Online Seminar “Can the All-in-One App be Replicated?” Held December 2023
An online seminar entitled “Can the All-in-One App be Replicated?” was hosted by the Technology and Management Centre for Development (TMCD) at the University of Oxford on December 4th, 2023.
This seminar delved into the rapidly evolving world of "All-in-One Apps," often referred to as super apps. These innovative platforms integrate a diverse range of services into a single, unified interface. Super apps have dramatically transformed daily interactions with technology and significantly reshaped business models. The seminar brought together academic scholars and industry experts from around the globe to discuss the future potential of all-in-one apps, examining the challenges and opportunities they pose for businesses, and highlighting potential disruptors in this vibrant field.
Professor David Gann, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, welcomed the audience and delivered the opening address. He expressed his support and expectations for the Innovation and Catch-up in Platform Economy (ICPE) project at TMCD and the research on WeChat innovation.
Professor Jocelyn Alexander, Head of the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford, chaired the first session and introduced the various keynote speakers. Ms. Laura McCracken, Advisory Board Member of the Payment Association, delivered the first keynote speech and discussed the features and global perspectives of super apps. She emphasized that the super app model and social commerce have certain demand scenarios in the West and it will be a future trend.
Professor Xiaolan Fu, Director of TMCD, presented “Innovation and the Rise of an All-in-One App in an Emerging Economy”, and shared the findings from an in-depth case study of Weixin. She highlighted Weixin’s unique innovation approaches, such as “First Principle”-oriented product innovation, invisible innovations, coopetition in small groups, open and inclusive ecosystems for co-growth, and a culture fostering autonomy, self-motivation, and internal mobility. Professor Fu suggested that Weixin's case indicates digital opportunities for developing countries to catch up and potentially leapfrog other countries.
Professor Wim Vanhaverbeke, Professor of Digital Strategy and Innovation at the University of Antwerp, discussed his research on China's digital healthcare platform, focusing on how WeDoctor builds a platform network based on the Weixin ecosystem and Weixin Pay to create value for hospital institutions, service providers, doctors, pharmacies and patients. It is a kind platform which is patient-centered and connect various stakeholders to provide online medical services. This has alleviated the burden on hospitals and improved access to specialist doctors in China. He also addressed the digitalization of healthcare in Europe and the US, emphasizing that the major differences in developing digital healthcare platforms between East and West are not associated with external barriers, but in the internal business models and differences in ecosystem concepts of healthcare that are used.
Professor Xiaolan Fu chaired the roundtable discussion section of the event. Mr. Chang Su, Senior Product Director of Weixin, and Mr. Yifan (Chris) Li, Director of New Business Development at Bosch Siemens Home Appliance, participated in the first panel that focussed on the evolution of all-in-one apps. Mr. Su emphasised that becoming a super app had never been the purpose of Weixin, its development was propelled by seeing whether the products created can solve the society’s universal and fundamental needs. Super apps are a natural outcome of this kind of thinking. He emphasized the need to prioritise the user experience, build an open ecosystem, ensure the seamless integration of features. Mr. Li discussed Bosch Siemens' use of Weixin's Mini Program for customer engagement and lifecycle management in China. He considered all-in-one apps to be a significant consumer trend that facilitated comprehensive coverage of the consumer journey.
The second panel focused on the future trends of all-in-one apps. Industry experts discussed the industry sectors that might benefit most from super apps, the vital development strategies that would be required, and AI's influence on future trends. Mr. Kevin Collins, Managing Director at Accenture, underscored the alignment of healthcare, financial services, and the automotive industry with super apps, emphasizing the importance of meeting local user needs when introducing super apps in the West. Mr. Kevin Shimota, Director of Partnerships at Weixin Pay Oceania, stressed the importance of developing core products and services in super apps. He also advocated that the super app is a dynamic and iterative process which means an organic evolution through the incremental addition of services that respond to user demands.
Ms. Rui Ma, Founder and Consulting Editor of Tech Buzz China, highlighted the importance of super apps as comprehensive platforms that cater to essential daily behaviours and activities. She considered that generative AI will further drive the evolution towards integrated mini-app experiences within these platforms. Ms. Laura McCracken recommended initiating super apps with wallet or payment features, that could be expanded to include marketplaces and social functionalities, with customer engagement as the central impetus for their development.
Professor Fu concluded the seminar by thanking the speakers, panellists, and audience. She highlighted the seminar's emphasis on the expansive potential of super apps for businesses and individual users and stressed the importance of gleaning insights from Weixin to enable smoother integration in Western and developing countries. Professor Fu also noted the critical support that super apps provided to small businesses during the pandemic, by offering various services and enhancing connectivity. Looking ahead, she envisioned super apps being key instruments for spurring economic advancement and tackling worldwide challenges, and she encouraged ongoing dialogue on this subject in future seminars.
Please watch the video recording here.