With the rapid development and widespread popularization of the new generation of information technology, China’s digital economy has realized rapid expansion. The scale of China’s digital economy will reach 39.2 trillion yuan in 2020, accounting for 38.6 percent of GDP and representing a nominal growth of 9.7 percent year-on-year, according to a white paper on the development of China’s digital economy released by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. Digital dividend has greatly improved people’s life convenience and consumption experience, and boosted the development of digital society and the transformation of digital governance.
The development of digital economy forms such as e-commerce, food delivery, online car-hailing and home-stay sharing cannot be separated from the support of platform enterprises. A large number of enterprises and business households do business and seek development on the platform, and a large number of users conduct transactions through the platform. The platform has increasingly become an indispensable hub for the operation of the entire digital economy.
With the platform economy increasingly becoming the “standard” of people’s life, the society also puts forward new requirements for the development of platform economy. For example, the closure of an operator’s account by a platform may bring a significant blow to many practitioners, and the disorder of platform governance may also lead to the loss of consumer welfare. Therefore, how to govern the platform becomes a key issue, including how the platform can better take responsibility and make good use of the advantages of technological innovation, promote operators to fully share the achievements of platform economic development, and enable consumers to continuously improve their service experience.
The platform has a set of characteristic features that allow it to manage the environmental and ecological challenges of its business as never before. The platform faces a large scale of operators and users, complex types of goods and services and various scenarios, great turbulence brought by massive high-frequency trading, and the unbounded and cross-domain nature of online virtual space, all of which make the management of the platform difficult. At the same time, the road is higher than the devil. Some lawbreakers continue to carry out illegal operations in new ways, which requires the platform to continue to increase its technological research and development and improve its governance capacity.
Judging from the situation of platform governance in recent years, continuous technological research and development and governance innovation should be considered to optimize the platform operating environment, so that small and medium-sized enterprises can get more business opportunities and realize healthy development on the platform.
First of all, platform enterprises should respect their ability and power, establish the right value orientation, balance commercial motivation and public value, and practice the social responsibility of the platform.
In the past, some platforms “cheat customers” by not paying enough attention to small and medium-sized operators, or adopting simple and crude control measures, making platform governance rigid but not flexible enough. More and more platforms now realize that a healthy and standardized digital ecology cannot be achieved without the participation and sharing of small and medium-sized operators. This promotes the platform economy to enter a new stage of development, making the platform enterprises increasingly return to the customer perspective from the platform perspective. At the same time, the technology, knowledge and ability accumulated by platform enterprises are also increasingly used to ensure the healthy development of small and medium-sized operators on the platform.
From scratch to large, the platform cannot be separated from the recognition and trust of tens of thousands of operators and consumers. Therefore, the voice of these small and medium-sized enterprises and consumers is the most valuable asset of the platform. The essence of a platform is to integrate resources and make deals, and to achieve its own success by helping others succeed.
It is important for platforms to realize that technology is only a means, and that the correct value orientation is the foundation for platforms to survive. Therefore, the platform should promote fair market competition and promote the survival of the fittest, rather than bad money driving out good money. Platforms should not simply cater to consumers and squeeze operators, otherwise the sustainable development of platforms will be affected.
Secondly, the platform should continue to increase scientific and technological research and development and governance innovation, improve the efficiency, precision, systematicness and fairness of platform governance, and constantly enhance the sense of business gain of operators.
Seen from the essence of business environment, its core lies in expectation management, that is, continuously reducing various costs of enterprise operation, so that enterprises can enhance the certainty of future development in the uncertain market environment. The platform business environment also means continuous reduction of administrative burdens, including learning costs, compliance costs and psychological costs for operators.
The 2021 Alibaba Platform Business Environment Report introduces many explorations and practices in this area, witnessing the transformation of platform governance from extensive to accurate, from lengthy and inefficient to convenient and efficient, and from passive response to proactive and forward-looking. It continuously improves the fairness of platform governance and continuously improves the sense of gain of operators.
In terms of platform governance efficiency, the platform reduces business processing and processing time and improves service capacity through various ways, so as to realize the understanding, approval and handling of many businesses in seconds. For example, Alibaba simplifies the procedures of opening stores on Taobao, significantly reduces the “freight insurance” and digital business tools fees for merchants, improves the charging mechanism of live broadcasting and taking goods with it, and expands the amount of manual customer service for operators. These beneficial measures enable operators to significantly reduce the cost of learning and abiding by rules.
In terms of the precision of platform governance, the tough attitude of “one size fits all” used to be more in the past, but now it is more in the form of precise policies of “thousands of people with thousands of aspects”. For example, Alibaba will consider the actual situation of the operators, take the initiative to prompt rectification and avoid direct punishment for the principal offenders and minor violations, and establish a fault tolerance and correction mechanism, which significantly improves the flexibility and accuracy of governance.
In terms of the foresight and systemateness of platform governance, it is becoming more and more prominent as the way of governance from “acting immediately after complaints” to “acting first before complaints”, and from “treating pain from head to foot and treating pain from foot to foot” to treating the root causes systematically. For example, in the past, operators faced problems such as high costs for independent design and intellectual property infringement, and the platform “banned” or punished operators who violated the rules, treating the symptoms rather than the root causes. In recent years, Alibaba has developed AI designer “Luban”, virtual model “TaJi”, e-commerce translation, etc., providing operators with free store decoration, free poster design, free virtual model, free translation and other universal value-added tools, and developed the font “Alibaba universal” which can be used for free on all platforms. These universal universal services provided by the platform can help thousands of operators avoid these risks, highlighting the systematic and universal nature of platform governance.
Finally, the platform should cooperate with the government in governance, promote the innovation of cross-platform governance model, and jointly optimize the business environment.
The improvement of the platform’s operating environment cannot be separated from the overall continuous optimization of China’s business environment. Enterprises or merchants operating on the platform face the “duality” of the business environment, so platform enterprises need to cooperate with the government to govern the platform, constantly optimize the business environment of the platform, and regulate their own development. On the one hand, operators are locally registered enterprises or individual businesses, and the local business environment is an important factor affecting their development. On the other hand, operators register and operate on the platform, and the virtual business environment created by the platform will also affect their business. Therefore, the business environment of the two dimensions of dependency and platform have an impact on the operators. This means that the governance strategy of the platform will not only directly affect the operators, but also indirectly affect the operators through the local business environment.
The boundlessness of the platform and the territorial management of enterprises mean that the platform can actively contribute to the digital governance of the society. At present, many changes in business governance and service strategies implemented by platform enterprises are similar to the reform of “delegating supervision and service” widely carried out by government departments. For example, the core of the platform governance reform is to simplify the process, delegate power and transfer benefits, implement precise and flexible supervision based on credit, provide common value-added services, and reduce the burden of small and medium-sized enterprises operating on the platform in many aspects. Judging from the recent development trend of platform governance, the idea of platform serving small and medium-sized enterprises is more and more in harmony with the government’s governance concept and means of business environment. As a result, the technology and capabilities accumulated by the platform can be migrated from one platform to another, or even copied and promoted to public services.
The development of platform economy depends not only on the health of a platform, but also on the ecology and the overall situation of the industry. It is necessary to promote the innovation of “platform of platforms” and cross-platform governance mode, so that platforms can achieve a certain degree of coordination, and jointly solve the gaps and governance gaps between platforms. For example, network “black production” may flow to another platform because of the strict governance of one platform. Another example is that platforms can monitor their own public transactions, but not those that flow into the private domain. All these need to promote cross-platform collaborative governance, break the “prisoner’s dilemma”, and solve the common problems faced by platforms.
(The writer is a researcher at the National Academy of Development and Strategy and a professor at the School of Public Administration, Renmin University of China)