At a time when the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is looking to diversify away from oil-based revenues, regional governments and companies are undertaking a massive digital transformation drive. Crucial to this digitization move is the aggregation of data, the storage of data, and implementation of data intelligence solutions to sieve through the copious amounts of Big Data – all of which require small, medium and large enterprises to get their head in the "cloud". In an effort to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, keep data secure, and enhance scalability, a large number of companies are now moving their data to cloud providers in the Middle East.
UAE-based businesses investing in hybrid cloud environments are expected to create 55,000 jobs, industry experts announced recently. Furthermore, the Middle East and Africa public cloud services market is projected to cross $1.9 billion by 2020, according to Statista. Spending on cloud services is likely to increase, especially given the fact that companies can now store data within the same country, and therefore, have greater incentive to move from on-premises servers to the cloud.
In June 2019, Microsoft announced that its data centers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were online. Oracle has also entered the UAE cloud services space. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has further established a strong cloud presence in the region with data centers in the UAE and Bahrain.
As the first global public cloud service provider that operated in the Middle East region, Alibaba Cloud has been driving the development of the public cloud market in the region since 2016. AMEinfo caught up with Selina Yuan, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence International, who shared her views on the cloud's economic significance, importance of risk controls, the growing Chinese consumer market and more!
Data privacy and protection is a top priority for Alibaba Cloud exploring business globally across its 58 availability zones in 20 regions … Our ecosystem is also built on and depends on trust; protecting the privacy of our customers and consumers is our highest priority.
What is the significance of Alibaba Cloud's latest developments in the MEA region?
Selina Yuan: In the past three years, we have seen a lot of potentials not only in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) market, but also with Platform-as-a Service (PaaS) and data intelligence solutions that enable local businesses to analyze a large volume of complex information in real-time; one of the crucial advantages to thrive in the era of digital transformation. This brings significant business values to all types of customers from SMEs, government organizations to large enterprises in the Middle East.
We are currently working with more than 30 local partners to support these companies coming and expanding into the region, facilitating a healthy exchange of knowledge and business opportunities. A lot of the values also come from the support from an ecosystem with a strong network combining technology know-how with industry experience and local insight.
On the customer front, we have been working with many innovative local customers including ONEMT (Popular gaming company), Yalla Live (Popular social app company), Dubai Store (Government-led, local e-commerce platform), Public Diplomacy Office and Khalifa University, with which we also have established a joint lab on new energy research.
How do you build trust among customers in an age of increasing cybersecurity risks?
Selina Yuan: Data privacy and protection is a top priority for Alibaba Cloud exploring business globally across its 58 availability zones in 20 regions. We are committed to complying with local regulations and industry standards. Our ecosystem is also built on and depends on trust; protecting the privacy of our customers and consumers is our highest priority.
We currently have more than 70 security and compliance accreditations worldwide. For example, earlier this year, we are the first cloud provider to secure the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS)’s Outsourced Services Providers Audit Report (OSPAR) validation, and fully compliant with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) Independent Assessment guidelines.
Chinese consumers have embraced digital technology, adopting AI-powered applications, cashless payments and self-service stores. This helps to make the country a great space for businesses to experiment and innovate.
How important is it for international businesses to focus on the Chinese market?
Selina Yuan: China is an increasingly hot destination for multinational corporations and SMEs alike. Chinese customers are traveling internationally more than ever before, with over 145 million trips abroad taken in 2017. Global businesses currently active in China are thriving. A survey of international companies with a presence in China by Bain and Company, found that 64 percent reported higher revenues and profitability, particularly in the industrial and consumer sectors.
China is also a hotbed of innovation, from Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things to e-commerce. Chinese consumers have embraced digital technology, adopting AI-powered applications, cashless payments and self-service stores. This helps to make the country a great space for businesses to experiment and innovate. Over half of the executives that Bain surveyed said they were using more advanced digital technology in China than elsewhere in the world, with 90 percent planning to continue their investments.
Our dedicated program, China Gateway, helps international businesses of all sizes and at different levels of commitment to adapt their operations for China. Whether companies are dipping their toe into the Chinese market by launching a lean operation with no office, or are partially committed to bringing the business to China by establishing an office with a few members of staff – right through to companies launching a full operation there, even going all in, acting as native players and thinking in a local way – we are here to help.
How are technological innovations driving cloud services revenues?
Selina Yuan: In the multi-cloud era when we are still at the dawn of AI and Digital Transformation, our biggest challenge is to change the traditional enterprise IT mind-set. We would like to help companies to realize their true business potential; let us take care of all the cloud-based, data intelligence solutions through IaaS and PaaS, so our customers can focus on delivering more for their business and end-customers.
Alibaba Cloud has a proven track record of supporting digital innovations globally starting from our own Alibaba Group, one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the digital age. As an international cloud leader, we are committed to leveraging our technology innovations and hands-on experience in digital transformation to support local digital development initiatives. Combining our advanced technology, vertical expertise and local insight from our partner ecosystem, we believe we can add significant values to businesses in the Middle East and beyond.
Since we started establishing operations in the Middle East more than three years ago, we have seen a growing demand for scalable, robust and secure public cloud services. Organizations of different sizes from both private and public sectors require proven technologies and services through Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service as an efficient foundation so they can start building powerful AI-powered applications on top. This is to enable their business to take the full advantage from the analysis and insight derived from the rapidly increasing amount of data they generate on a daily basis. It also helps explain the rising demand that we’ve experienced for data intelligence products such as image search, video streaming and online recommendation engine in the Middle East, for example.