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November 6, 2016

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Shanghai’s future as a connected, smart city

GLOBAL Chairman, PwC International Limited

Shanghai has begun its journey on an exciting new path to become a truly smart city. By exploiting the Internet and related technologies to the full, it aims to be a center of technological innovation that reaps rewards in terms of both business results and cultural transformation.

PwC defines the backdrop as one that is shaped by five global “megatrends.” These span demographic and social change; a shift in global economic power; rapid urbanization; climate change and resource scarcity; and, of course, technological breakthroughs.

The impact of the last of those megatrends — technological breakthroughs — cannot be overstated for a city like Shanghai. This is particularly the case as it embraces the strategy of “Internet plus” —leveraging the interplay between the Internet, manufacturing and commerce. Indeed, PwC’s latest annual CEO survey finds that tech advances are seen by business leaders as the dominant factor in reshaping their businesses over the next five years.

Along with the greater accessibility and connectivity that comes with the spread of technology, PwC expects a swathe of other innovations, applications and implications. To help make sense of it all, we drew up a list of eight essential tech breakthroughs. These are: artificial intelligence, robots, drones, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, Internet of Things and 3D printing.

While there is clearly no shortage of challenges and opportunities, I would now like to focus in on three areas that are great opportunities for Shanghai. These are: improved health, smart business, and mobility underpinned by connectivity.


Healthy living is of literally vital importance if a city is to thrive and prosper. Shanghai is set to blaze a trail in advancing tech-led healthcare in China.

Connectivity is going to play a big part in this. It will make possible a smart local ecosystem that, in turn, will nurture the right high-tech developments for Shanghai. These will span everything from bio-tech to device manufacturers and health institutions. Connectivity can also revolutionize existing health planning through much better coordinated management of patient care. Improving electronic medical records (EMR) is one example of this. By introducing an integrated EMR system based on more dynamic collection and utilisation of data, providers here can access and leverage more information than ever before. This helps the individual to focus on preventive action to avoid deterioration of health. Additionally, it enables the providers better understand their patients’ health issues, leading to improved diagnosis and more informed treatment and rehabilitation. This is just one way in which tech is improving public health.

Smart business

New technologies are leading to new ways of thinking. A pivot toward a more customer experience-centred approach is particularly evident in Shanghai’s sophisticated finance sector. Investments in areas like the credit system, e-transactions, clearing and tax are poised to take connectivity in financial services to a whole new level.

Fintech is perhaps the best illustration of this dynamism and disruption. It has gathered a substantial head of steam in Shanghai and is already disrupting the traditional value chain. Tech-oriented market entrants are adding innovations to products and services that had formerly been the preserve of the traditional players.

A renowned financial center with strong assets and a deep talent pool, Shanghai is well placed to make the most of fintech. An important precondition for success is the ability to meet customer needs ever more precisely and deliver great experiences. The onus is on financial services firms to deliver truly customer–centric solutions if they hope to serve a rising new client base of digital natives and remain relevant and continue to retain their existing customers.

Another challenge for Shanghai is to keep cultivating innovative new entrants who will bring new business models with them and help enhance the eco-system. More digitally-savvy influence and impact, such as leveraging a Chief Digital Officer — could help in this regard.

The speed at which ideas travel in today’s ever more interconnected world can make the whole challenge look incredibly daunting. But that same interconnectivity means that a municipality like Shanghai can see what’s emerging in other cities and then make a judgement about whether it would work in the Shanghai context.

Mobility and connectivity

This rapid pace of information sharing doesn’t seem to faze the young people of Shanghai. “Always on” and entirely at ease with social media, they are adopting new ways of living powered by mobile technology.

A fertile tech sector and high degree of mobile Internet penetration can be found throughout China, but particularly in Shanghai. The city is well placed to capitalize on these new concepts.

Mobile phone maps, navigation and online ride-hailing services make it easier than ever to get around town. At the same time, environmental monitoring is becoming more consistent and verifiable. This is reinforcing efforts to lower emissions and helping to make commitments to targets more manageable and realistic than ever.

Education services are proliferating through a dizzying range of websites and apps, supporting learning for all ages, as well as connecting teachers, administrators and parents. You can now learn about almost anything, anywhere. Once insurmountable curbs to people’s potential now seem relics of some bygone age.

In summary

The drive to implement an Internet plus strategy in Shanghai is leading to opportunities that are expanding connectivity across almost every aspect of city life. These range from the provision of healthcare and education, to the environment in which folks here live and how they do business. We believe that the bold moves Shanghai is making today will help it be one of the world’s truly smart cities for others to follow.


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