HONG KONG, CHINA, May 17, 2017 - Asian economies are more digitally engaged relative to their global peers at similar stages of development, according to Deloitte, who today released the second edition of their Voice of Asia series. Deloitte's digital engagement indices for government, businesses and consumers, show that Asian economies are leveraging digital technologies to help them leapfrog development hurdles, resulting in them winning the race on connectivity. Asia has become the centre of global economic growth and by embracing digital, it will continue to lead global economic growth over the coming decade.
Ric Simes, Deloitte Australia Economist explained that, "digital technologies have been synonymous with rapid and evolving change over the past four decades. While we have made significant progress, we are only at the tip of the digital iceberg when it comes to what's possible in the future. When applied on a global scale, we can see that Asian economies and societies are at the forefront of this revolution. Asia is leading the way in how digital developments can enable individuals, businesses and governments to do things differently and, often, more efficiently."
Asian countries winning the race on digital engagement
As the fastest growing region in the world and a significant driver of global economic growth over the past decade, Asia is assuming the digital leadership position in the 21st century. According to the Deloitte digital engagement indices for government, business and consumers, Asian economies are ahead in digital engagement terms, with almost all Asian countries above the world average. Government and business engagement is high relative to the rest of the world, with individual engagement about average. The Deloitte digital engagement index scores each countries' Networked Readiness Index (NRI) against GDP per capita, showing that every country in Asia apart from Myanmar has above average levels of digital engagement for the level of their economic development.
Singapore and Hong Kong are world leaders, while the large population bases in countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam have considerable opportunities for the future. In middle-income countries in Asia, governments have been able to maintain strong growth agendas based on policies in areas such as trade, infrastructure and savings. Today, these countries are pursuing growth agendas with digital taking a leading role.
Digital technologies support countries in leapfrogging development hurdles
Once digital engagement is achieved, digital technologies can support countries in leapfrogging development hurdles, as well as harnessing the power of digital opportunities. Technological change has enabled the delivery of cheaper and more reliable solutions to address some of the key impediments to economic development. Further, investment in digital infrastructure contributes to productivity in the same way as other forms of infrastructure. By boosting productivity and opening new channels of commerce, digital engagement can enhance economic growth beyond what would otherwise be the case.
"Two elements have contributed to the success of Asia's economies over recent decades. First, the opening of the traded goods sectors to external market forces and, second, encouraging the adoption of cutting edge technology wherever possible. These elements are related and have meant that these economies have been able to overcome hurdles to their development, bypassing old or second-best technologies and practices along the way," said Frank Farrall, Asia-Pacific lead partner for Deloitte Digital.
The areas of business, digital infrastructure and consumers are most likely to benefit from digital technologies. As the region develops, digital will have a greater impact on economies focused on service provision relative to resource-intensive economies.
For business, digital can encourage trade in the region by helping businesses, particularly small businesses, access global markets. In developed economies such as China or Malaysia, the use of online marketplaces, such as the platforms offered by Taobao, Rakuten, eBay and Alibaba, have opened up additional markets for local businesses, and have been a boon for many small businesses.
For consumers, digital can provide opportunities in terms of connectivity, mobility and social networks. India is leading the way with the highest number of Facebook users in the world (195 million in May 2016) and e-commerce is also expanding, with China now the world's largest e-commerce market. Across all countries, the potential to harness consumer engagement is high.
For government, digital aids in the development of public infrastructure, particularly around smart cities, which can help leap infrastructure development hurdles. Digital government initiatives can also help to improve efficiency, transparency and inclusiveness of government. Countries like Singapore and South Korea are global leaders. Their governments continue to actively explore how to embrace the latest waves of technological advances so that they remain at the forefront.
Sitao Xu, Deloitte China Chief Economist commented, "Digital technology has a role to play in helping businesses, particular small businesses, by enhancing their ability to compete with the dominant players in the marketplace. A more competitive market is beneficial to consumers, who will have more choice of products and services. Digital platforms such as Alibaba, Taobao, and eBay support SMEs to cope with the challenges arising from their scale disadvantages. This e-commerce story is taking place in China, where there is growing competition between physical stores and online retailers as a result of more sophisticated payment systems and well-connected logistic networks."
"Trust is a key element," said William Chou, Deloitte China TMT Industry National Managing Partner, "e-payment systems can allow people to transact online without cash or a physical meeting, knowing their money is safe and being transferred via a third party. For example, the Alipay escrow-based online payment platform provides consumers with additional security, where payment for goods will only take place upon receipt and inspection. At the same time, the availability of Alipay means that many Chinese consumers who do not have credit cards are able to purchase goods online. Digital technologies have lowered the barriers to market access."
The move to digital is for everyone across the region, as innovation via digital means the region can provide new sources of competitive advantage, create new jobs and help alleviate socio-economic challenges.