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China’s Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) Market Offers Tremendous Growth Potential

Last updated on August 10th, 2020 at 01:51 am

The public cloud market is growing at a rapid clip around the world. The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow from US$ 182.4 billion in 2018 to US$ 331.2 billion by 2022 representing a CAGR of 16.08% according to research from Gartner. The fastest growing market segment is expected to be cloud system infrastructure services, also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) which is expected to grow from US$ 30.5 billion in 2018 to US$ 76.6 billion by 2022, representing a CAGR of 25.89%. The second fastest growing market segment is expected to be Cloud application infrastructure services, also known as Platform as a Service (PaaS), which is expected to grow from US$ 15.6 billion in 2018 to US$ 31.8 million by 2022 representing a CAGR of 19.49%. Meanwhile the market for cloud application services, also known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is expected to grow from US$ 80 billion in 2018 to US$ 143.7 billion by 2022 representing a CAGR of 15.77%.

The story is the same in China where, much like the rest of the world, China’s cloud market has also been on an uptrend.

A column chart showing China's cloud computing market size in billions of yuan. China's cloud computing market was valued at RMB 9.7 billion in 2015, RMB 17 billion in 2016, RMB 26 billion in 2017, RMB 41.3 billion in 2018 (forecast), RMB 60.8 billion in 2019 (forecast), RMB 84.3 billion in 2020 (forecast), and RMB 110.9 billion in 2021 (forecast).

China’s IaaS market is the fastest growing cloud computing segment and is dominated by homegrown tech giants Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) and Tencent (HKG:0700). And although the country’s SaaS market has received relatively little attention compared to the IaaS segment, it is a significant part of China’s overall cloud computing market, being estimated to reach a market value of RMB 47.3 billion in 2020 which accounts for about 56.1% of China’s cloud market which is estimated to reach market value of RMB 84.3 billion the same year.

China’s SaaS market has been growing steadily over the past several years.

A column chart showing China software-as-a-service market size (in RMB billions). China's software-as-a-service market was valued at RMB 3.49 billion In 2013, RMB 5.98 billion in 2014, RMB 9.89 billion in 2015, RMB 12.75 billion in 2016, RMB 16.87 in 2017, RMB 23.21 billion in 2018 (forecast), RMB 33.7 billion) in 2019 (forecast), and RMB 47.34 billion in 2020 (forecast).

Yet, there is still ample potential for growth. China’s SaaS market is expected to reach approximately RMB 47 billion (US$ 6.7 billion) in 2020 according to Statista while the global SaaS market is expected to reach US$157 billion by 2020. This means China would account for just about 4% of the global SaaS market while accounting for about 16% of global GDP indicating ample potential for growth.
Furthermore, according to a 2019 report issued by Alibaba Cloud Research Center, while the number of Chinese companies is 3 times that of the United States, China’s SaaS output is just 24% of the U.S.

There are several growth drivers to support China’s SaaS market. Unlike in the west, a growing number of Chinese firms are not tied to legacy IT infrastructure and they are increasingly moving directly to the cloud, leapfrogging the traditional enterprise software generation in much the same way Chinese citizens leapfrogged the desktop/laptop phase and went straight to mobile. In the medium term, the COVID pandemic may prompt SMEs to accelerate cloud adoption to control costs, facilitate remote working, and online sales. Over the longer run, the industry is likely to enjoy tailwinds thanks to China’s made in China 2025 initiative which aims to upgrade China manufacturing base by developing high-tech Industries including electric cars, robotics, artificial intelligence, agricultural technology engineering new synthetic materials. Cloud computing is among the many technologies expected to drive this development (others include big data and IoT).

Opportunities for local and international SaaS companies

China’s higher end SaaS segment is largely dominated by foreign SaaS behemoths such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), and SAP (ETR:SAP) whose product offering often comes with a hefty price tag. Homegrown SaaS companies such as Kingdee (HKG:0268), Digiwin, and Yonyou (SHA:600588) on the other hand are not as powerful in terms of functionality compared their foreign counterparts, however their product offering has been improving in terms of sophistication and capabilities, and they are usually significantly cheaper which makes them a very compelling option to fulfill the needs of China’s Small and Medium Enterprises (which make up almost 99% of business establishments in China) as well as state enterprises. This has helped local SaaS providers carve out a niche for themselves in China’s nascent SaaS market while competing against foreign, well-established players.

The country’s SaaS market is highly fragmented the top 10 vendors accounting for only about 30% that the market as of 2018 according to research from PR Underground. Local rising star Kingdee dominated the market with a market share of just 5%, followed by Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce (NYSE:CRM), Oracle, Veeva Systems (NYSE:VEEV), Zoho, Beisen, Yonyou, and Newdo which collectively made up the top 10.

Pie chart showing the market share of China's SaaS vendors during the first half of 2018. Kingdee was the market leader with a 5.1% market share followed by Microsoft (5%), SAP (4.3%), Salesforce (4%), Oracle (3.8%), Veeva Systems (2.6%), Zoho (2.6%), Beisen (2.2%), Yonyou (2%), Newdo (1.8%), and others accounted for the balance 64.5%,

Many of China’s SaaS market verticals are also dominated by homegrown companies. Kingdee for instance, leads in HR, ERP, and accounting. Beijing-based Forceclouds, and Shanghai-based MacroWing lead in document and data management tools for the clinical research, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries. Beisen and DOIT provide CRM solutions in partnership with Tencent.

America boasts a number of SaaS behemoths; in one category America has born-in-the-cloud SaaS companies such as Salesforce, Workday (NASDAQY:WDAY), ServiceNow (NYSE:NOW), Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK), and Atlassian (NASDAQ:TEAM); in another category there are established software giants with a growing cloud business such as IBM (NYSE:IBM), Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE); and finally there are IT vendors with a growing SaaS cloud offering such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Cisco. The world’s top three SaaS companies are American; Microsoft, Salesforce, Adobe with market shares 17%, 12%, and 10% respectively of in 2019 when the SaaS market reached US$ 101 billion according to analysis by Synergy Research.

Chinese SaaS companies on the other hand are still at a relatively early stage of growth. However, in much the same way America’s SaaS market growth spawned a number of homegrown SaaS giants, there is potential for Chinese SaaS companies to blossom along with the growth of China’s SaaS market. A notable example is Kingdee.

Kingdee

Kingdee is one of China’s largest providers of ERP software with a focus on SMEs, and is one of China’s leading SaaS players with a market share of 5%. Kingdee first started out as an ERP software company building a large user base of enterprise customers. This user base helped Kingdee’s cloud transformation, enabling it to introduce its own cloud products to its existing user bas

In FY 2019, Kingdee’s cloud services revenue grew 54.7% year-on-year accounting for 39.5% of revenue during the year up from 30.2% in 2018 according to their 2019 annual report. Cloud revenue’s share of total revenue is likely to increase going forward as traditional ERP customers migrate to the cloud. Traditional ERP systems are gradually being replaced by SaaS which is generally more cost-efficient and easier to use and manage compared to traditional ERP systems. Notable enterprises upgrading to Kingdee’s “Kingdee Cloud Cosmic” (a cloud platform for large enterprises) include one of China’s largest courier companies SF Express (SHE:002352), Chinese edtech unicorn VIPKid, and Chinese state-owned defense corporation Norinco. The company is targeting cloud revenue to contribute 60% to total revenue by 2020.

While it may seem that cloud can cannibalize Kingdee’s traditional software business, according to figures from its annual report, it is evident that this is not the case with much of Kingdee’s cloud growth being driven by new customers During FY2019, of Kingdee’s “Kingdee Cloud Galaxy” (a digital cloud service platform for medium and large enterprises, and fast-growing enterprises) customer base, 77% of clients were new to ERP, 13% were from competitors, and just 10% were existing clients.

Armed with a wide product range of cloud software spanning e-commerce, supply chain and intelligent manufacturing, a healthy balance sheet (the company’s borrowings stands at RMB 199 million while it has a cash pile of RMB 3.18 billion), a strong brand name among local SaaS companies, and an impressive user base of SMEs as well as large enterprises suggest Kingdee is well placed to capitalize on China’s growing SaaS market.