enterprises there. “We hope that through our cooperation, we can help to expand the regional economy. For example, we’d like to conduct policy research for the government and education programs to help the local communities,” he says.

Prof. Wong emphasizes that the Shenzhen campus does not only benefit the local economy there but also acts as a stepping stone for the school’s students in Hong Kong. “Through our Shenzhen campus and connections, our students in Hong Kong will find it much easier to get opportunities to participate in internships and academic exchanges in China,” he explains. “This will help them get a head start in their career.”

Galvanizing Innovative Ideas

China is a totally new market for the world in terms of the development of innovative companies and business models. “China is a new source of innovation for the world,” says Prof. Wong. “There are more and more innovative companies that want to ‘go out’ and we want to be a part of this, helping them move beyond the domestic market.”

The school’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center of Business Innovation and Globalization are two important catalysts that having been promoting innovation, not just in products but also business models and business processes. They will continue to play the role of catalysts for innovative practices in the region.

The latest effort at CUHK is the creation of a Creativity Lab at the Wu Yee Sun College. Prof. Wong, a founding fellow of the college, along with three other professors from the Business School—Bernard Suen, Dennis Wang and Wilton Chau—have been invited to promote innovation and encourage entrepreneurial spirit among the students in the college, who are studying a broad range of subjects. “Hopefully, this will bring out more innovative thinking and entrepreneurial impetus in fields other than business,” says Prof. Wong.

Biggest Challenges Ahead

As we look ahead, what are the greatest obstacles for innovation? According to Prof. Wong, it is information overload. And the antidote to that? “Keen observation,” he says. “Without the ability to distill all the data and wade through all the noise, you won’t be able to come up with creative paradigms and make new products or services.”

To increase the chances of those mystical “light-bulb moments,” Prof. Wong says one must train to think laterally. “You may not need to create something from scratch but you need to be able to connect the dots. The more you train yourself to observe the pattern of things and to see the big picture, the more you will be able to come up with innovative ideas.”

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