Asia winning the race on innovation, growth, and connectivity—powered by digital engagement Voice of Asia, May 2017

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Asian economies and societies are at the forefront of revolutionary digital change. Many Asian governments have recognised the importance and role of technological development for their economic agendas and prosperity, and are actively exploring ways in which to embrace digital change.

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The global economic centre of gravity has shifted towards Asia. The Asian region is the fastest growing in the world and has been a significant driver of global economic growth.

In another decade the Asian region is expected to account for nearly half of the world’s economic output. Harnessing the benefits of rapidly changing technologies will be a central element powering the region into the next wave of growth.

Just over ten years ago, smartphones did not exist. Three decades before that, no one owned a personal computer. Nowadays, many of us have personal devices that fit on our wrists that are just as powerful as a wardrobe-sized supercomputer from the 1980s.

The pace of technological change has been on a scale that has often felt revolutionary. Rapid mass market adoption of these technologies has enabled individuals, businesses, and governments to do things differently, and often, more efficiently. Digital drives increased productivity and innovation in more developed economies while allowing developing economies to circumvent existing practices and technologies. In fact, digital investment is not just a technology story, it is a story about economic growth as well.

Asian economies and societies are at the vanguard of this revolution. Many Asian governments have recognised the importance of technological development for their economic agenda. Japan has been a pioneer in technological innovation over many decades, and continues to invest heavily in its development. 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.

It is clear that the race is on to harness these technologies and power the next wave of growth. But it all starts with getting people involved and engaged.

Digital technologies: From engagement to enabler

We’re seeing through our digital engagement indices for government, business, and consumers that Asian countries are more digitally engaged relative to global peers with similar levels of economic development—and Singapore and Hong Kong are clearly world leaders.

Once engagement is achieved, digital technologies can support countries in leapfrogging development hurdles as well as harnessing the power of digital opportunities. We’ve seen that technological change has enabled the delivery of cheaper and more reliable solutions to address some of the key impediments to economic development. And every country has something to gain from digital.

In developing economies where informal marketplaces have been more prevalent, access to the Internet has provided consumers with greater information, such as through online reviews and price comparison websites, and has helped lift the quality of goods and services being provided. In countries with large unbanked populations such as India or Indonesia, individuals have turned to using the credit in their mobile telephone accounts as both a store of value and a means of payment. Digital has enabled individuals to participate in an otherwise inaccessible financial system.

In more developed economies such as China or Malaysia, sharing economy platforms are also disrupting the traditional concept of flexible work arrangements by providing individuals greater choice in when and where they earn their income. 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.

Beyond these opportunities for individuals and businesses, digital government initiatives can also help improve efficiency, transparency, and inclusiveness of government.

The digital appetite is there, and the potential for growth is significant.

Building on the momentum of 2017

Our Voice of Asia Edition One themes are continued, extended, and enhanced through a focus on digital engagement. In our previous commentary, we outlined the ways in which 2017 will be better than you think. This edition continues to support that view.

Our prior report on Four things you need to know about Asia in 2017 explained why global growth may well be about to surprise on the upside, and it is Asia’s economies that are in the box seat for the coming year. Indeed, the first quarter of 2017 has shown promising signs, with strong domestic data coming from the United States and Southeast Asia recording strong macroeconomic data.

When it comes to the new US administration, trade, and tariffs, in our previous commentary on Trade to trump protectionists and boost global growth, we put a spotlight on trade recovery and the fact that trade has been part of the engine driving the emergence of Asia on the world stage. Certainly, there has been greater uncertainty around trade with the change in the US administration and Brexit in 2016, but strong growth and pro-trade policies in Asia mean this region continues to record positive trade data. Technology and digital are changing the way we trade, with online platforms being the fastest-growing means to reach international customers over the next five years.

Shifting from trade to commerce, our third report, Asia’s weapons of mass consumption showed how consumer booms are increasingly powering Asia’s mega-economies, China and India. While services are generally less trade-intensive than goods, technology and digital will power an increase in the value of trade in services. Digital takes this opportunity to another level, opening up accessibility and opportunities to a range of consumers across the Asian landscape.

Digital drives what’s possible

What is clear is that the technology-related changes that have taken place have often been on a scale that at times can feel revolutionary and game-changing, with significant benefits to our daily lives.

When applied on a global scale, we can see that Asian economies and societies are at the forefront of this revolution. Many Asian governments have recognised the importance and role of technological development for their ongoing economic agendas and prosperity. Countries like Singapore and South Korea are positioning themselves as digital global leaders, with their governments continuing to actively explore how to embrace the latest waves of technological advances.

As the power of digital continues to emerge, Asia is uniquely positioned to drive this world of digital opportunity.

Diving even deeper into the digital sphere, regions will need to consider how they can harness the power of the data being collected through digital as a way to inform themselves of trends, insights, and analysis. While digital can also spell risks around cyber-crime, the positives overall are far greater.

As Asia runs the digital race, there are clear opportunities for countries to accelerate their growth and develop by learning from each other’s experiences.

It might be that there is no specific finish line—the possibilities for enhancement, innovation, and growth are endless and continuing.

This is our voice, the Voice of Asia.