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Malaysian state investment fund adopts Alibaba Cloud

Permodalan Nasional chooses Alibaba Cloud for hybrid cloud architecture to boost speed to market and gain scalability

Malaysian investment firm Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) has turned to Alibaba Cloud for its hybrid cloud services and technical expertise in a bid to advance its digital transformation agenda.

Established in 1978, PNB is a government-linked investment firm that was conceived to promote share ownership in the corporate sector among the bumiputeras or natives. It comprises unit trust management companies – namely Amanah Saham Nasional Berhad (ASNB) and Amanah Mutual Berhad (AMB) – and manages about MYR301bn (£60bn) in assets collectively from 1.3 million members.

Speaking at the Alibaba Cloud Summit in Kuala Lumpur on 31 July 2019, PNB’s chief technology officer (CTO), Muzzaffar Othman, told attendees the two factors that drove the firm towards using Alibaba Cloud were time to market and scalability.

Othman said as PNB pushed its digital transformation agenda, which included increasing its touch points to customers through web and mobile applications, it needed to bolster its IT infrastructure as its digital transactions growth doubled year-over-year.

“The way we handled it in the past was to go out and buy the cheapest servers, install and harden them, and put them into production,” he explained, noting that had the firm continued upgrading its IT infrastructure in this way, it would be six months too late to market.

As for the scalability factor, Othman said that because of the nature of its business, every first week of the year is the busiest and presents a great challenge to PNB’s IT infrastructure.

“On 1 January every year, dividends are declared. Following that, we are inundated with huge requests on our portal and applications, as there is a surge of members wanting to transact the week following 1 January.

“We needed to find a technology that was scalable and flexible enough and a partner that was able to respond to what we need,” he said.

As to why Alibaba Cloud was chosen, Othman said PNB evaluated various cloud providers and chose Alibaba Cloud as a partner because it had showed its commitment to solving PNB’s challenges.

“On 2 January, the Alibaba Cloud guys were with us, taking up to two weeks to solve our problems – that’s a sign of great partnership,” he said.

Another reason why PNB chose Alibaba Cloud is the fact that it wanted to use a hybrid solution where its customer database resides in PNB’s private datacentre, while front-end web and mobile applications are hosted in Alibaba Cloud.

“This architecture works for us because our customer data is sacred and can’t leave our datacentre,” he stressed.

In the near future, Othman revealed that PNB would begin experimenting with Alibaba Cloud’s other features, such as analytics and machine learning, to gain better insight into its customers’ behaviour.

“What I have currently is our core banking system that looks at what our customers’ transactions are like. But what is missing are reasons as to why our members are investing or withdrawing their funds,” he said.

Alluding to the capabilities of analytics and machine learning, Othman said: “Ultimately, it’s about giving our customers a better experience and helping our members with financial inclusion.”

Alibaba Cloud was recently named first in the Asia-Pacific market share for infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and infrastructure utility services (IUS) in two consecutive years by Gartner in its latest report on the region’s IT services market.

The Chinese cloud supplier has been aggressively expanding its footprint across the region, starting with its international headquarters in Singapore, which opened in 2015.

It currently operates 15 availability zones in Asia-Pacific outside China, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Japan. The company set up its second datacentre in Jakarta this year in an effort to meet “strong customer demand” for its services in Indonesia.

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