At the Alibaba Cloud Summit held on 8th June, Alibaba Group’s digital technology and intelligence arm, Alibaba Cloud, introduced a three-year project known as Project AsiaForward. 

By investing an initial $1 billion USD in funds and other resources, the conglomerate aims to boost digital transformation in Southeast Asia by supporting technology, infrastructure, and talent development innovations.  

Over the next three years, Project AsiaForward intends to develop one million digital talents, empower 100,000 developers, and promote the expansion of 100,000 tech startups across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

At the launch, the company announced the opening of the first-ever international Alibaba Cloud Innovation Centre in Kuala Lumpur as part of Project AsiaForward initiatives. This centre is likely to have a major impact on the Malaysia tech startup ecosystem as it emerges from the pandemic.

We speak to Giftee Malaysia’s Ryo Okubo about the growth of egifting

Collaborating with local partner Handsprofit, The Kuala Lumpur Alibaba Cloud Innovation Centre will be the first of its kind located outside of China. While the launch has been delayed due to Malaysia’s ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases, Alibaba said that we could expect an update soon. 

According to Alibaba Cloud Intelligence (International Business Unit) General Manager Selina Yuan, the centre intends to provide a “conducive environment” to nurture the growth of the tech startup sector by providing essential resources and support in readiness to “embrace the digital future”.

Skillset training

The centre would be a one-stop platform to empower digital innovation for small and medium-sized organisations (SMEs), startups, and developers in Malaysia. 

Besides becoming the training ground for various essential business leadership and cloud technology skills, members of the innovation centre will also have the opportunity to learn from seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts. 

The centre will provide mentoring and guidance for young Malaysian businesses as well as helping foster a favourable ecosystem for venture capital networking. 

The sectors that should profit the most include FinTech, banking, retail, and IT services.

Fostering growth

To ease growth and expansion for Malaysian startups and SMEs, Alibaba Cloud stated that it would provide office spaces at subsidised rates at the innovation centre, along with opportunities for co-branding and networking. 

Through the China Gateway Program, which is also currently extended to other markets such as Singapore, Malaysian startups can tap into cross-border business prospects with China, facilitating the pathway for local SMEs and startups to penetrate the Chinese market. 

Developing local talents

Its partnership with Malaysian company Handsprofit hopes to introduce local expertise to the innovation centre to ensure smooth operation while strengthening local ties. 

In line with this, the cloud technology company aspires to train 30,000 Malaysian professionals in the country in the next fiscal year to “strengthen its local talent development commitment”. 

Further elaborating on the project, Computing Intelligence president Jeff Zhang stated that cloud-native solutions are in high demand in upcoming verticals across the region, ranging from eCommerce and logistics platforms, FinTech and online entertainment. 

He added that the company’s investment in innovation, data centres, and personnel development are all geared toward a digital-first future. As a result, it is dedicated to ameliorating the region’s cloud ecosystem and digital infrastructure.   

Standing out in the competitive global cloud market

The cloud computing business is likely to be worth around $832.1 billion USD by 2025. Over the last decade and a half, US digital giants Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services have persevered as the three main powerhouses of the cloud industry, jostling with one another for a slice of the market. Meanwhile, just recently, Chinese rival Tencent launched internet data centres in significant locations connecting Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Tokyo. 

Thus, its push into the global cloud market is an effort to gain a foothold in the industry while fending off fierce competition from both domestic and international rivals. 

A profitable year

For the entire fiscal year ended March 2021, Alibaba Group reported excellent growth in revenue of 41% to $109,480 million USD. The company’s core commerce businesses performed well, while Alibaba Cloud, established in 2009, also continued to flourish.

Its cloud computing revenue increased by 50% year over year to $9,176 million USD, primarily due to increased revenue from consumers in the Internet, public, and financial sectors. Cloud computing revenue increased 37% year over year to $2,558 million in the March 2021 quarter.

Alibaba isn’t the only company that has pledged to assist countries in upskilling their population. Similarly, Microsoft has announced plans to invest $1 billion USD in a new data centre in Malaysia over the next five years to gain a larger share of the burgeoning industry while creating an abundance of opportunities for the Malaysian tech startup ecosystem.  

Alibaba Cloud’s announcement sparks hope for the Malaysian tech startup ecosystem and SMEs as they struggle to survive amidst the COVID-19 crisis while also paving the way for digital transformation post-pandemic.