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Jack Ma: Time for manufacturing to undergo 'new' transformation

Industry will need to brace itself for upcoming threats as well as opportunities, and focus on delivering "experiences" so skills won't be replaced by machines, says Alibaba's co-founder Jack Ma.

HANGZHOU, CHINA--Having rolled out its "new retail" strategy, Alibaba Group now has set its sights on helping the manufacturing industry transform and prepare for upcoming threats and opportunities the market will face.

"New manufacturing" would see traditional business-to-consumer manufacturers transition to deliver experiences and more personalised services, driven by consumer expectations, said Alibaba's co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma, who was speaking Wednesday at the Chinese vendor's computing conference here.

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While new retail was a melding of offline and online consumer experiences, new manufacturing was a culmination of manufacturing and services industries, Ma said.

The adoption of IT and digital transformation addressed the need for standardisation, scalability, and flexibility. However, as long as processes could be standardised, he noted, machines could replace the need for humans to perform such tasks.

This underscored the need to focus on delivering customer experiences, something which machines would not be able to fulfil and would require the work of humans, he said, adding that Alibaba aimed to help the manufacturing industry reform.

Ma said: "New retail seeks to redefine the retail sector. Today, I'd like to talk about new manufacturing because it will soon bring a wave of threats and opportunities to the manufacturing industry in China, and around the world. We must be prepared, both mentally and in every way possible."

Factories today were expected to be able to produce a wide variety of products, and at scale, he said. To effectively meet such demands, the manufacturing industry would need the key tools that new retail required, including data analytics, cloud, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things (IoT).

"Data analysts and algorithm engineers of the future will not be working in-house at internet companies, but in manufacturing facilities instead," he added.

US trade confrontation requires 20-year defense

He reiterated a prediction he made earlier this week at Alibaba's investors meetup here, when he described the trade war as "a mess" that could potentially drag on for two decades. He said the move was the US government's attempts to curtail China's increasing economic clout, just as the former did against Japan during the 1980s.

He urged Chinese enterprises, in particular SMBs, to be prepared should the trade war stretch 20 years.

Highlighting the need to leverage the latest technology and new ideas, Ma said great enterprises operating today would have experienced and survived tough market environments. Innovators would prevail, he added.

Based in Singapore, Eileen Yu reported for ZDNet from The Computing Conference 2018 in Hangzhou, China, on the invitation of Alibaba Group.