March 30, 2017 7:00 pm JST

IBM's Watson to make debut in China

US IT company partners with Dalian Wanda for range of internet services

DAISUKE HARASHIMA, Nikkei staff writer

Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin,left, shakes hands with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in Beijing.

DALIAN, China -- The Dalian Wanda Group has partnered with IBM to sell the American company's Watson, an artificial intelligence system, and a cloud service to Chinese companies.

It is another step into internet-related businesses for the Chinese commercial property giant.

The aim is to spread the use of Watson in China and bolster the competitiveness of Chinese companies.

Dalian Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin recently signed the partnership agreement with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in Beijing.

Dalian Wanda said the two companies will later thrash out details of the partnership. A unit of the Chinese conglomerate will manage the two IBM services.

The Watson service will make use of natural language processing and conversational features. Retailers will be able to use it for customer analysis and merchandise control. Call centers will be able to draw on it for interactive voice responses.

A broad range of applications are envisioned, like analyzing social media and then predicting what will sell in the future.

As for IBM's cloud service, Dalian Wanda sees it coming in handy for the many Chinese companies that save their data on their own servers, which raises the risk of data leaks.

IBM's cloud service is expected to offer companies safer storage of in-house data and to help lower their data management costs.

Dalian Wanda had been focused on real estate. However, China's once red-hot economy is slowing, and the real estate sector is no longer seen as stable. 

So Dalian Wanda is getting into motion pictures, theme parks, sports and other entertainment businesses. It is also dipping its toes into travel, finance and internet services.

Although the company has acquired mainly entertainment-related businesses, it started doubling down on the internet this year. This is in part due to the Chinese government's so-called "Internet Plus" policy. Beijing hopes to use the internet to foster various industries and energize local economies.

For IBM, the partnership helps it to expeditiously push its internet services into China. It does not hurt that Dalian Wanda has close links with other Chinese companies.

Earlier in March, Dalian Wanda teamed with financial service provider China UnionPay to introduce the UnionPay QuickPass payment service at Dalian Wanda's commercial facilities and other sites. Data obtained through these transactions will guide future sales promotions.

The idea is to lure customers into Dalian Wanda's brick-and-mortar stores and create groupwide synergies.

The company is considering other internet-related business and has around 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) raised from outside sources to invest in them.

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