July 18, 2023
Aliz is stepping up to seize the moment as demand for data and machine learning expertise increases across Southeast Asia, converting years of foundational work into market reality.
The Singapore-based data and analytics specialist has launched a new proprietary software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform in the form of Rabbit, supported by additional engineering muscle in Jakarta.
The motivation is simple – to help an enthused industry realise the true potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment,” said Balázs Molnár, CEO and Co-Founder of Asia Pacific at Aliz. “Our goal is to double down on the tectonic shifts that are about to happen.
“In the short-term, we see a big opportunity to capitalise on our data and machine learning practices. As more and more companies try to automate and bring generative AI interfaces into their business, they will still need a strong data discipline and set-up to be able to fully ride the wave of the transition.”
Aliz is going on the attack as businesses continue to weigh up the impact of accelerated cloud adoption in ASEAN – triggered by the emergence of hyperscalers in region and the need to modernise post-pandemic.
“There is no doubting the shifting sentiment here,” Molnár observed. “Previously, the attitude to cloud was, ‘here’s a credit card for the engineers; they can spend on APIs as they see fit’.
“Now, innovative organisations are not talking about moving to the cloud anymore; they’re looking at charge backs, unit economics and other advanced metrics to see how to make technology more efficient and how to squeeze the most out of what they’re paying for.”
In the medium-term, AI adoption is also expected to ramp up across all key markets in Southeast Asia.
With generative AI and large language models predicted to become a commodity during the next 12-18 months, Molnár predicated a “massive shift” from traditional user interfaces toward chat-based interfaces.
“Right now, we are still only scratching the surface in terms of how these technologies will change our digital interactions,” he noted.
“Use cases are quite generic but we are betting that businesses will very quickly shift as generative AI becomes more generally available and they understand how much engagement levels can go up by adding the right interfaces.”
Spinning up a SaaS product
Operating as the first data and analytics specialised Google Cloud partner in ASEAN, Aliz recently rolled out Rabbit, a proprietary cloud cost management and optimisation platform. The SaaS offering has graduated out of the core company and now runs as a standalone offering, available on Google Marketplace.
“It’s very exciting because this is the first SaaS product we have been able to let go from the core company because it has matured into a business on its own,” Molnár noted. “I see this as the future and the representation of where we think the IT implementation business is heading towards.
“We will keep investing in building tools and solutions such as Rabbit so one day we can implement 10x more projects with the same number of engineers as we have today.”
Launched at the start of the year, Rabbit was created with the vision of simplifying the complexities of cloud technologies by enhancing transparency and efficiency levels.
The product’s interface allows users to track and analyse cloud spending in real-time to help improve understanding of cost drivers at the service, project and workload levels. Users can also drill down to the smallest cost factors within each Google Cloud Platform (GCP) service, spanning Compute Engine, BigQuery or Kubernetes offerings.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment. Our goal is to double down on the tectonic shifts that are about to happen”
“Building a product that drives true value is an incredible challenge,” Molnár acknowledged. “As creators, we cannot determine its worth but we can measure its impact. The response from our early adopters has been a strong indication that we are indeed creating value.”
Given ongoing economic challenges, Molnár said innovation discussions have evolved into optimisation conversations as cost becomes a central consideration for organisations still emerging from the rubble of COVID-19.
“Optimisation has become the number one priority,” he confirmed. “As such, a lot of the previous attempts to innovate business models or user experiences have fallen victim to it.”
Instead, companies are now looking internally to understand what business processes can be innovated or how cloud stacks can be deployed more efficiently.
“A good example is that two years ago, nobody cared about FinOps or having a deep understanding of cloud costs,” Molnár said. “It wasn’t a priority but now, almost all of our customers are asking for it.”
There is now a need for companies – beyond engineering organisations – to possess deeper understandings of the cost drivers and where cloud budgets actually go, Molnár added.
“This is also supported by the fact that easy money for fast-moving start-ups has dried up,” he highlighted. “It allows some companies and their legacy competitors to take a breather and to think about whether what they were doing under the banner of innovation was actually worth it.”
Building engineering muscle in Indonesia
Aliz goes to market as an advanced partner of Google Cloud housing expertise across data, machine learning, infrastructure and application development disciplines.
The business first established an Asian office in Singapore in 2016, in addition to representation in Budapest, Berlin and Milan. Now a new engineering hub in Jakarta has been added to the list, cited as a “number one priority” in terms of strengthening service and consultation offerings.
With an expanded team and full-size development centre in Indonesia, the hub will serve a dual purpose, to better and more cost-effectively serve an expanding customer base in Southeast Asia while managing increased global demand.
“Indonesia has always been one of our most important markets and especially during the past two years, we have experienced very strong momentum,” Molnár said.
One of Aliz’s earliest successes in Indonesia was the modernisation and migration of Tiket.com’s technology platform following a period of exponential growth, as well as data training initiatives with Gojek, Tokopedia and Traveloka. Currently the business is engaged in “major projects” within the traditional enterprise space, evident through collaboration with Prudential.
“It’s very exciting because this is the first SaaS product we have been able to let go from the core company because it has matured into a business on its own”
The timing also coincides with Indonesia embarking on an accelerated path to digitalisation with technology adoption focused on cloud migration and the deployment of data and machine learning technologies.
“We are particularly excited about how this change will bring positive social impact, from helping remote areas access a wider range of products through e-commerce to providing education for underprivileged children,” Molnár added. “This is something we are proud to be a part of and we want to double down on it moving forward.”
Another key reason for expanding in Indonesia is the ability to source highly skilled and qualified engineers who are eager to learn and experiment with emerging technologies.
This will be significant given the full-size engineering hub can implement any Google Cloud project without having to outsource any part of the work to Aliz’s other engineering teams.
In short, this means the business needs data engineers, machine learning engineers, data scientists, infrastructure engineers, as well as management, sales and other back-office functions.
“People are our greatest assets and we value them highly,” Molnár stressed. “We also expect them to be bullish on what we are looking to achieve. People in Indonesia are talented and, thanks to the rapid digital development, highly skilled and qualified as well.”
During the next 12-24 months, plans are in place to hire an additional 50-100 people of which 80% will be from high-value-added engineering fields. The logic is to allow the business to deliver comprehensive solutions while providing seamless customer support.
“We are looking for smart people who can learn,” Molnár said. “Experience matters but what we really seek is the ability to quickly adapt and learn new things.”
Evolution of chat-based interfaces
When Aliz first entered Asia seven years ago, the team’s original idea was to build vertical personal assistants with similar capabilities to ChatGPT but with specific use cases. For example, buying flight tickets or managing utilities and other mundane tasks.
“The challenge was that no one had the back-end ready on the client side,” Molnár recalled. “The data wasn’t organised; it sat in silos and legacy systems.”
Despite language models being “somewhat available” during the early days of chatbots, the tools were not yet useful and in some cases, still fail to provide true value for users.
“Just look at current chatbots and how clumsy most of them are,” Molnár observed. “The only valid use case for them is when there is a human on the other end.”
“Building a product that drives true value is an incredible challenge. As creators, we cannot determine its worth but we can measure its impact”
Molnár acknowledged the industry has come a long way since then however, with Aliz leading the charge building numerous cloud data warehouses as businesses continue to migrate and modernise technology stacks across Southeast Asia.
“We are much better positioned to be able to build real chat-based interfaces that can automate mundane tasks or make it easier to interact with a business,” he said. “I think many homepages will become chat boxes only in the future.”
In a note of caution to enthusiastic businesses hell-bent on embracing capabilities akin to ChatGPT at all costs, Molnár advised that generative AI is nothing more than an interface.
“It won’t be able to manage bookings on its own if the back-end in the business is not set up properly,” he warned. “So, to some degree, we are still facing similar challenges to what we faced 6-7 years ago even though the technology has advanced immensely.
“In most cases, it’s a cultural and organisational question and nothing to do with how advanced the technology is.”
From day one of Aliz, the team built its processes and business model on automating implementation as much as possible.
“For this we needed two things,” Molnár explained. “Firstly, world-class architect-level engineers who can design solutions and manage implementation while understanding the business requirements. And secondly, tools and accelerators that can automate mundane or lower to mid-tier engineering tasks.”
Aliz’s implementation continues to remain highly automated with the technology provider heavily relying on proprietary tools, accelerators and solutions. This not only speeds up implementation but eliminates a “big chunk” of risk that usually comes with IT projects.
“Building a world-class team and engineering capabilities that can compete anywhere in the world wasn’t easy in a highly price sensitive and competitive market,” Molnár added. “The fact that we were able to do it and not compromise on our quality over the years is our biggest achievement.”
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