Alibaba Group Holding has introduced a sweeping upgrade to DingTalk, its workplace chat tool once known as the “Orwellian version of Slack”, in hopes of turning the app into a gateway for Chinese enterprises to digitise their business by using the firm’s cloud infrastructure. Users of the platform, previously accused by critics of promoting unhealthy work-life balance , now have the option of turning off notifications for off-hours messages. The app’s old motto “make work and study easy” is replaced with “let progress happen”, while the new logo is a slightly slanted version of the old design, which DingTalk said puts emphasis on the wings instead of the lightning bolt. Alibaba expands share buy-back to a record US$25 billion amid stock slump The facelift underscores the ambitions of Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post , to turn itself from a consumer-facing e-commerce giant into a service provider for businesses, according to a company statement. DingTalk is positioning itself as an assistant in the digital economy based on the idea of “platform-as-a-service”, a type of cloud computing that provides a complete development and deployment environment for clients, said Ye Jun, president of DingTalk, known locally as Ding Ding. “Digitalisation is helping enterprises find certainties in uncertainties … and we aim to be the one who provides services in this digital economy era,” Ye said. DingTalk’s revamp comes as growth in Alibaba’s core businesses, consisting mainly of Taobao and Tmall, are slowing down amid a maturing Chinese market, intensified competition and tougher regulations. Alibaba reported a 10 per cent revenue increase in the three months ended December 31, marking its slowest sales growth since it went public in 2014. On the other hand, Alibaba’s cloud computing service is experiencing robust growth, allowing the Hangzhou-based company to capitalise on the growing demand from Chinese businesses to digitise their management and operations. By opening its platform to third-party programmers and developers, DingTalk is hoping to bring more value to customers. The platform would generate a ninefold return on investment for its users, Ye said. DingTalk is in steep competition with other Chinese workplace apps, including Tencent Holdings’ WeCom and ByteDance’s Feishu, known worldwide as Lark, which has been gaining traction since the pandemic began two years ago. To improve Alibaba’s competitiveness, DingTalk became part of Alibaba’s cloud unit and increased its headcount in September 2020, a move that was viewed as a key strategy to take advantage of DingTalk’s customer base, which expanded more than 20 times after the Covid-19 outbreak. Ku Wei, vice-president at Alibaba, recently joined DingTalk as its new chief operating officer and will be responsible for devising strategies to attract large-size clients. Last October, DingTalk said its user numbers surpassed 500 million, while the number of institutions using the service reached 19 million, marking an important milestone in the app’s push to increase its share in China’s booming digital workplace market. The sector was valued at more than 26.2 billion yuan (US$4.11 billion) by the end of last year, according to data analytics firm iiMedia Research. A Chinese start-up is betting the future of webcams is AI and 4K There are currently four versions of DingTalk on the market, including a free-to-use edition and three paid alternatives. DingTalk is also doubling down on its videoconferencing products, a venture that is seen by some as lagging behind Tencent and Zoom. The Alibaba unit plans to team up with Rokid, an augmented reality headset start-up in Alibaba’s home city of Hangzhou, to build a “personal digital office space” where virtual meetings can take place, Ye said. DingTalk also recently acquired streaming technology start-up Pano for an undisclosed sum, potentially giving the platform a stronger foothold in China’s office communications and work-related social media segments.