Every day, your feeds are likely dominated by the latest news about Silicon Valley’s biggest tech giants.
Whether it’s Facebook’s newest algorithm changes, Amazon’s announcement to enter the healthcare market, a new acquisition by Alphabet, or the buzz about the latest iPhone – the big four tech giants in the U.S. are covered extensively by the media, and we’re all very familiar with what they do.
However, what is less commonly talked about is the alternate universe that exists on the other side of China’s Great Firewall. It’s there that four Chinese tech giants are taking advantage of a lack of foreign competition to post explosive growth numbers – some which compare favorably even to their American peers.
Like the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of Seinfeld, the Chinese-based tech giants look recognizably familiar – but markedly different – to the ones we know so well.
Likely the best known of China’s tech giants, Alibaba is the dominant online retailer in the country. The company had revenues of $25.1 billion in 2017 and is seeing that revenue grow at impressive speeds. In its most recent quarterly results (Q3, 2017), the company noted a 56% jump in revenue.
Amazon’s tough sell: Amazon does exist in the Chinese market, but it just has trouble competing with Jack Ma’s creation. Amazon has less than a 1% share of the e-commerce space in China, after a decade of trying to get a foothold. Further, Alibaba also runs AliCloud, which provides direct competition to Amazon’s AWS.
Baidu is the largest search engine in China and also a leading player in AI. It’s the most visited website in China, and ranks #4 globally. The company will announce 2017 annual results in the coming weeks, after reporting a 29% jump in revenue in Q3 2017.
Google’s searching for a way in: Google was blocked in China in 2010 after refusing to filter search requests. However, since then, the giant has been able to take very small steps in entering the Chinese market – even though its signature search engine is still blocked, Google now has at least three offices in the country.
Tencent has recently been in the news for its rapidly surging stock. The company, which owns the dominant social platform in China (WeChat), is now valued at over $500 billion. For those keeping tabs, Facebook is currently worth $550 billion.
It’s complicated: Facebook remains blocked by China, meaning that Zuckerberg and company can’t take advantage of a 1 billion plus market of people with growing buying power. Even if it found its way in, there are multiple social platforms in China and competition would be stiff.
Dubbed as “China’s Apple”, Xiaomi is one of the world’s most valuable private companies. Things have been hot and cold for the ambitious smartphone manufacturer, but recently reports have surfaced that Xiaomi will IPO in the second half of 2018 for upwards of $50 billion.
These and many fascinating insights are from the IDG’s 2018 State of Digital Business Transformation (12 pp., PDF, no opt-in). The study’s goals are to gain a better understanding of how organizations are evolving to a digital business model in regards to how they are revising technology strategies, changing organizational structures and processes, and innovating to provide a unique customer experience. Respondents were selected from CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, ITworld and Network World tech buyer audiences. The majority of respondents are IT executives and professionals. Please see page 10 of the study for additional details regarding the methodology. “Technology has been a driving force in business transformation for years, but the pace at which new technologies are launching has reached its fastest speed. Now is the time to create efficiencies and differentiate through the customer experience,” said Brian Glynn, chief revenue officer, IDG Communications, Inc.
Key takeaways from the study include the following:
89% of enterprises have plans to adopt or have already adopted a digital-first business strategy with Services (95%), Financial Services (93%) and Healthcare (92%) leading all industries. Education, high-tech, manufacturing, retail, and government are also quickly adopting digital-first strategies to improve process efficiencies and meet and exceed customer expectations.
Big Data/Analytics (58%), mobile technologies (59%), private cloud (53%), public cloud (45%) and APIs and embeddable technologies (40%) are the top five technologies already implemented. Additional technologies currently in production include Application Performance Monitoring (APM) (18%), microservices and containers (15%), Software-defined storage (SDS) (14%) and Software-defined networking (SDN) (14%). Artificial Intelligence (39%), machine learning (34%), and the Internet of Things (31%) are the top three technologies enterprises are researching today.
Big Data/Analytics, mobile technologies, and private cloud contribute most to an organization’s revenue growth. IDG analyzed which technologies are contributing most and least or revenue growth. With 49% of enterprises saying excelling at managing business performance through data availability and visibility is what defines their digital business, it’s understandable why Big Data/Analytics is perceived by 70% of IT executives as contributing to revenue growth.
61% of enterprises say IoT plays a role in their digital business strategies with manufacturing and high-tech leading all other industries. Just 39% of small & medium businesses (SMBs) say IoT plays a role in their digital business strategies today. Finance and government industries are the least likely to adopt IoT as part of their digital business strategies due to legacy systems being very difficult to change or integrate with and security concerns.
73% of manufacturing executives or IT decision makers (ITDM) says IoT plays a role in their digital business strategy, with 69% saying IoT is used to monitor equipment and machinery today. 24% of manufacturing IT executives interviewed say IoT is in production in a business unit or division. Creating a business case in manufacturing for IoT begins by looking at how quality, time-to-market and production performance can be improved. The manufacturing metric Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is one of the primary catalysts driving real-time monitoring including IoT adoption across manufacturing today.
Start-ups can increase revenue by 34% relying on digital-first strategies, with all enterprises increasing revenue by 23% with new product and service offerings being the largest contributor to revenue growth across all companies. 30% of all enterprises interviewed by IDG say that new product and service offerings are the primary sources of revenue growth for their companies, followed by adding new capabilities inside the company and improving sales capacity to cross-sell and upsell. 22% say that their improved ability to integrate and analyze company, customer and external data is contributing to increased revenue. 22% also credit digital business strategies with the ability to increase product and service delivery speeds. New partnerships, global or regional expansion and M&A (merger & acquisition) activity are the remaining factors driving revenue growth. Multiple responses were allowed to the original survey.
Enterprises’ definition of a digital business varies from enabling worker productivity to meeting customer experiences. 52% of enterprises say enabling worker productivity through tools such as mobile, data access, and AI-assisted processes are the essence of their digital business strategy. 49% say better managing business performance through data availability, and visibility is what defines their digital business, and 46% say meeting customer experience expectations using digital technologies is the center of their digital business.
62% say delivering an excellent customer experience as measured by customer satisfaction scores defines success as a digital-first business. The intensity to gain high customer satisfaction scores in retail is high, with 79% saying this is by far their most important benchmark of a successful digital-first business. 70% of manufacturers define the digital-first business strategies as successful when they improve process efficiency through automation. 53% of services companies and 51% of finance companies define digital-first business success by their ability to accelerate time-to-market.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo kicked off the event with a simple and clear message to all those in attendance:
”Gibraltar is open for business.”
Gibraltar Ahead in the Regulatory Space
With jurisdictions around the world trying to figure out how to regulate the blockchain industry, Gibraltar has already put in place a DLT regulatory framework based on best principles and is currently looking to release new accompanying regulations that focus on token sales within the jurisdiction. A bill is expected through the Gibraltar parliament in Q2 this year showing Gibraltar to be world-leading in this space.
The Minister for Commerce, the Hon. Albert Isola, whose Ministry has been driving the fintech and blockchain agenda in Gibraltar also addressed the full conference hall onboard. When talking about the jurisdiction’s continued development, the Minister made it clear that as a government, “we are not scared of innovation.”
He added that the government is looking to continue to operate with consumer protection at the heart of what they do.
With a wide variety of speakers in attendance, the focus was well and truly on regulations for blockchain and ICO, a sector that is booming and hit an astounding $3.7bn during the course of 2017.
Gibraltar Financial Services Commission on ICO Regulations
Sian Jones and William Garcia from the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission (GFSC) also gave a talk and answered questions from the crowd. The same event last year saw the GFSC present their DLT regulatory framework to attendees and the wider world, this year it was their proposed ICO regulations.
Sian Jones emphasised that the regulator would not be regulating individual ICOs but those that brought the token sales to market, adding that “it’s not the role of the regulator to approve any individual token offerings,” rather highlighting how regulations are implemented is as important as the rules themselves.
Sian added: “We as a regulator will not be setting a single code of practice that should be set by the market.”
A lot like the Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange (GBX) with its network of Sponsor Firms, the GFSC sees this emerging market needing the creation of “authority sponsors that are accountable to us [GFSC].” This format would encompass GBX, which already comes under the scope of the DLT regulations, effectively making it an ‘Authorised Sponsor’ which could open up many pathways of opportunity for the exchange.
During the presentations Q&A, the GFSC spoke of their core desire to embed consumer protection at the heart of their work, whilst being supportive of helping grow and develop this innovative industry: “Tokens as a new asset class are isolated from financial advice, but it is right that it should be regulated for consumer protection.”
The DLT Licence Experience
In the morning of the first day, GBX CEO Nick Cowan moderated the panel “The DLT Licence Experience to Date.” Joining Nick was Joey Garcia from Isolas, Anthony Provasoli from Hassan’s and Jay Gomez from Triay & Triay.
Nick prophesied 2018 to be “the year of the regulator,” pointing out that Gibraltar has the unique first mover advantage of having a regulator that truly understands this space, and is so accessible and open to dialogue. Nick began the panel by categorising the ‘DLT licence experience’ into three distinct areas, Government & Regulators, DLT advisors such as Gibraltar’s law firms and the users of DLT licences such as GBX, each with their own distinct experience.
Joey Garcia, who was a part of the working committee regarding the original DLT framework explained the reasons for a best principles approach by stating: “Let’s build a ground-up framework that is evolutional.” Nick complimented Joey’s sentiments by highlighting the collaborative nature of the DLT framework: “There is a trinity of bodies here, government, industry and users, coming together to find a solution”
The panel concluded that although Gibraltar has been successful in locating and nurturing emerging markets, such as e-gaming, it has seen an explosive reaction to its leading role with the DLT regulation.
Anthony Provasoli pointed out “3 years ago nobody knew where Gibraltar was, but that is very different today, especially in the last 12 months.” He also highlighted his experience on the perception of Gibraltar saying: “Clients love the fact they can come and sit down with the regulators and have an open discussion.” The panel’s experience echoed the Chief Ministers opening comment that Gibraltar is open for business.
The panel also touched on the subject of Brexit in relation to Gibraltar, which despite the outcome is making strides in placing itself strategically between Britain and the rest of Europe. Joey Garcia believes that due to the global connection of blockchain and the cryptocurrency market that Brexit would not have a negative impact, by saying: “High level, I don’t think it [Brexit] will affect this space.” It is a testament to that strategic approach of Gibraltar to pioneer itself in this emerging technology and become a forerunner ahead of the Brexit transition.
Challenges in the Current Crypto Exchange Landscape
Nick later participated in a panel entitled “The Crypto Exchange Landscape for 2018” moderated by Joey Garcia with Vitaliy Kedyk of CEX, David Honeyman from Lendo, and David Gyori of Banking Reports alongside Nick. The panel discussed the challenges of AML/KYC with current cryptocurrency exchanges, with Nick detailing how the GBX intends to create a new industry standard of governance and due diligence for token sales within a rules-based system that would gain access to a large pool of KYC cleared participants.
The question of centralised vs decentralised exchanges was debated, with a consensus forming that if blockchain technology is still in its early developments, then decentralised exchanges are far off in that timescale development. With the current challenges that existing exchanges face around AML/KYC, accountability and consumer protection, decentralised exchanges would not contain a solution. Vitaliy emphasised this by saying: “Decentralised exchanges can’t deliver the real user experience” which the panel agreed that if this space is to be adopted by mainstream consumers, the user experience would be of paramount importance.
Nick was invited to close the 1st-day proceedings of the conference. He championed Gibraltar for its bold stance on the global stage as a home for those businesses that are utilising DLT technology. Mirroring the success story of GBX and its successful completion of raising $27M in the RKT token sale, with the way Gibraltar fostered the exponential growth of the e-gaming industry a parallel to what we are witnessing in the blockchain space. Nick finished by telling the packed out audience that Gibraltar is open for business and made a call out to those looking to Gibraltar as a home for the business to “give us a chance”.
Blockchain Innovation in Gibraltar and Beyond
A key moment during the 2nd day of the conference came from Philip Young, the Marketing Director of GBX. Phil gave a presentation on the Blockchain Innovation Centre (BIC) an initiative set up by the Gibraltar Stock Exchange (GSX) to help create a hub of blockchain innovation in both Gibraltar and further afield. Phil gave the three bedrock tenants that would “Educate, Inspire, Connect.” Phil spoke of the BIC’s offer of a network of experts that would help select, fund, advise and guide blockchain-based startups in Gibraltar. Additionally, Phil proposed the idea of the BIC helping to establish educational programs seeking out universities both abroad and in Gibraltar to encourage collaborations.
Despite the heavy wind and rain hammering the Rock of Gibraltar, attendance was still high over the two-day event, with great networking opportunities between the panels and presentations. It was encouraging to see that more than 180 of the 300 attendees had travelled to Gibraltar for the event demonstrating that Gibraltar is quickly establishing itself as a global hub for all things crypto & blockchain.
I’ve been heavily invested in Ethereum since it appeared, so I was very interested in Vitalik Buterin’s recent talk at Devcon (he’s the creator of Ethereum), which he called “a modest proposal.” He told his audience that he has been “quietly working on a new long-term plan for the future of the blockchain network.” It is a essentially a three to four year roadmap outlining his vision of the potential technical developments that Ethereum can achieve, and as anyone who owns ETH will have noted, the value of the coins showed some upwards movement after his speech.
What does his vision include? At the heart of it is something called ‘sharding’. Without getting too technical, this is defined as: “A database shard is a horizontal partition of data in a database or search engine. Each individual partition is referred to as a shard or database shard. Each shard is held on a separate database server instance, to spread load.” This was something that Ethereum watchers had expected to happen, but Bueterin finally solidified his strategy for using the shard technique.
Expanding Ethereum’s scalability
His roadmap points to problems with the platform and solutions for fixing them. His focus in the talk was on scalability, as Ethereum nodes need to store everything that ever happened on the network. Buterin emphasised the need for solutions that mitigate expensive storage costs that could escalate exponentially as the system expands.
It was clear from his presentation that he wanted to encourage Ethereum developers to think about this aspect when he said: “The amount of activity on the blockchain is orders of magnitude larger than it was just a couple of years ago,” and pointed to daily transaction rates and the 20,000 nodes plus that are now part of the network.
Buterin’s view of sharding
Buterin seems to see ‘sharding’ as the most probable solution to the problem. This way of partitioning data into subsets means that each node would only have to store a small amount of data from the entire network. But, Buterin wants a system where “the underlying math would hold the system accountable, and if they need it, nodes could rely on other nodes for data.” How to execute this in practice and ensure security, i.e. no nodes sending other nodes false information, is something that researchers have been looking into.
From the talk we now know that Buterin has a less conventional approach to using sharding. He is proposing to split Ethereum into different types of shards- there will be a main shard comprising the current Ethereum network, and there would be other shards, which Buterin calls other “universes.”
Most importantly, Buterin believes the partitioning would allow for more aggressive changes on the smaller shards, and more cautious changes on the main blockchain. This will ensure Ethereum’s platform maintains stability while developers can test new changes.
Other announcements included upgrading the smart contract technology and progress on eWASM, his project for running Ethereum on a web browser. He also hinted that a lot of the work in progress is much more advanced than anyone guessed when he finished hi stalk by saying, “Basically we’re just inches away from a proof of concept in python.”