Crisis Is a Test of Our Spiritual Strength

Alibaba Tech
4 min readAug 13, 2020

CTO of Cainiao

They kept working together through the 2020 Spring Festival.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Cainiao’s technical team was holding out a safety net to logistics.

On a typical day of the Spring Festival, Cainiao delivers hundreds of thousands of orders — comprising hundreds of millions of parcels — for Tmall Supermarket and major e-tailers. It also acts as a go-between for merchants and courier companies. This year, however, the unexpected epidemic added to the already Herculean tasks. A good number of warehousing personnel and couriers were not allowed to go out, local governments introduced diverse policies to curb the flow of people and goods, truck drivers were quarantined… Addressing these challenges entails huge and systematic efforts.

Amid the fickle epidemic trends, technical teams had to respond to a sea of emergency requirements every day: massive data analysis for decision-making, system update and release, and surging manual operations for emergencies. Most Cainiao employees gave up their Spring Festival holiday and buried themselves in a lot more workload than usual.

The work during the epidemic was more complicated and urgent than that on the Double 11 Global Shopping Festival. In order to ensure smooth transportation of donated supplies, they had to pull all-nighters developing new webpages. Besides, they had to give as much support as they could for the anti-epidemic work beyond the scope of their responsibilities. For instance, they developed the truck electronic pass for the Department of Transportation of Zhejiang Province.

They need to arrive at the company in half an hour after receiving a task. They volunteered to do it without being encouraged or ordered to do so and without considering whether these tasks fell into the scope of their responsibilities.

Taobao was launched during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Today, the Apollo project will also be delivered as scheduled regardless the COVID-19 epidemic.

Apollo, a massive global logistics project, is jointly run by Cainiao, Lazada, and several other teams of Alibaba Group. According to the original plan, several teams would work together in Hangzhou after the Spring Festival. However, risks increased dramatically under the special circumstances. Therefore, on the evening of January 28, the fourth day of Chinese New Year, team leaders and the project management office held an emergency meeting to discuss potential problems that might hinder the project during the epidemic and design corresponding countermeasures.

Over 100 members involved in the Apollo project gave up their Spring Festival holiday and stayed online almost 24 hours a day. Everything was going well, although this was a new team formed by members who were from different countries such as China, Singapore, and Vietnam, who never worked together before, and who could only communicate with one another online.

Up to now, the Apollo project has been on the scheduled track, without any delay from the epidemic. Its launch date remained unchanged. There’s no doubt that every member on the team has overcome many difficulties.

They built an IoT product in just seven days.

The IoT team of Cainiao is responsible for the development of logistics-related intelligent hardware. They want to use their specialty to do something for the battle against the COVID-19. So they proposed a concept of applying RFID to temperature devices.

Body temperature check is a vital anti-epidemic measure. But now most measurement methods require close contact. The results are often not accurate and most of them will not be recorded and collected. RFID technology can realize a non-contact measurement. With a temperature sticker affixed on our body, the temperature data will be automatically uploaded in real time.

However, the IoT team had to finish the design in one week before mass production. This could be a mission impossible in the IoT field. Generally, the lead time for an IoT product is several months or even over a year.

Surprisingly, they did it in just 48 hours and sourced a supplier from Shenzhen. On the third day, they made a prototype and began to calibrate the product. During this period, the project team had to coordinate the supply chain and apply for a medical permit. This fighting spirit had motivated the suppliers to work with us.

Within a week, 10,000 RFID-based thermometers were produced. This is beyond the expectation of all of us.

It is the spiritual strength in a crisis that creates opportunities.

The grim and urgent epidemic could be described as a national crisis. But we don’t have any room to flinch. All we can do is to work together to get through this. The epidemic tests our spiritual strength. It’s the most precious strength we have as humans and it’s far more important than any human ability.

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