Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud business of the world’s largest online retailer (Amazon) continues to grow at a healthy clip; it now supports virtually any workload for over a million active customers in 190 countries. “There is fast adoption of AWS cloud services across India and that ranges from developers, startups, small-to-mid size companies, enterprises and education institutions,” says Werner Vogels, the chief technology officer at Amazon.
As one of the forces behind Amazon’s approach to cloud computing, he is passionate about helping young businesses reach global scale, and transforming enterprises into fast-moving digital firms. On a recent visit, he spoke to Sudhir Chowdhary about the company’s cloud business and advancements in services like artificial intelligence. Excerpts:
How do you look at the ever evolving e-commerce space—where on most occasions winners are decided by the right implementation of technology rather than anything else today?
I am not really sure that I fully agree with your statement. I think any digital business has its core in technology and Amazon is a technology company so let’s start there. I think there are a few things that are really important. I feel focusing on the customer and making sure that you align yourself to the customer in the long term is really important.
Sometimes innovation is about new things. For example, in a business like e-commerce it is really important to think about other things that will never change for my customer. Science of the catalogue means how many products are there in the catalogue, what’s the likelihood that a customer will find what he is looking for. And the larger the catalogue, higher is the likelihood that you will find it. So that’s an important thing for customers.
Another area is, of course, pricing. You know, nobody is going to say “I love Amazon because Amazon is much more expensive”. The third thing is the hard guarantee on promises. If you say you are going to deliver in two days, you have to deliver in two days. Additionally, convenience plays an extremely important role; things like whether customers find it easy to shop on their mobile devices or desktops. Or, is it easy for them to shop with their voice enabled devices? Also, is it easy for them to track all of this?
At Amazon, we do a lot of experiments to do newer things. Most prominent there is Amazon Go, the check-out store which we are experimenting where you can take things off the shelf, put it in your bag and walk out of the store and you get charged automatically. Amazon’s innovation approach has always been to go bold and go big.
What are the key technology priorities for Amazon today?
First and foremost for any company, not just Amazon as the retailer or AWS, is that proper security needs to be in place–without that there is no business. One of the things we see is that quite a few companies are
doing systems online that were never intended to be online. And we see quite a few of these incidents happening lately. So for us I think priority number one is to protect our customers and their businesses, governments and their citizens.
Second, it becomes increasingly important how you use data. Every company has access to exactly the same IT infrastructure. Cloud is available for everyone. Therefore, having access to computing infrastructure is no longer a differentiator. The same goes for analytics. All the advanced analytics tools are available for everyone. My point is this: the quality of data and what you do with it will become the competitive differentiator
Third, I think are the deeper analytics tools. Artificial intelligence triggers many people of the idea of science fiction; I think in this particular case we just mean really hardcore computer science, for example, Machine Learning; that is, making use of data from the past to predict things about the future. We must be able to make use of that information to predict whether a new order that is coming in is fraudulent or not, or give it some percentage score so that you can go and investigate.
How is AWS performing in India? How important is India market for you?
Amazon Web Services has been present in India for over six years now and during this period we have been very active here. I think the growth has been spectacular in the past nine months. Some of our oldest customers are here in India; earlier, most of our customers had been using our compute capabilities outside of the Indian region. Since, we now have a region on the ground that was launched in June 2016, our customer base has grown from 75,000 to 120,000 rapidly; maybe a growth of 60% and most of these are enterprises. Earlier, the movers in cloud would be in the US and in Europe. But now I see Indian enterprises are moving dramatically to the cloud. There is fast adoption of AWS cloud services across India and that ranges from developers, startups, small-to-mid size companies, enterprises and education institutions.
I think, first and foremost India has a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. The kind of entrepreneurial spirit that is here, combined with lack of capital in the market makes AWS the ideal place for them to build the digital systems. Or move to the digital systems. Most customers will tell you that it’s not necessary the cost picture that attracts them; it’s the ability to move fast that is driving them to the AWS cloud. I would like to believe that most Indian companies are ready to go into digital transformation as the traditional enterprises are going. So, moving fast is something that AWS gives you.
Hundreds of thousands of customers have joined the Amazon Web Services (AWS) community and use AWS solutions to build their businesses. The AWS cloud computing platform provides the flexibility to build your application, your way, regardless of your use case or industry. You can save time, money, and let AWS manage your infrastructure, without compromising scalability, security, or dependability.
We often see disruptions in the online space—with customers not getting the right experience and often the websites are not able to handle rapid surge in traffic. In your opinion, what is the best way to deal with such situations?
Move to AWS! Even in the early days in 2006 when we had built AWS, our the goal was to serve, what we call, companies that had a desire for internet scale. For both for efficiency as well as for reliability and security reasons, I would urge everyone that is in the internet space to make use of our cloud services because that’s where you can get infinite capacity at the most cost effective manner.
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India is moving very fast on the digital era—what innovations can we expect from Amazon that will augment the government of India’s ‘Digital India’ dream?
I think at this moment mostly what you will see is that many of our partners are building systems that are interactive with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) system. We see payment systems happening, we see digital health systems happening, we see partners building in the area of peer-to-peer transactions and things like that.
I am very much impressed by how the entire system is working. As a core, you need to have this sort of identity system absolutely robust and secure. I congratulate the Indian government on what they have achieved so far, this will be a big driver for innovation and quite a few of those will be built on top of AWS. So for us, we need to make sure that our systems work really well with those back-end systems that the government has put in place, so that our partners and customers can start integrating all these things into their systems.
What is Amazon doing to deliver the perfect customer experience?
The perfect customer experience, if we look at retail, I think most of that is driven by helping customers make the right decisions. And sometimes that decision might be not to buy something. I think many of the things that Amazon has pioneered over time really give the customers full control. For Amazon who pride themselves to be the earth’s most customer-centric company, it is really important for us to align ourselves with the customers. Many of our customers use Amazon as a research engine for quality information on their purchase decisions.