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[Herald Interview] We are moving from IT era to data era: Alibaba exec

The next evolution in the way companies do business will be represented by a movement from existing IT solutions to data and cloud-based solutions, according to an Alibaba executive.

“In the next 20 years, the era will be changing from IT to data technology,” said Leo Liu, general manager for Alibaba Cloud for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Korea, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

According to Liu, the competitiveness of companies in the future will depend on how companies can use new technologies such as the cloud and artificial intelligence to analyze the information they have gathered through existing IT hardware.

Alibaba Cloud‘s General Manager for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Korea Leo Liu (Alibaba)
Alibaba Cloud‘s General Manager for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Korea Leo Liu (Alibaba)
“Now, enterprises already have loads of data, but that data is cold or dead because they only have hardware to store the data. The question is how to use this data to drive business. ... I have met with CEOs who want to see creative artificial intelligence solutions based on data, to drive their businesses.”

Liu believes that Alibaba Cloud, with its wide ecosystem of services related to e-commerce, finance and logistics thanks to its connection with other companies in Alibaba Group, offers a competitive edge in this regard.

By growing its client base through these ecosystems especially in Asia, Alibaba Cloud, which was established in 2009, is rapidly expanding its presence in a market that has previously been dominated by Amazon Web Services.

According to market analysis firm Gartner, Alibaba Cloud became one of the world‘s top three infrastructure-as-a-service providers in the world last year after Amazon and Microsoft. In the third quarter last year, the company’s revenue grew 99 percent on-year with over 1 million paying customers.

This year, the company in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, kicked off its 12-year partnership with the Olympic Games to provide cloud services for the events and help find ways for future host countries to save money on data services.

To continue driving growth, Liu said that Alibaba Cloud will aggressively pursue investments in artificial intelligence solutions for its clients.

“For IaaS products, they are almost the same. It‘s a commodity. ... I think our advantage is that we will invest a lot in research and development. We just announced last year that we will establish an academy, and for the next five years invest $15 billion into research as well as this academy,” said Liu.

The project will include a network of labs across different regions bringing in “leading scientists from around the world, focusing on fundamental data science,” according to Liu.

Although the company does not yet have a large presence in Korea, Liu said that Korea “is definitely a huge market for the cloud, for AI.” As target clients, he noted Korean companies that are doing business on the Chinese mainland who are looking for high-tech cloud and AI technology to make their businesses more efficient.

“I also find that loads of startups and incubators are very active in Korea and in China,” he said. Cloud services will become increasingly important as new tech-based startups are born across Asia, he said. “Those companies, they are naturally born with the cloud. They won’t think about hosting. They use the cloud, solutions to very quickly launch their apps. In the internet era, time is limited. They need to rapidly promote their products in a short time, otherwise the market will be grabbed by others. They will rely on the cloud for rapid growth,” Liu said. 

By Won Ho-jung (