Alibaba Cloud: Not your typical cloud company
Grappling with some of the largest bemouths in the cloud computing industry, in China it’s Alibaba Cloud which reigns king. The cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group has quickly earned its stripes as China’s largest public cloud service provider and has the third largest share of the cloud computing market globally, according to Gartner. Now keen to extend its reach further afield, the company has its eyes set firmly on a new horizon: the EMEA market.
One man at the heart of this strategy is Yeming Wang, General Manager for the EMEA region. Well-versed in the technology space, Wang has previously worked for Huawei, managing its operations in Italy, France, Thailand, Indonesia and abroad. This gave him the perfect springboard to drive Alibaba Cloud’s EMEA expansion, a goal which he says is central to the firm’s strategy moving forward. “Alibaba Group has a very strong presence in the Asia-Pacific and we aim to be number one in this region,” observes Wang, pointing to the group’s global businesses like e-commerce firm Lazada. “Besides the Asia-Pacific, we view regions like Europe as very strategic because of its size and maturity. In the Asia-Pacific region, people are still talking about migrating to cloud, whereas in Europe the discussion is now about the digital journey and how to use artificial intelligence (AI) or Big Data to drive business value.”
Alibaba Cloud’s gleaming office in the heart of London is perhaps a testament to its global ambitions. Reclining confidently in his chair, Wang contends that, although there may be stiff competition, Alibaba Cloud is creating a distinguished cloud experience like no other in the region. This is not only because it understands the intricacies of the cloud environment, but also because it also understands the high-stakes business world.
“When selecting cloud providers, customers are looking for value, stability, security and cost-efficiency. But at the very top it’s different: businesses are looking to see how they can use our vertical expertise to make their business better. So, for instance, how can they use data or machines to better their business? It’s a totally different game,” he says. “Alibaba has a range of businesses in sectors such as retail, finance and logistics and so we understand how to create a data-driven user-centric experiences. We fully believe we can help our clients deliver this too.”
In many ways, you would be hard-pressed to find an industry vertical where Alibaba Group isn’t within reach. Whether you’re interested in retail, hospitality, IT, or fintech, the Chinese conglomerate is omnipresent. By leveraging its tried-and-test experience in these fields, Wang contends that Alibaba Cloud can show, not just tell, its customers how to digitally transform their industries. “At an infrastructure level, we can prove we’re reliable,” explains Wang. “Today, Alibaba Group manages more than 1trn US dollars every year and 60-70% of this business is managed on the cloud. Recently we’ve made a strong commitment that we will migrate 100% to the cloud over the next couple of years.” With over $39.9bn in revenue bagged in its last fiscal year, this is no mean feat. With this in mind, Alibaba Cloud doesn’t just support the Group’s business, it serves as a clear demonstration to its customers of what its technology can do.
Overlooking the bustling streets of Covent Garden, it seems that Alibaba Cloud is not just making its mark on the London skyline, it’s also leaving a lasting impression on the city’s burgeoning cloud industry. However, it’s important to recognise that, in many ways, Alibaba Cloud is much more than just a cloud company. As the technology and business worlds become ever more intertwined, Alibaba Cloud has tried to position itself as a digital transformation enabler, offering data and service platforms too. “Once they’ve adopted cloud, businesses can prepare for the second stage where they derive value from AI or Big Data,” explains Wang. “Then they can focus on the real business outcomes.”
Having touched every industry imaginable, Wang contends that customers can leverage the cloud company’s insights and expertise to disrupt their own verticals. “Our consumers often ask how we run Alibaba. So, for example, a hotel company may ask how Alibaba Group manages its hotel, Flyzoo. In this hotel in Hangzhou, China, everything is automated. There are no people; customers use self check-in and are served by robots. When you get into a room you use voice control. If you need room service, a robot will get it for you. The reason we do this is because we don’t just want to run a hotel, we want to show people the possibilities of what we can do,” Wang says. Hotel giants like InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) have already benefited from Alibaba Cloud’s expertise. With more than 350 hotels in Greater China, the hotel group has joined forces with Alibaba Cloud to develop a scalable and robust IT infrastructure that will support its long-term growth goals. In doing so, it hopes to blend best-in-class technology with first-rate hospitality.
Alibaba Cloud has not just disrupted the hotel market though, it’s also left a lasting impression in the retail market too. Jack Ma, one of the founders of Alibaba Group, is often credited for coining the term ‘New Retail’, a new omnichannel way of thinking where the lines between offline and online commerce are becoming infinitely blurred. With its parent group standing as one of the largest and most valuable e-commerce companies in the world, Alibaba Cloud is well-equipped to offer sage advice and digitally disruptive technologies in this space. “Today, everyone in retail understands the importance of omnichannel offers and user-centric experiences,” highlights Wang, pointing how Alibaba’s collaboration and communication platform DingTalk could be a valuable solution to connect employees, for instance. Indeed, one retail titan that’s working alongside the cloud computing business is Spain’s El Corte Inglés, the biggest department store in Europe by sales. Joining forces with Alibaba Cloud, the Madrid-based department store is leveraging tools including big data analytics, artificial intelligence and more to deliver more personalised experiences to its customers today.
Verticals such as finance and smart cities have also been identified as key target markets for Alibaba Cloud but, regardless of the sector, one thing is for certain: digital transformation is set to be at the heart of the company’s business strategy moving forward. “We’ve seen that for almost every company today, especially in Europe, CIOs and CTOs don’t have any doubts about digital transformation,” Wang adds. “A could of years ago they were deliberating about whether to use cloud, but now they’re asking whether they will use Big Data or Artificial Intelligence. They have digital transformation strategies and are looking towards digital platforms because they want to change the rules. They want to be a game changer.” This has offered a window of opportunity for Alibaba Cloud, with Wang noting how customers are keen to develop intelligence-based partnerships with “agile companies like Alibaba Cloud who have strong internet DNA”. Indeed, the cloud computing giant has established partnerships and attracted 2.3mncustomers worldwide, including over 1mn paying customers.
Yet, when asked what he has been most proud of during his tenure, Wang cites the company’s growing brand awareness, pointing out how it’s much more than your typical technology firm. “More and more, people are realising that Alibaba isn’t just an e-commerce or a cloud company, it’s a digital transformation enabler,” says Wang, noting how, looking forward, the firm plans to deepen its partnerships with industry experts like KPMG and Deloitte. “We want to deliver our Asian digital success story to the western market” he concludes. “It’s not just about cloud, it’s about business and digital transformation.”