Graphs in China: 5-Minute Interview with Richard Wu & George Zhang

“Graph technology can be used in, for example, Chinese medicine, museum collection management, as well as knowledge graphs for copyright management. Those were all areas we never thought we would be touching,” said Richard Wu, co-founder of Beijing We-Yun Data Co.

In this week’s 5-minute interview, we spoke to Graphie Award winner Beijing We-Yun Data Co. about the power of the graph database to store and correlate massive amounts of data easily, as well as the many areas where graph databases can be used. Company founders Richard Wu and George Zhang discuss how they see the growing use of graph technology in China.

How are you using Neo4j?

Richard: When first founded, Beijing We Yun was mainly focusing on business intelligence and we were helping financial institutions with stats and data. They had – especially for risk control – underwriting departments. In the earlier years, one of the most challenging goals for us was working out total credit exposure for some of the largest SOEs (state-owned enterprises) in China, because they didn’t even know how many subsidiaries they had.

It literally turned out to be ten thousands of subsidiaries or even more, where we had to enter all the shareholders manually. That required large investments both in human resources and financially.

So after we loaded the company’s information into Neo4j, the problem literally just got solved in seconds. That’s where we instantly saw the power of graph technology.

Then we started digging into graph a little bit more. As we went deeper, we had a strong intuition that Neo4j had started shifting our core business. It wasn’t too long before George led the team and released a simplified Chinese version of Neo4j and launched the first non-English version of Neo4j worldwide.

George Zhang and Richard Wu

How were you solving that problem before Neo4j?

Richard: We started in the financial sector and now we have clients in other sectors. We worked with manufacturers and also many other interesting sectors, including Chinese medicine, museum collection management, and even fighting COVID-19. We never thought we would touch those sectors.

As rapid as the growth of the graph communities is in China, we not only are helping our clients do more from existing data by using graph technology, but also our clients have been constantly inspiring us with more ideas and use cases. We’ve felt really blessed and grateful that we’ve actually brought Neo4j, the world’s best graph technology, to many users here in China. We are helping them to connect with each other, helping them to connect the dots with their data, and to fit pieces together, which they were never able to do in the past.

What made you choose Neo4j?

Richard: That question is easy to answer because Neo4j is simply the best of graph databases by far, period. We’re more than looking at using a certain technology; there are more aspects to consider. Number one, reliability. Number two, easy to use. Number three, performance. We believe software has needed time to evolve and optimize to become a mature, formed product.

Since Neo4j developed this graph technology back in 2001 and open source Neo4j graph database back in 2007, with nearly two decades of experience and thousands of successful use cases, all those Fortune 100 clients prove Neo4j is a mature enterprise-level product like no other.

Speaking of the years of experience, Neo4j also has a complete ecosystem from the basic graph engine to graph data science to Bloom. So that’s the full package. Another strong attraction is Cypher, the very intuitive yet elegant query language. Cypher now supports many mainstream languages as well, which is another reason why Neo4j is very easy to adopt.

Before moving to Neo4j solely, we bench tested Neo4j with several other graph products. Neo4j easily surpassed other products in overall speed, including query, data uploading, and so on. This has been proven again and again, after many POCs (proofs of concept) we had done with our clients in China, and this is normally a compulsory stage for most of the SOEs and big companies in China.

What are you able to do now that you weren’t able to do previously?

Richard: As a small startup with the superior technical advantage of Neo4j, we are now able to close deals with some of the biggest names in China. As our reputation grows, we’re seeing more leads and implementing use cases coming from different sectors and industries, which is so amazing. Now we not only resell individual licenses, but more importantly, we help many clients with, for example, modeling and consulting work, which brings more value to our clients.

What is your favorite part about working with Neo4j?

Richard: As the only premium partner here in China, our business partnership with Neo4j started back in 2016. Since then, we have kept a very transparent business relationship with Neo4j. Neo4j supported us with regular tech-related updates, newsletters, co-hosted events, workshops, and seminars – for example, the Neo4j meetup in Beijing we did back in 2017, which was a huge success.

George has also published a series of books on Neo4j and graph technology, which have already been sold in mainland China and Taiwan. We were thrilled to have one of the Neo4j professionals work on one of the books as well as being very active in our Neo4j community here in China, including websites, WeChat groups, QQ, and other mainstream platforms.

Neo4j also enables us to have very flexible, friendly business terms to help us become really successful here in China in winning deals. So we’re really pleased and willing to maintain that business relationship for many more years to come.

What is next for your company?

Richard: Currently our clients are mainly supergiant SOEs and well-known public companies here in China. So our next step is to look for ways to bring Neo4j graph technology solutions to smaller companies where I think it would require a totally different approach. I think it will be very challenging but it’s also very meaningful and interesting.

What do you think the future holds for graph technology?

George: Back in the old days we thought graphs were really good in the traditional sectors like financial services, social media, and so on. As we develop, we actually see fascinating use cases in almost every industry. As we mentioned earlier, we never thought of all these use cases. Graph technology can be used in, for example, Chinese medicine, museum collection management, as well as knowledge graphs for copyright management.

Those were all areas we never thought we would be touching. Now we are seeing more use cases in machine learning and AI as well. We believe that is probably the next big area for graph technology in the near future. We are very excited to work with Neo4j on that as well and we’re ready to bring Neo4j and graph technology to more people.

When we’re speaking of the future of graph technology, I think the more popular it is in the student community, the more successful it’s going to be. We are really pleased that because of the book that we published, there are more university students, professors, and lecturers talking about Neo4j and graph technology. They learned from our book and are getting more interested in graph technology, so I think that will eventually become a huge community in the future.

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