Industries step into technology era
Whether in financial services or sportswear, all companies now need some kind of tech support
Is Visa a financial services company or technology firm? Ditto for transport firm Uber and sportswear maker Xtep.
Industry boundaries are getting blurred, and almost every business now needs some kind of technology support to move forward.
A friend recently joined Visa. When congratulated on his new job at the world's largest credit card company, his reply was: "Visa is actually now a technology company."
Initially, I was not so sure about the changing business nature of Visa but later realised its future would be all about evolution of its payment business. Just imagine, in 10 to 20 years, fewer consumers would carry a plastic card to pay for their purchases. Instead, they would use their smartphones, and it would be just one or two clicks.
If Visa does not evolve to become a payment technology giant, its leading position in consumer payment business could be easily taken over by Apple, Google or Facebook in future. Such challenge shows how important new technology development is to a company like Visa.
The same challenge is also faced by Xtep International Holdings, a very traditional Chinese company. Xtep is one of the largest sportswear makers and is known as the "Nike of China".
Ho Yui-pok, the company's chief financial officer, and senior executives from LeTV, the mainland's top video site, and ZTE Corp, one of the country's two largest telecommunications equipment makers, were among those at last week's first SCMP China Conference discussion on technology and innovation.
Asked why he was on the panel with the two technology industry leaders, Ho said Xtep was also evolving to become a technology firm to some extent.
Does this make sense? A shoemaker is also a technology company?
Ho said his company used "big data" technology to engage with and collect information about customers.
"When customers come into our stores, we note the size of their feet, whether they run five or 10km or a marathon," he said. "Without the internet or technology, we cannot [store and use] this data or provide customised shoes, so in the current age we must integrate technology."
A headhunter friend recently said one of his property industry clients was creating a chief e-commerce officer position, partly because the boss was inspired by how Airbnb transformed the hotel business globally.
Someday we may see Alibaba going into property sales and you can buy an apartment after just a few clicks. It could also be cheaper because the developer could save on offline marketing campaigns.
Perhaps the only theory in the exciting era of the internet that will never change is that everything is changing everyday.