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Tried-and-tested cloud services in China to help Alibaba make headway in India

"We are newcomers here and our strategy is to serve Indian enterprises in a better way. Alibaba Cloud is so embedded in India. We are mainly focusing on internet companies that require cloud infrastructure."

Nov 20, 2018 by Ruiyao Luo
Tried-and-tested cloud services in China to help Alibaba make headway in India

Image courtesy: Alibaba Cloud

Alibaba clocked a record CNY 213.5 billion (USD 30.8 billion) in Singles’ Day sales on Sunday. The sales breached CNY 10 billion mark in the first two minutes.

Millions of transactions were crammed into a limited time on the tenth anniversary of Double 11. And Alibaba has its cloud service to thank for the smooth handling of the workload.

Founded in 2009, Alibaba Cloud team strives hard to ensure an uninterrupted shopping experience for its customers during Singles’ Day. Alibaba Cloud is the number one player in the Chinese market.

Alibaba Cloud is going places, and India is one of the prospective markets for the Chinese tech giant. Alibaba has already made headway into the India market with clients such as Reliance Entertainment, Paytm and DLF.

The Passage spoke to Yunfei He, global product manager, Alibaba Cloud, to better understand Alibaba’s vision and plan for Indian market.

Yunfei has been working with Alibaba for past ten years, even before the cloud computing division was founded. As the global product manager, he is in charge of the crucial infrastructure which underpins the tech giant’s ecommerce business.

TP: Could you take Hangzhou as an example to explain the application of Alibaba Cloud?

AC: Hangzhou is a model smart city in the making. Over the last two years, we have implemented a series of projects in our home base. Intelligent Control of Traffic Light is a case in point. Traffic lights are either operated manually or run on fixed configuration. However, the traffic varies at different time intervals. We decided to hook up the traffic lights to the CCTV. The CCTV would take stock of the traffic and send data to Alibaba cloud, which plays it back to the light system after analysing the data to set the light timings. We collected the data of rides at all intersections and parsed the traffic flow using artificial intelligence. The inputs were used to make dynamic adjustments to traffic lights to ease the jams.

Intelligent Control of Traffic lights could be of great help in the event of emergencies or make way for special convoys. The system would scan the entire road network to regulate the lights to avoid traffic snarls. We haven’t covered the entire Hangzhou yet. The work is in progress in many cities.

TP: How does Alibaba Cloud platform make best use of data to improve public transportation?

AC: The data from the overall monitoring (including a record of road accidents) can be used for the deployment of traffic police and even to preempt untoward incidents. The control center of traffic bureau, the brain of the city transportation, will be able to operate and allocate resources efficiently. Alibaba handles the entire intelligent transportation platform in Hangzhou. We use some of the best algorithms in the AI business.

We have used two iterations in Saoshan area, the pilot zone of Hangzhou. Latest data shows the platform has improved the efficiency of the city transportation by 15%.

TP: How do you measure the traffic efficiency?**

AC: The average speed of the cars on the road is a good indicator of traffic efficiency. The speed has risen to 25-30 yards from 20.

TP: What’s your main focus in India?

AC: We are newcomers here and our strategy is to serve Indian enterprises in a better way. Alibaba Cloud is so embedded in India. We are mainly focusing on internet companies that require cloud infrastructure. The cloud intelligence is quite user-friendly as the infrastructure is similar across the world. We are constantly exploring possibilities ranging from mere AI to complex functional applications for Indian enterprises. AI is a long term project and involves deep learning of products and ecosystems. In the process, I believe, we also have a chance to help local companies to boost their productivity and open up business opportunities.

TP: How do Reliance and Paytm- two of your big clients in India- benefit from using your platform?

AC: The partnerships with Reliance and Paytm are mutually beneficial. Besides infrastructure, Alibaba boasts of mature technology in e-commerce, including image processing technology. We have more opportunities in these areas.

We already have a number of ISPs. Internet companies are completely different from traditional businesses. We are more likely to follow in the footsteps of Amazon and IBM’s and focus on tech companies in India.

TP: What are your thoughts on the data localization bill passed by Indian government recently?

AC: Every country has its own policies. We have already faced a similar situation in Europe. Alibaba is completely open to such policies and fully support them. Our entire system architecture is compatible with data localization. We would like to finish the localization of data storage faster and better to win the confidence of local customers.

TP: What does localization mean to Alibaba in terms of cost?

AC: It’s not a big deal. We renovated the infrastructure and constructed system architecture to comply with the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) when it came to effect.

TP: How does data localization help expand your footprint in India?

AC: A lot rides on trust when it comes to services like cloud computing and cloud infrastructure. The entire gamut of applications and infrastructure are run on our services. The data localization would earn us the customers’ trust and bring in more business opportunities.

TP: How big a role does India play in your global expansion plan?

AC: Alibaba cloud is the biggest player in China- with a market share of almost 45- and the third largest in the world. India is a rapidly developing country with a lot of potential. Alibaba hopes to cultivate a huge customer base and build internet companies in India. We oversaw the success of a lot of companies back in China. Favorable economic environment and development opportunities contributed to our growth in China. I believe a developing country like India will have a similar scenario.

Besides China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Europe are our major markets. We have also started service in the UK. We get the best responses from the Asia-Pacific market.

TP: Alibaba is a late comer in India compared to few American companies. What’s your strategy to stand out from the competition?

AC: Firstly, we are very similar on a basic service level. We also have a comprehensive portfolio. On the AI side, we have a different portfolio including image search and recommendation engine. We have our self-deep learning engine, PAI and a big data platform for mass computing. It’s a powerful product for company to make better use of the data.

The image search in Taobao, where you just click a picture to find the exact same thing to buy- is a good example of Alibaba’s tech edge.

TP: Are you going to implement similar image technologies on Paytm platform?

AC: Yes. Though, we will have more involvement on the applications front. We have some good technologies at our disposal.

TP: Tell us about few applications you could implement in India that made the grade in China

AC: We have a lot of technology in store for India. For example, now we can hold video conferences anywhere. Earlier, it had to be in the offices. We had to use a dedicated line to get through. Now, we just need to open the app. On e-commerce platforms, we see videos instead of texts when you browse for the products. Videos provide faster access to information. But the cost of video and advertisements are high. During the ‘Double 11’, we used AI to edit the ads in quick time.

TP: How much investment does Alibaba plan to pour into India market this financial year?

AC: We do not comment on client and investment data. But we are committed to investing in India. We have set up two availability zones in Mumbai and we look forward to serving our customers better.

TP: What does Alibaba bring to the table for Indian clients?

AC: In India, we work with Reliance Entertainment, Paytm and DLF, and help these companies in building their digital capabilities.

We are providing big data, AI, and high-powered computer capabilities to integrate online and offline shopping of DLF. We have also signed an MoU with Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board to leverage Alibaba Cloud’s ET city brain solution for agriculture, smart city management and SME development. In addition, we hope to create an eco-system that can benefit Indian enterprises.

(With inputs from Xintong Chen and Diqing Liu, interns at The Passage)

Ruiyao Luo

Ruiyao Luo is a Beijing-based tech reporter. She focuses on emerging startups and tracks the trends in the startup industry in India and China. She can be reached at Ruiyaoluo@thepassage.cc.

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