Alibaba Spinning Off Its Cloud Business Could Be a Stroke of Genius. Here’s Why.

Alibaba (BABA 4.34%), the Chinese tech conglomerate, surprised everyone when it announced its decision to spin off its cloud-computing business.

Most investors did not see that coming since the cloud business has been a highly prized segment within Alibaba, and investors expected the parent to remain in control of this business for the foreseeable future.

And while there are differing opinions among investors on that decision, I think it’s a brilliant move that can generate significant value for the cloud business and shareholders over the long run.

Cloud computing with a circle of laptops connected to a cloud hub.

Image source: Getty Images.

Bringing back focus and entrepreneurship

Alibaba’s cloud computing has been a rising star as it enjoys the tailwind of a growing cloud-computing industry in China.

But after growing at breathtaking rates for many years, the cloud business delivered a meager 4% growth in fiscal 2023 (ended March 31). Worse, revenue fell 2% year over year in the final quarter of fiscal 2023.

While many reasons contributed to its poor performance, the lack of management attention and focus could be a significant factor. Alibaba’s colossal empire spanning multiple industries is too much for any management team to keep up with, let alone deliver world-class performance.

Hence, Alibaba’s restructuring plan to break down its empire into six independent business units is the medicine it badly needed to get back in shape. And by spinnning off its cloud-computing business, the tech company is taking the next step of giving its child the necessary independence to chart its own path.

As a stand-alone company, the cloud business can focus on satisfying its customers more, responding to competitive pressures faster, incentivizing its people better, and making decisions quicker. Ultimately, this could bring back the entrepreneurial spirit that’s probably lost in the vast conglomerate structure of the company’s past.

As cloud computing is becoming an ever more essential industry amid the rise of trends like artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and the Internet of Things (IoT), Alicloud will need all the attention of its management team to execute and deliver results — and this spin-off is probably the answer.

Opening up new avenues for growth

Alicloud might have been the undisputed leader in China’s cloud-computing market (with a 37% market  share), but it can do better as a stand-alone company.

One challenge is that Alibaba’s cloud-computing business will find it difficult to have clients who are competitors to its sister company. For example, Pinduoduo and JD.com will likely never be comfortable using Alibaba’s cloud-computing service given their rival relationship with Alibaba’s e-commerce business. More likely, these companies will gravitate toward Alicloud’s competitors, such as Tencent Cloud.

Another possible hurdle is that many Chinese government entities may be unwilling to use Alicloud’s service — even though the latter could be the best service provider or have the lowest pricing — amid concerns about issues like data security and cyber security risks.

Alicloud can address many of these issues and gain market share by operating as a stand-alone entity. It can address data security, privacy, and sovereignty concerns with appropriate policies and serve new customers after removing the conflict of interest. It also has more flexibility in forming partnerships and collaborations, leading to better innovation, improved service offerings, and new market expansion.

It won’t surprise me if Alicloud quickly resumes its historical growth trajectory as it embarks on this new journey!

Killing two birds with one stone

It’s been a challenging few years for Alibaba as it faced increasingly more competitive external pressures and a weak economy.

The spin-off will give the cloud business the independence to execute its strategies and the opportunity to gain new customers. And while there is no guarantee that all the benefits mentioned above will materialize, I do like that the chairman and CEO of Alibaba, Daniel Zhang, will be the leader in this newly created entity.

It will be a new chapter for the cloud business. As a shareholder, I’m looking forward to participating in it.

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