Compared with internet companies, there isn’t much room for trial and error for real estate companies like Wanda Group, though it has already been trying to get rid of the “label” and promote innovation via technology. Recently, TMTPost had an in-depth interview with Wanda’s senior executives including Feng Zhongqian, standing vice manager of Information Management Center of Wanda Group, and attempted to draw a full picture of the brand new “smart” industrial ecosystem it has been building up.
As a matter of fact, it’s hard to link Wanda’s moves in the past two years with a real estate company, though the effort to get rid of the label started a long time ago.
As early as 2013, Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, has already listed cultural industries and transnational enterprises as the course of its fourth restructuring. As the momentum for “internet plus” gathered, Wanda even debuted its own e-commerce platform Feifan in 2015.
In October 2016, Wanda again restructured and announced the establishment of “Wanda Internet Technology Group” in Shanghai, adding a new business sector to its existing business landscape, comprised of commerce, culture and finance businesses. Half a year later, Wanda entered into a strategic cooperation agreement with IBM, won the technical support from IBM IaaS, PaaS, Watson, blockchain and IoT, and officially entered the public cloud sector.
“Wanda entered the internet and technology sector because we are confident of the potential in ‘combining real industry with internet’ and have both strong real industry genes and strong real economy resources,” Qu Dejun, president of Wanda Internet Technology Group, said during the 2017 IBM China Forum held this April.
He told TMTPost that to revitalize, China’s real economy had to be connected to the internet ASAP and that the widespread application of internet technology had provided the best opportunity for real industries.
Qu Dejun, president of Wanda Internet Technology Group (left) & Chen Liming, chairman of IBM Greater China Region (right)
Beneath the booming development of Wanda in new sectors, however, it is rarely known that details like the heating, air-conditioning, lighting, fire control and background music in all the 187 Wanda Plazas across China are all guided by a comprehensive management system. In fact, such information integration is also a key part of Wanda’s restructuring.
How did Wanda build and improve its own IBMS within three years?
From 2011 to 2015, the very period of its most rapid expansion, Wanda opened almost half a hundred new Wanda Plazas every year. Wanda Plazas are known as commercial complexes integrating various business forces, from shopping, restaurant to entertainment, etc. Every time it opened a new plaza, Wanda has to add around 3,000 sets of air-conditioning, heating, drainage and elevator equipment.
Such large-scale “maneuver” of hardware and servers inevitably makes Wanda Plazas into a gigantic data center. Beneath the 3,000 sets of equipment in every Wanda Plaza, there are over 10,000 information spots in areas such as patrol, maintenance management. Therefore, there will be altogether over 50 billion information spots in nearly 200 Wanda Plazas.
Traditionally, engineers have to be assigned to commercial complexes to maintain the variety of facilities. Therefore, Wanda used to assign 43 engineers to each Wanda Plaza. However, with so many plazas to maintain often in one city and so limited number of engineers, it’s hardly a feasible plan to rely solely on engineers’ manual work.
At the beginning of 2012, Wanda began to consider the possibility of “Talent Cloud”. At first, it was referred to as “one-click mechanism”, that is, the entire weak electricity system is controlled by a click of different buttons. After conducting a research over all the IBMS (Intelligent Building Management System), Wanda launched its own solution, Talent Cloud Version 1.0, at the beginning of 2013.
With the system, Wanda was able to manage each plaza in a unified and intelligent manner for the first time, controlling over 30,000 information spots in 16 sub-systems, including fire control, heating and air-conditioning, public lighting and drainage, etc. At each Wanda Plaza, there would be a special “Talent Cloud Monitoring Room” where engineers could real-time monitor all the systems in a visual interface.
“At that out, our major challenge was that we have no predecessors to learn from. At most, a chain brand could have several or half a hundred outlets, but we have nearly 200. There simply wasn’t a unified, standardized and replaceable management product that we could reply on at each plaza,” Feng Zhongqian told TMTPost.
Though with the support from IBMS, Talent Cloud 1.0 was still not a perfect approach to managing so huge amount of data.
For example, a major problem with the system was information overloads. Since the system had to manage so many information spots, it became increasingly difficult to match different spots appropriately, which also ultimately resulted in huge delay requirements. Covering as many as 16 sub-systems, it’s easy for different sub-systems to be affected by network delay, which posed a huge safety risk for systems that required quick response, such as the fire alarm system.
Therefore, Wanda decided to reduce the coverage of Talent Cloud and separated the fire alarm sub-system, which alone possessed over 20,000 information spots. At the same time, the fire alarm sub-system, along with the electronic patrol, information distribution and background music sub-systems, were nested, instead of integrated onto Talent Cloud Version 2.0. This way, Wanda managed to keep the visual interface while improving response speed at the same time.
Visualization is one of the major advantages of Talent Cloud. By real-time monitoring of surveillance cameras, data turbulence and server conditions, engineers could grasp the operation conditions of each Wanda Plaza in a quick and accurate manner.
Filling technological gap via the “topological structure”
At the end of 2016, Talent Cloud Version 3.0 was officially launched. A key change is moving the separate Talent Cloud system in each plaza to the cloud, so that geographical boundaries of different Wanda Plazas were broken and that all the plazas were managed by IDC (International Data Corporation) in a unified manner.
This April, TMTPost issued a report and revealed the cooperation details between IBM and Wanda. Although Talent Cloud is built on a Hybrid Cloud platform inside Wanda, it’s still not enough to support Wanda’s other businesses, including Feifan e-commerce, finance, etc. Therefore, it’s natural that Wanda still has a huge demand for cloud business, internally.
Externally, however, with over 100 brands and stores and a daily passenger flow of over 10,000, Wanda itself becomes a big target client of cloud services. While Wanda is in dire need of cloud services, IBM needs Wanda’s nearly 200 plazas to test its variety of technologies. Therefore, their cooperation is more bout “each takes what one needs” than cross-sector cooperation.
According to Feng, Wanda’s cooperation strategy, that is, filling its own technological gap via external cooperation, is much like the “topological structure” in Computer Network Topology. In this sense, the cooperation with IBM is like a bigger node in the network, while cooperation with other small and mid-sized tech startups constitute smaller nodes. As a result, Wanda managed to go beyond points and into the surface and revolutionize the platform.
Feng Zhongqian, standing vice manager of Information Management Center of Wanda Group
Last November, a couple of products stood out at the IoT Acceleration Camp held by top-tier Silicon Valley incubator Plug and Play and won the opportunity to conduct Proof of Concept (POC) inside Wanda’s ecosystem.
For example, ZiFiSense, an IoT startup based in Shanghai, has been promoting ZETA, an industrial IoT networking technology that allows for lower power cost, wider connectivity range and quicker transmission speed than Wifi, Zigbee or bluetooth.
During the China SaaS Challenge co-held by TMTPost and ITValue, Feng Zhongqian, as one of the guest judges, also showed Wanda’s open-mindedness towards innovation as well as recognition of the great work other startups had done in sectors like APM, AI and industrial IoT.
Wanda’s IBMS is smart, but not intelligent?
For veteran employees at Wanda, it was almost impossible to cooperate with tech startups. On the one hand, while Wanda Plazas have huge demand, tech startups often lack the ability to apply their technology in large scales; on the other hand, Wanda is, after all, not an internet company, so there simply isn’t much room for trial and error, as is also explained by Feng.
However, with the introduction of Talent Cloud and the cooperation with IBM, Wanda has created a huge demand gap in the technical field, which has also kept driving Feng and the entire Information Management Center to find their own style and pace inside a “militarized” and “strictly-organized” company.
As a matter of fact, before the cooperation with Plug and Play and China SaaS Challenge, Wanda didn’t have much experience in cooperating with startups. The good thing is, as Feng told TMTPost, Wanda’s Information Management Center and the entire team has been filling its technical gap with an open mind.
“IoT Acceleration Camp”, held by top-tier Silicon Valley incubator Plug and Play, has discovered and introduced lots of excellent startup teams and technologies to large-scale enterprises such as Wanda and Huazhu
“Besides the macro-level cooperation with IBM, we also need to focus on some micro-level spots to bring about changes for the entire platform,” Feng told TMTPost. For her, an ideal IBMS shall be able to carry out automatic management based on data analysis, while Talent Cloud can only solve problems one after another, at least for now. Therefore, she believed that Wanda’s IBMS is only smart, but far from being intelligent.
Inevitably, this presents an even higher demand on Wanda’s tech team. In this sense, another advantage of the vivid cooperation with startups begin to emerge: the frequent contact and collaboration with startups and the various pilot spots carried out together with startups help Wanda learn about the latest development and technology on the market in time.
“From the business aspect, Plug and Play motivated us the greatest,” Feng said, jokingly. At present, Wanda has already been carrying out POC for startup projects that stood out from Plug and Play’s challenge. At the same time, Wanda has also been approaching IoT giants such as Microsoft and Huawei to test the matching capability of different companies’ products.
It is worth mentioning that Wanda has been quite efficient in project execution. For example, three hours after the end of an activity, XPower received a phone call from Wanda, asking if it could test its products at Wanda Plaza 08:00 AM next morning.
“Oftentimes, it took us two to three months to settle on a project with other large-scale business groups and carry it out. However, it only took us a couple days with Wanda,” Claire, Enterprise Client Manager of Plug and Play China Region, told TMTPost.
“While large companies’ products are often fixed and expensive, startups could customize their services or products based on Wanda’s needs. Therefore, it’s significantly more convenient and cost-effective,” Feng added at last.
[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Su Jianxun please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]
Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.