Chinese data companies search for UK partners

Chinese big-data companies are on the hunt for cutting-edge technology from the United Kingdom that they can help upscale and commercialize for China’s huge domestic market.

On Monday, a group of about 15 Chinese companies began a weeklong visit to the UK in search of such partnerships. The enterprisesvisited leading British universities and research labs, including University College London and the Future Cities Catapult.

“We now face strong demand from our clients to implement cutting-edge innovation, so we are in the UK to look for that expertise,” said Xin Haowen, deputy general manager of Sichuan Wisesoft System Integration, which uses big-data technology to provide smart-cities solutions.

Zhou Yuanbo, secretary-general of the Chengdu Big Data Industry Alliance, said China and the UK’s data work could complement each other.
“China has an abundance of consumer data available, which forms the basis for data analytics development,” Zhou said. “The UK has the infrastructure, talent, and expertise to produce the cutting-edge research and technology.”

The trip, organized by the UK’s Department for International Trade, follows on from successful visits made by British big-data companies to China last year and earlier this year. Two British companies on the 2016 trip are now close to setting up offices in China, and one other UK company is working with a Chinese supplier.

Big data is one focus of the “golden era” of China-UK relations that began in 2015 with President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK.

Big data is an important part of the UK’s economy, and a highlight of its latest industrial strategy, which was unveiled last month.

Meanwhile, Chinaplans to grow sales from its big-data sectorto 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion) by 2020, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Existing bilateral collaboration around big data includes the Chengdu-based big-data company BBD launching a London office last year, and joint research into the next generation of big-data applications carried out by Chinese telecom giant Huawei and Imperial College, which began in 2014.

Despite these early results, large-scale big-data collaboration is yet to take off.

Andrew Cockburn, head of trade for technology and smart cities at the Department for International Trade, said mentality is a part of the challenge, and bilateral visits will help to alter perceptions.

“Many British data science companies seem to default to the US, but that’s not always the right opportunity for them,” he said.

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