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Digital Transformation And Its Implications On Brands And Consumers

Digital Transformation And Its Implications On Brands And Consumers

It is confirmed here in The Brand Berries.com OPINIONS that Digital Transformation and its Implications on Brands and Consumers in The Middle East by Imad Sarrouf, Head of Publishers at DMS ( Member of the Choueiri Group) is as valid a statement as can be these days.

12 November 2020 

Digital Transformation And Its Implications On Brands And Consumers

The Middle East is showing the promise to scale to unprecedented levels apropos of its digital transformation market is no news. In 2016, along with Africa, this market was valued at USD 1,1 Billion and was estimated to achieve an implausible growth by 2024.

Major powers in the Middle East including UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have shown impressive strides towards the goal, with their Governments setting precedents by integrating digital transformation in the public sector. The growth that these regions have achieved in terms of tech-savvy infrastructure has made some of the most powerful heads turn in the Gulf direction. 

Clearly, the private sector and the public in themselves have taken the cue and are leaving no stone unturned in embracing the digital revolution. As more and more middle eastern companies pave the way for digital, such transformation is going to shape up the future of brands and consumers in this region.

The State Of Digitization Of Brands and Companies In The Middle East

At large, a territory’s adoption and adaptation to the digital era are measured with reference to the population’s access to smartphones, engagement with social media platforms, and availability of high-end digital technologies. While the Middle East has been making headlines for rising up these ladders, the scope of the implementation of digital transformation goes far beyond just that.

The digital transformation market in the middle east is basically divided into 2 regions; the GCC countries and other Arab countries. According to a survey report by Strategy And, hardly about 7.5% of the brands and companies in the GCC region understand the potential of digital transformation as a means to realize efficiencies. 

Considering that building a digital strategy for future upscaling is the fundamental step for a company towards transformation, only about 37% of the major brands in the Middle East had teams working on one. The major employable channels across a vast range of sectors for brands include big data and analytics, IoT, Cloud Computing, Cyber physics, and technologies of similar likes. Popular frontrunners leading the race of transformation include Microsoft, Google Inc, SAP, Protiviti, Ixtel, Oracle among others.

Gulf Brands Go Smart: How The Middle East Is Accelerating The Digital Revolution

Closer technical analysis of the major Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE shows that digital initiatives have taken the front seat among leading brand growth agendas. These agendas have been presenting, and are expected to continuingly present themselves under three major brackets;

Adoption Of Smarter Projects And Initiatives

These comprise the entire smart market — right from smart homes, smart healthcare, smart hospitality, and tourism, to smart transportation, entertainment, business, and shopping. Some of the most successful digital initiatives include health monitoring wristwatches, virtual assistants as tour guides, IoT based interconnected home system, among others. While the scope of AR, VR, and advanced AI is still being explored and systematically implemented, work in progress projects in this area include AR/ VR enabled cars in the mobility segment, and some medical testing procedures in the healthcare sector.

Implementation Of Smarter Payment Gateways 

The world is always in the need of a better and safer way to pay, and we have all been a witness to this when people furiously shifted to digital mode of payments as soon as they were introduced. With cryptocurrency in the picture, the only challenge is the lack of exposure and education in this area. However, several middle eastern companies are coming forward to give this option to consumers. In fact, in 2017, Dubai’s residential real estate project, Aston Plaza was the first in the world to allow full payment in the form of bitcoins. 

Customization Of Production and Operational Convenience

The way the manufacturing sector has been catching up with digital opportunities is magnanimous. The drastic shift from mass production to customized production is one of the most obvious demonstrations of the same that runs alongside the heavy reliance on light mobile apps. These apps ensure higher accuracy, operational convenience, and shipment tracking; some of the features that have become manufacturing prerequisites in an ideal digital world.

For companies that can afford a drastic change, the digital initiatives in this sector also include transforming the entire ecosystem to be more optimized, increasingly sustainable, and minimally invasive. 

In a capsule, the digital transformation scene in the companies of the Middle East is seen tracing three major models — digital business model, digital consumer model, and the digital operations model — of which the consumer model is observed to be spearheading the growth. Let’s now understand how this consumer model is being implemented despite regional limitations including the slowdowns due to the recent pandemic instituted lockdowns.

Digital Transformation Driving Middle Eastern Consumer Experience

Middle eastern companies’ digital strategies are highly driven by keeping consumer experience enhancement at the forefront. This includes micro-target marketing to improve customer engagement and channelizing customer feedback. 

Some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives include:

O2O Commerce

Online to Offline Commerce is replacing traditional retail shopping hard and fast. Retail stores are being improvised to act as mere distribution centers while more and more investments are being concentrated towards online initiatives. The lucrative combination of browsing through hundreds of options on the screen, without having to move an inch, getting discount codes and coupons by shopping online, yet getting the look and feel of shopping by personally trying and collecting as per convenience has proved to be an instant hit in this region.

Chatbots and virtual assistants

This technology has proved to be such a huge success that it has become fairly common to find chatbots on every other website or app we use. What companies in the middle east are also empowering are pharma, healthcare, and hospitality sectors through this technology. You can know the right medicine to take for mild symptoms and problems, you can schedule and monitor your family’s health checkups and reports, and coordinate your entire stay with an expert assistant. These applications have particularly received widespread recognition because of its social-distancing friendly nature. 

Middle Eastern Challenges To A Rapid Digital Adaptation

For any company, digital transformation is a major shift, that more than anything else will require capital and man-power investment. The most natural challenges that companies in the middle east are facing is the broad skill gap in the existing organizations, change in operating model to an agile one, and starting off on the right footing to make the transformation a profitable success. 

Keeping skill-building, awareness, and education at the core, however, can be a unanimous way out of the hindrances posed by these challenges. As companies find access to greater resources; human and otherwise; proficient in the field, brands will gain more confidence to take the digital leap of faith.

Read more in:


Imad Sarrouf (in feature picture above) is a digital expert with over 15 years of experience in the digital media industry working across a large portfolio of publishers and ad technology platforms in the middle east. In his position, he leads digital innovation and transformation – responsible for the ad tech solutions business and process automation to drive business growth.

AI that Scans a Construction Site can Spot Wrongdoing

AI that Scans a Construction Site can Spot Wrongdoing

MIT Technology Review in its Artificial intelligence/Machine learning informs that AI that scans a construction site can spot wrongdoing with the progress of work, etc. We all know and expect that the increasing digitalisation of the process of construction will eventually end up with Construction sites of the future ‘will be people-free’. This being another story, let us hear the MIT’s.

Building sites in Europe are now using image recognition software made by Buildots that flags up delays or errors automatically. It is by Will Douglas Heaven who elaborates how AI that scans a construction site can spot when things are falling behind.

October 16, 2020

Construction sites are vast jigsaws of people and parts that must be pieced together just so at just the right times. As projects get larger, mistakes and delays get more expensive. The consultancy Mckinsey estimates that on-site mismanagement costs the construction industry $1.6 trillion a year. But typically you might only have five managers overseeing construction of a building with 1,500 rooms, says Roy Danon, founder and CEO of British-Israeli startup Buildots: “There’s no way a human can control that amount of detail.”

Danon thinks that AI can help. Buildots is developing an image recognition system that monitors every detail of an ongoing construction project and flags up delays or errors automatically. It is already being used by two of the biggest building firms in Europe, including UK construction giant Wates in a handful of large residential builds. Construction is essentially a kind of manufacturing, says Danon. If high-tech factories now use AI to manage their processes, why not construction sites?

AI is starting to change various aspects of construction, from design to self-driving diggers. Some companies even provide a kind of overall AI site inspector that matches images taken on site against a digital plan of the building. Now Buildots is making that process easier than ever by using video footage from GoPro cameras mounted on the hard hats of workers.

When managers tour a site once or twice a week, the camera on their head captures video footage of the whole project and uploads it to image recognition software, which compares the status of many thousands of objects on site—such as electrical sockets and bathroom fittings—with a digital replica of the building.  

The AI also uses the video feed to track where the camera is in the building to within a few centimeters so that it can identify the exact location of the objects in each frame. The system can track the status of around 150,000 objects several times a week, says Danon. For each object the AI can tell which of three or four states it is in, from not yet begun to fully installed.

Site inspections are slow and tedious, says Sophie Morris at Buildots, a civil engineer who used to work in construction before joining the company. The Buildots AI gets rid of many repetitive tasks and lets people focus on important decisions. “That’s the job people want to be doing—not having to go and check if the walls have been painted or if someone’s drilled too many holes in the ceiling,” she says.

Another plus is the way the tech works in the background. “It captures data without the need to walk the site with spreadsheets or schedules,” says Glen Roberts, operations director at Wates. He says his firm is now planning to roll out the Buildots system at other sites.

Comparing the complete status of a project with its digital plan several times a week has also made a big difference during the covid-19 pandemic. When construction sites were shut down to all but the most essential on-site workers, managers on several Buildots projects were able to keep tabs on progress remotely.

But AI won’t be replacing those essential workers anytime soon. Buildings are still built by people. “At the end of the day, this is a very labor-driven industry, and that won’t change,” says Morris.

Change note: we have changed the text to clarify how the Buildots system differs from others.

Interest in Online Courses Surges in the MENA

Interest in Online Courses Surges in the MENA

Jeffrey R. Young elaborates on how an Interest in Online Courses Surges in the MENA region. It started as for elsewhere, as a palliative to the lockdown imposed closure of all schools and education facilities.

12 October 2020

Interest in Online Courses Surges in the MENA
Online course providers like Coursera and edX have seen a spike in demand for their courses since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (Image: Pixabay)

Providers of online higher education have seen a spike in interest in their courses and degree programs from the Middle East and North Africa region since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And some say the sudden exposure to online learning may lead to a shift in attitudes about the value of digital delivery methods.

Edraak, a Jordan-based provider of free online courses delivered in Arabic, served one million new learners in the past six months, a big jump from the 650,000 new learners it served in all of 2019. The platform now serves four million learners total.

And Coursera, a U.S.-based provider of online courses and programs from well-known universities, said that since mid-March, it saw a 500 percent increase in learners from the Middle East compared to the same period last year.

FutureLearn, a British company offering similar online courses, also reports a 500-percent increase in participation from the region. Officials from edX, a nonprofit founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer free and low-cost online courses, says its enrollments from the region have gone up more than 200 percent since the start of the pandemic.

“There has definitely been a shift in the sense of recognizing they cannot ignore online learning anymore” in the region, said Maha Bali, an associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo.

Coursera has 3.4 million users in the Middle East out of approximately 70 million learners worldwide.

Betty Vandenbosch  Coursera’s chief content officer

Shireen Yacoub, the chief executive of Edraak, called the growth in adult learning via online courses “one of the most inspiring observations we’ve had during the curfews and lockdowns.”

Even so, she worries about what she calls the “equity gap” when it comes to who is able to use the organization’s free courses. Most of Edraak’s users get to its platform through their smartphones, she added, and low-income families may have three or four kids all needing to share a phone. Computers and home Internet access are too costly for many, she adds. “We need to advocate for more equity in Internet connectivity,” she said. “Their lives will often depend on it. It’s not a luxury.” (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)

Coursera has 3.4 million users in the Middle East out of approximately 70 million learners worldwide, according to Betty Vandenbosch, the company’s chief content officer. About 400 colleges and organizations in the region have signed up for a free program that lets them offer Coursera online courses to their enrolled students. That means that the colleges—including Al Hussein Technical University in Jordan—are offering at least some online courses based largely on content provided free from Coursera.

And she says that in recent months, Coursera has seen more interest from governments and organizations in the region to form partnerships. Such deals typically mean that governments and organizations pay Coursera a fee to get free access to Coursera’s online degree programs for their employees. That was starting to happen even before the pandemic: Last year the company announced a deal with the Abu Dhabi School of Government to train 60,000 government employees in data science, digital transformation and other high-tech skills.

“The governments in the Middle East are recognizing the challenges they have with their economies,” Vandenbosch said. “Some of those governments are saying, ‘Gosh, we really need to upskill our workforce because oil is not going to be there forever.”

New Attitudes Toward Online Learning

Experts in education technology say that the pandemic may end up being a turning point for online education in the region.

John Schwartz, head of Enterprise Global Business Development at edX, said that colleges in the MENA region have recently adopted the platform’s online courses as well. “Virtually no university had the time and resources to turn all their classroom content into online courses, so edX was able and continues to fill a large void,” he said. “In addition there has been a significantly higher degree of interest from the region’s schools to not only use edX content, but to put their own quality content online, as a partner on the edX.org platform.”

The most popular edX courses by students in the region are an introductory computer-science course by Harvard University and a course from the University of Queensland that prepares students to take the IELTS test of English-language skills.

“The pandemic really changed the dynamics towards online learning in the Middle East.”

Gehan Osman  Assistant professor of instructional design and technology at the American University in Cairo

“The pandemic really changed the dynamics towards online learning in the Middle East,” said Gehan Osman, an assistant professor of instructional design and technology at the American University in Cairo’s Graduate School of Education, in an email interview. “Professors who had never considered even blended or web-based instruction before embraced online learning because it was the only alternative. Many of these professors said that they would never go back to completely face-to-face because they discovered many instructional value of going online.”

Curtis J. Bonk is a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University at Bloomington and author of The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education, and other books about online learning. He said he is suddenly getting invitations to speak in the region at places that had not done much with online education in the past. One example: He recently spoke at an online forum for teachers at the grade school and university level in the United Arab Emirates run by the Ministry of Education, and more than 600 people attended.

The Biggest Concern: Cheating

However, some reservations about online education remain. The biggest concern: that the format will lead to rampant cheating. “Many insist that exams and major assessment need to be done in person in a proctored environment,” said Osman.

Bali agreed that academic integrity remains a key concern. “We know in Egypt many online standardized tests done in exam centers get leaked/cheated, et  cetera,” she said, noting that people worry the same kind of thing could happen in online courses.

And even those providing online courses stress that they are not meant as a wholesale replacement for classroom instruction.

“Even at Edraak we don’t think that online ed and learning is a silver bullet to education in the region,” said Yacoub, that group’s chief executive. “We really believe in the value of in-person teaching.”

For Bali, the question for colleges should be what is the purpose of education, and “how to use the online effectively while preserving the best of what we can do face-to-face.”

New efforts are underway to help train professors in the region to teach online. Among them, the Center for Learning in Practice based at the Carey Institute for Global Good is running a series of free online workshops on how to teach with online technologies, with a focus on inclusive teaching.

Jeffrey R. Young is an editor and reporter focused on technology issues and the future of education. He is a senior editor at EdSurge, covering the intersection of technology and education

Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility

Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility

 William Becker writing this article titled ‘Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility’ could be taken as a pertinent illustrator of the sort of times related to dilemmas and traumas.  Democracy at best of times associates with higher human capital accumulation, lower political instability, and higher economic freedom that are quasi-impossible to go for nowadays and before the advent of that smart techno hard and software. In any case, Can democracies survive social media?


Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility

Abraham Lincoln is credited with one of the most enduring statements in American history: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Unfortunately, nearly all Americans have been fooled by this. The first person to utter the statement was actually the showman P.T. Barnum.

Barnum didn’t know about the Internet or social media, of course. He’d be amazed at computers, and even more amazed that anyone could use it to send virtually any statement anywhere in the world, unfiltered and instantly. This extraordinary power allows us to fool millions of people in real time, but it also allows them to fool us. Unfortunately, there are individuals, organizations, and even nations that use social media for precisely that purpose.

The misuse of social media to spread disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies is raising questions in democracies about how free freedom of expression should be. Social media are caught constantly between freedom of speech and social responsibility in democracies around the world. “There is an ongoing debate about where to draw the line between freedom of speech and offensive comments,” the authors of the 2020 World Population Review report. “Especially in the age of social media, concerns have arisen over whether freedom of speech is causing more harm than it is good.”

Every country that guarantees freedom of expression already puts boundaries on it. In 2015, the Pew Research Center ranked the tolerance of free speech in 38 countries, scoring them between zero and eight, with eight being the most tolerant. No country earned a score higher than 5.73. That score was awarded to the United States. Pew reported that “Americans are more tolerant of free speech than other nationalities. They also are the most supportive of freedom of the press and the right to use the Internet without government censorship.”

But the world’s most tolerant nation is struggling with an epidemic of misinformation, outright falsehoods, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and deliberate attempts by foreign and domestic groups to undermine democracy. Social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter are being challenged by Congress to find that balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and serving as conduits of hate and harm on the other.

The U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.” Yet, federal statutes prohibit speech that incites harm to others or distributes obscene materials, for example. The constraints other countries have put on free expression include libel, slander, perjury, obscenity, sedition, incitement, the disclosure of classified information, the unauthorized use of copyrighted information, trade secrets, and speech that violates privacy, dignity, and public security. People in the European Union and Argentina are guaranteed the “right to be forgotten.”

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “the right to freedom of expression.” But it also sets boundaries against speech that damages the rights and reputations of others, jeopardizes national security, or threatens public order, health, or morals.

The Internet’s value

Another of America’s historic leaders, Thomas Jefferson, has been quoted, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, every American is responsible to be informed.” Ensuring that citizens are well informed is one of the Internet’s most important potentials. How close is it to fulfilling its potential?

The Pew Center for Research asked that question last July in the United States. It studied where Americans get their information and how their sources enhance their knowledge. Pew found that about one in five adults relies on social media for news and information, but 57% of them scored low when asked nine “knowledge questions.” Other researchers found a similar result for television news, probably because some of the most prominent news sources are biased in the United States.

Here is how it happened. Before cable television arrived, there were three dominant TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, and NBC. Because they used public airways to broadcast content, the federal government felt they had an obligation to public service. Each network had to obtain a broadcast license. In 1949, the federal agency in charge of licensing instituted the “Fairness Doctrine.” It required the networks to present both sides of controversial issues of public importance. Broadcasts had to be “honest, equitable, and balanced.”

Things changed when cable television came along. Cable stations didn’t use public airways. As their numbers grew, viewers could find both sides of controversial issues by channel surfing, if they took the trouble. The Fairness Doctrine fell into disuse and eventually was discontinued. Cable stations are subject to federal rules and local requirements, but their rules pertain mostly to the quality of cable services, rate structures, franchise fees, and so on. The few regulations about programming are much less strict than the standards applied to the major broadcast networks.

As a result, several cable networks began specializing in news slanted to support a political or ideological agenda. One network, Fox News, presents information in ways that appeal to and reinforce the beliefs of conservative viewers. It has proved to be a very successful formula. Fox is now the most widely watched news station in the U.S.

The Pew Research Center found that 60% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters rely heavily on Fox News, while 53% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters tune into CNN, a network that tilts slightly left. In 2012, researchers determined that people who relied on Fox for news knew less about current events than people who watched no news at all. Last July, a new study showed that the same is true for people who frequent the Fox News website.

News outlets like Fox (and conservatives would say CNN) contribute to the ideological rigidity and highly emotional polarization that plagues politics in the United States today. Outlets like these do less for “the responsibility of every American to be informed” than they do for each group’s conviction than it knows better than the other. The fortification of pre-existing biases and beliefs also happens on social media, which uses algorithms to diagnose a user’s beliefs and feeds back like-minded content. We come to the question again whether social coherence and goodwill require that the relationship between free speech and social responsibility should tilt toward responsibility.

It is a delicate and even dangerous question that begs more questions. How do we make sure that whoever sets and enforces the standards of free expression is not cultivating authoritarianism?

Foreign subterfuge

Even more worrisome, perhaps, is how we keep a democracy’s information channels open but safe from nefarious state and non-state interference? Cyber espionage, warfare, and crime are pressing issues worldwide beyond the scope of this article. More relevant are the activities by some nations to interfere with and manipulate the democratic processes of others.

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are regarded as the nations that conduct most information warfare over the Internet. U.S. intelligence agencies confirm Russia’s manipulation of public opinion during the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. The same agencies report that Russia, China, and Iran are attempting to “hack” the 2020 election, too, in ways that favor either Trump or his opponent, Joe Biden. Experts say that other, smaller nations are working to acquire the same capabilities.

Russian leaders use social media to undermine the American people’s confidence in democracy overall. This isn’t new. “Cyber is facilitating more advanced and more effective psychological warfare, information operations, coercion and intimidation attacks,” NATO’s security expert Jamie Shea warned in 2017. “We used to worry about [hackers targeting] banks or credit cards or inconvenience to customers, now we worry about the future of democracy, the stability and health of our institutions.”

Russia’s use of fake organizations and inflammatory ads on social media is challenging Twitter and Facebook to make concessions to social responsibility. Both were criticized for failing to police Russia’s use of their networks in 2016. This year, Facebook says it will block all new political advertising a week before the November 3 election to prevent misinformation.

Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, says that his company disabled 1.7 billion fake accounts between January and March. Twitter has begun labeling tweets that violate its policies against fake accounts and identities. Two years ago, it created a public archive of 200 million tweets to study them for attempted manipulation. Congress has called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to explain what they are doing to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election.

America’s lawmakers are also concerned about foreign and domestic sources misusing Instagram, YouTube, and other social media to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, possibly inciting the demonstrations, fights, and even violence the country has experienced because of government mandates to wear masks, observe social distancing, and close businesses where crowds congregate.

The Internal threats

Facebook and Twitter are taking steps to identify and/or eliminate “false facts” from inside the United States, too. The most frequent and blatant source is Donald Trump, the “Tweeter-in-Chief.” He pecks out messages on Twitter night and day to dominate the news, insult opponents, praise his own performance, and take advantage of unfiltered contact with the American people.

He set a personal record of 142 tweets during his impeachment trial in January and February, then broke it in June with 200 tweets and retweets on a single day. When Twitter began labeling Trump’s provably inaccurate tweets, the president retaliated with an executive order to regulate social media companies.

The problem is not only Trump and not only social media. “Whether it’s newspapers, television, Facebook, YouTube, or Google searches, someone is pulling strings (and) lobbying their own agendas because there are no consequences,” social media consultant Lon Safko points out. “You can say anything you want, and there are no consequences.”

Social media also is an important propaganda tool for dictators and unscrupulous leaders around the world. In 2019, researchers at the University of Oxford found evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries. Twenty-six countries were using social media to “suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions.” Government or political party “cyber troops” are using political bots to amplify hate speech, illegally harvest data, and mobilize “trolls” to harass political dissidents and journalists, the University reported.

“Despite the majority of adults surveyed in each country reporting that they used social networks to keep up to date with news and current affairs, a 2018 study showed that social media is the least trusted news source in the world,” says researcher Amy Watson of Statista, a statistics service. “Less than 35% of adults in Europe considered social networks to be trustworthy in this respect, yet more than 50% of adults in Portugal, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Croatia said that they got their news on social media.”

“Concerns about fake news and propaganda on social media have not stopped billions of users accessing their favorite networks on a daily basis,” she says.

So, can freedom of speech survive social media? Can Democracies? Can we find ways to balance freedom of expression with social responsibility? If the proper formula requires restrictions on speech, what should they be? If the government’s job is to protect democracy from cyber-subterfuge, how will it keep up technologies that emerge much faster than governments act?

I think about this a lot. My answers are the same as those we often hear from the world’s top experts and policymakers:

Only time will tell.

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William Becker is an author and blogger in the United States. He writes about climate change and many other issues that strike his fancy.

Four strategies for growth in MENA

Four strategies for growth in MENA

The London based WARC posted a summarised page of News on 16/09/2020 of its report covering how Four strategies for growth in MENA would be best to be followed in the MENA region.


An analysis of the results of this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy reveals key takeaways for the region’s marketers looking for growth opportunities, from finding niche audiences in smaller markets to developing more resonant touchpoints.

“As certain MENA markets are already enduring their second wave of COVID-19 and several continue to be buffeted by economic recession, identifying new strategies for growth is vital for brands,” says Lucy Aitken, Managing Editor, Case Studies at WARC.

“In this report, we’ve identified new approaches that this year’s winners have incorporated in their campaigns that can help brands to build strong strategic frameworks that have growth baked in.”

The four key takeaways highlighted in WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report are:

1. Target the frontier markets

Pragmatic solutions that help specific communities in MENA’s frontier markets can be instrumental in driving growth. Empowering marginalised communities, particularly within the region’s smaller markets, can be an effective way to brand-build.

This year’s Grand Prix-winning initiative from Tunisie Telecom helped female farmers access social security via their handsets. The technological innovation instigated by the campaign set the precedent for a new digital government vision.

Melek Ourir, Strategic Planner at Wunderman Thompson Tunisia, advises: “Resist the temptation to ignore smaller markets and audiences that could unlock significant growth for your business.”

2. Unconventional touchpoints can underpin strategy

Identifying new, creative touchpoints strengthens strategy, resonating with or delighting audiences.

Three standout campaigns addressed consumer challenges and were not constrained by where the brands were traditionally ‘allowed’ to be present: clothing retailer Babyshop promoted the long-term health of mothers; cheese brand Puck reclaimed share at breakfast and lunch; and NGO Donner Sang Compter encouraged those who spill their own blood onto the streets in the tradition of Ashura to donate it instead.

Admiring the risks and the rulebreakers among this year’s winners that explored new touchpoints, judge Sunjay Malik, Associate Director, Strategy at PHD UAE, says: “Media mixes are rulebooks that we set ourselves, which over time make us less imaginative and less brave. Long live the rulebreakers, who in challenging themselves inspire us to be better.”

3. Humour: a strategic shortcut to likeability

Making people laugh is one of the most powerful ways to connect and can make your brand distinct from the competition.

Winning brands that used humour include Burger King, which launched a new spicy menu with its Who Said Men Don’t Cry campaign; telco Jawwy, which used entertaining video content to resonate with Saudi youth; and Egyptian telco Etisalat crafting a comic campaign to win customers over to its hybrid offer.

Jury member Shagorika Heryani, Head of Strategy at Grey MENA, says: “There’s always a place for humour – even during a crisis. Smart brands understand the relationship between humour and humanity. Companies know that we buy from brands and people we like. And humour is a shortcut to likeability and authenticity.”

4. Localise to resonate

This year’s winners are a treasure trove of local insight, proving how time invested upfront to unearth strong local insights tends to pay dividends in terms of a robust strategy.

Best-in-class examples include: KFC in Saudi Arabia, which communicated its commitment to locally-sourced chicken by turning all of its brand assets green – the colour of the Kingdom’s flag; and Grand Prix winner Tunisie Telecom, which devised a programme to offer social welfare coverage to female farmers.

WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report can be downloaded here. The full report is available to WARC subscribers and includes chapter analysis of the four themes with views and opinions from the judges; objectives, results and takeaways of the winning case studies, and what these mean for brands, media owners and agencies; and data analysis.

WARC’s Lucy Aitken will deep-dive into using humour as a successful marketing strategy at Lynx Live on 5-7 October in her keynote ‘Humour: the smart shortcut to brand fame’.

The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is a free-to-enter annual case study competition in search of the best strategic thinking from MENA’s marketing industry. Next year’s prize will open for entries in January 2021.

TOPICS

A Global Revolution in the Information System

A Global Revolution in the Information System

Institutions and businesses face a global revolution in the information system that unlike in the past, results in too much information especially if left unused or mishandled. The consequences of such a situation are debated here by Professor A. Mebtoul of Algeria.

With the new information system, unlike in the past, there is too much information. The credibility of the statistical apparatus and the operative selection of this mass of information could induce problems of adapting to the new global digital revolution. That has an impact on the behaviour of citizens as well as on the management of institutions. It is because the further information and communication technologies (ICTs) have implications for political governance, business and administrative management, and also have an impact on our modern way of life, which refers to knowledge and continuous innovation.

Politicians, entrepreneurs, citizens, we all live today in a society of electronic communication, plural and immediate that forces us to make decisions in real-time. The mastery of time being the main challenge of the century, in this 21st century, committing national security any inadequacy to these changes would further isolate the country. This analysis of these global information and technological changes and the impact on the Algerian economy, I developed at length in the American Herald Tribune of August 11, 2018[1].

The new information system, a global revolution

ICT is a set of technologies used to process, modify, and exchange information specifically digitised data. The birth of ICT is due to the convergence of IT, telecommunications and audiovisual. The development of high-speed Internet, the democratisation of computers and new technologies are the result of lower rates offered by ISPs and growing demand from customers.

The boom in blogs and e-mail is giving ICT an increasingly important place in our society. This interaction between electronics and computing explains why ICT applications can meet the needs of businesses and the state as well as households and individuals. Now subject to the same market laws as any other market production activity, ICT is also a sector where competition is directly played out on a global scale.

The globalisation of companies, markets and financial circuits has not only involved a reshaping of economic structures and exchange flows, but it has also led to the professionalisation of communication and information, as well as an increasingly advanced integration of the phases of product design, creation and consumption. , in parallel with the merger of spheres of activity that were once separated or even opposed. More than opening up to the general public, ICT is revolutionising the internal organisation of the business world. Management software called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) manages different tasks such as inventory or treasury, collaborative work.

Through the use of intranet and messaging, the “wireless” or “online” system maintains a permanent link with employees on the go as well as video conferencing, all of this generates better sharing and internal information flow. Thus, the world became a large glasshouse.  The Internet’s infrastructure is now spreading across the globe to create a massive global network thanks to the computing that today allows information to be digitised and new systems managed. The integration of telecommunications, it and audiovisual technology has given rise to the Information Society, which is the subject of specific attention from states and international organisations.

This interest has been increased for more than a decade because of the socio-economic and cultural benefits of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT): the “digital divide” transcends geographical divides and crosses all human societies. This is because the new means of telecommunications facilitate the exchange and dissemination of knowledge. These new ICTs are therefore profoundly changing the daily lives of citizens, the functioning of businesses and the state. All of this leads to new mental and social representations. This is more obvious at the multimedia level (TV, video on demand, GPS, music) on mobile phones.

On the macroeconomic front, new ICT processes have implications for the value of products and services, which will be more life-cycled, which tends to be shortened and influences productivity gains and ICT-related growth. ICTs also influence scientific and technical research and indirectly enable discoveries that have a new macroeconomic effect. Finally, ICTs have an impact in many other areas such as leisure, culture, health, time management and social behaviour. The advent of the Internet and the tremendous development it has undergone through in recent years have practically put the company, of any importance, at a critical notice to adapt and make the most appropriate and productive use of it. Competitiveness requires it to obtain or give information in real-time; the company will indeed invest the Web and use electronics to face competition and develop its activities. In recent years, ICTs have been able to set up models of work organisation, the main characteristics of which are decentralisation and flexibility. The phenomenon of offshoring of employment is mainly due to the search for productivity gains and opportunities offered by ICT to companies, especially those that are large: online remote work is an everyday reality.

Mastering Economic Intelligence, the Foundation of National Security

Economic Intelligence and its strategic management have become for a nation and enterprise in a particular way, one of the essential drivers of its overall performance and safety. In practice, economic intelligence is a process arising from the intelligence cycle. The information collected helps build a conviction throughout processing and not confirms the erroneous opinion that an actor might initially have.

A formalised need-expression step allows research to be “targeted” by defining a limited perimeter, an essential step to avoid the accumulation of unnecessary data and thus to be equipped with counterproductive information overload. All the fields that complement Economic Intelligence, such as knowledge management, information protection, lobbying, can be grouped into the global concept of Strategic Intelligence. Economic intelligence incorporates two additional dimensions compared to the previous day: decision-making and knowledge of information.

The Economic Intelligence model covers three concepts. We first have data that are numbers, words, current events outside a conceptual frame of reference. Then we have the information, which is the accumulation of data, processed and transformed that become information, validated, and confronted, that begins to make sense. Finally, we have the knowledge that is the set of interpreted information that makes it possible to make decisions. The passages through these three concepts are done in the following way. I want the right information at the right time. For this, it is necessary to define objectives; search and collect data sort and store the data and finally have relevant information. How can I make the information useful? Once the overall information objectives have been set, and research, collection, sorting. Storage missions have been validated, and information must be analysed, results used to highlight aspects that help in decision-making. From then on, the transition from knowledge to intelligence arises. The culture of managers, both political, military and economic, must be changed.

The decision-making system is not a fixed system. It must adapt and evolve; for this, it is necessary to share information, assess the quality and relevance of decisions and the question itself. It is essential to integrate it into the functions of administration and business to make economic intelligence a real competitive advantage. The process approach allows for better coordination of steps to make the most of the information repository for effective action on the administration or the company or its environment through complex interactions. A nation or a company will be better than its competitors if it has, before the others, the right information at the right time, whether it is market knowledge, legal, technological, normative or other information.

A nation or an enterprise must be able to create an information asymmetry to its advantage to build its competitive advantage concerning security, political, economic and technological issues. It is also for this reason that governments are assisting in the education and education of business leaders so that they can use economic intelligence to strengthen their management skills. Hence the support to companies for access to the large volumes of information on international trade held by departmental departments and agencies, the Intelligence and Counterintelligence Services, setting up an economic information service for the benefit of companies engaged in foreign trade. Industrial property in various aspects (patents, trademarks, models, know-how, copyrights, technology monitoring, secrecy, software protection, technology transfer, licensing agreements, competition law, etc.) is becoming a major issue. Many companies try to extract from their competitors’ technologies, customer files, trade secrets, product cost structures, product manufacturing specifications and procedures, and development plans. Since the advent of intranets and extranets, information has spread more quickly and widely across borders, acquiring such strategic value that the challenge now is to appropriate it. This is why currently, the majority of developed states contribute to ensuring the security control of internal databases within companies to deal with data hacks. The motivations of hackers have evolved: from software piracy by amateurs whose main motivation was to steal for their personal use, we have moved to “professional” hacking of an economic nature (misappropriation of money) and industrial hacking, close to espionage. Beyond the technical risks imposed by the Tic, the security of computer data begins with securing and raising awareness of human resources. Communications interceptions have also evolved. From wiretapping, we’ve gone to intercepting e-mail. When an e-mail is sent in the usual way, it is not encrypted and can pass through a dozen proxies that mark the route to its destination. However, for technical but also legal reasons, they keep a copy of the messages received. The information contained in the message and the attached files can, therefore, be read by as many proxies managers. Document thefts occur not only remotely or not accessing a computer or server but also in the most unexpected way by photocopiers. Each time a document is copied on a modern copier, the machine’s hard drive stores a copy. As a result, they have become real computerised storage centres, often without the knowledge of company managers and employees. The most modern copiers and multifunction machines store information before printing it. Computer experts can, therefore, retrieve this information, especially since most of them are usually connected to a network, either via a PC (shared printer) or through a clean IP address.

Algeria faces the challenges of the globalisation of the information society

Every day, new technological advances make previous advances more obsolete.  The challenges – in terms of opportunities and risks of marginalisation – the ICT’s influence on growth and social development. This delay is also due in part to the problem of negative attitudes and attitudes that hinder the implementation of innovative and exciting projects, proposed by specialists. An Algerian study shows that only 15% of Algerian SMEs out of the 321,000 surveyed use information and communication technologies (ICT) in their activities according to the National Agency for the Development of SMEs. In the 2019 ranking of the Bloomberg Innovation Index, which measures the impact of innovation in the economy, it is also based on seven criteria: research and development, manufacturing value-added, productivity, high-tech density, tertiary sector efficiency, the concentration of researchers, number of patents.  Algeria is absent from the top 50.  This absence is due to the lack of use and development of ICT in daily life, notably the absence of E-payment and E-Education.   Another ranking is that Algeria has one of the slowest Internet connections in the world. In the latest “Worldwide broadband speed league 2018”,  which annually reports on the speeds of no less than 200 countries (the ranking having been established based on 163 million tests concerning 200 countries),

Algeria, with a download speed of 1.25 Mbps (Megabits), found itself in 175th place. According to this report, it would take 9 hours and 7 minutes for an Algerian Internet user to download a 5GB film (gigabit). In contrast, this time is only 11 minutes and 18 seconds in Singapore, first in the ranking, with a speed of 60.39 Mbps. Furthermore, according to the 2018 edition released on December 5, 2018, of the Global Knowledge Index, developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that measures the multidimensional concept of knowledge based on seven sector indices, Algeria is ranked 104th out of the 134 studied countries. As for the Global Innovation Index, a global ranking of countries based on their capacity and results of economic innovation published annually by Cornell University, the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2018, out of a total of 126 countries, Algeria achieved a score of 23.87 points out of 100, down two places from 2017.   According to the latest edition of the biennial United Nations survey on India’s 2018 E-Government Development in the world, published on July 19 2018 “as a general rule, there is a positive correlation between the country’s income level and its ranking in electronic administration. High-income countries have very high or high EGDI scores. It is not universal, however. Twenty-two upper-middle-income countries and 39 lower-middle-income countries have EGDI scores below the global average of EGDI, and ten countries in the lower-middle-income group have scores above the global average. On the other hand, low-income countries remain lagging due to the relatively low level of development of all components of the index.”

For national security reasons, Algeria’s information system needs to be redesigned 

Statistics are now abundant at all national, regional and global levels, and playing an increasingly important role in our societies and public administrations. They inform public debates, policy formulation and business decision-making, thus raising the issue of the intrinsic quality, compilation and selection of information. In Algeria, however, this information-gathering system needs to be redesigned.  Ideally, it would be a Ministry of the Economy with a strategic planning directorate and a National Statistics (ONS) that like the INSEE in France, Great Britain, Germany or the United States of America, is an independent body with an analysis department. It must be part of another institutional organisation that is moving towards the consolidation of ministries for greater efficiency and budgetary rigour, economic regionalisation.

Subject to specific objectives, with several local authorities and institutions not telescoping each other nor making information opaque for reasons of individualised strategies.  What are short-term parameters can become variable in the medium term, and what is the strategic sector today may not become so tomorrow. Of course, the ONS not meant to assess current public policies delivers what others interpret its figures by recognising that better inter-institutional coordination between the various and abundant administrative sources and the board would be desirable, calling for more “coherence and integration”. It is because the ONS starts from the micro-economic data of administrations and companies by consolidating them at the macro-economic level. This inconsistency, fostered by an inconsistent pricing system in which administered prices and market prices compiled together, does not allow us to identify the sincerity of the accounts and can lead to mismanagement and even corruption. If the essential information is biased, it gives results at the global level that does not reflect reality. And this is what we see with the crumbling of the information system, where the polling bases are different from one organisation to another resulting in data that contradicts the reality. Therefore, survey methods need to be standardised, whether comprehensive or surveyed. Above all, information must be democratised by opening up the massive media to a broad and contradictory economic debate, as no one has a monopoly on nationalism. However, monetary policy errors can amount to losses of tens of billions of dollars to the country. The crumbling of the information system explains the contradictory discourses of several senior officials; entropy has reached an unacceptable level in recent years.

For transparency, the foundation of good governance, accelerate the digitisation of institutions and companies

The 21st-century world is on the cusp of a fourth economic and technological revolution, based on two fundamentals of good governance and knowledge economy.  This revolution, with the trajectory of the digital transition and the energy transition, means that any nation that does not advance is going backwards, that there is no static situation. The majority of paper newspapers are likely to disappear by 2020/2025, if they do not adapt to the new revolution, replaced by online sites that give real-time information. I recall that, as Director-General of Economic Studies and first advisor to the Court of Auditors, I was appointed by the then Presidency in 1983 to deal with the issue of demurrage. This issue is still relevant and made urgent, given budgetary constraints. These numerous raft boats cause large foreign exchange outflows. I had suggested, about the services of the Ministry of Commerce, of the finances and various ministerial departments concerned, the urgency to combat both demurrage and overcharging the establishment of a value table by setting up a networked and real-time information system between ports, customs, banks, tax services and connected to international networks to know the real-time prices of imported goods. 

“The statistics available are not accurate; those who oppose digitisation do not want transparency”:  Abdelmadjid TEBBOUNE, President of the Republic.

As the President of the Republic has pointed out, those who oppose the digitisation of institutions and businesses do not want either to move forward nor plan for a future in full knowledge of all potential possibilities in as clear an atmosphere as can be had.  An example would be the management of ministries, governorates (wilayas) and the majority of services that still follow the methods of the 1960s/1970s with techniques. The urgency of transparency in the management of SONATRACH which provides 98% of the country’s foreign exchange revenues, the financial system as a whole, which must make its transformation, being currently, mere administrative counters, place of interest struggles and distribution of the oil rente. A rentier oligarchy has used, the customs system for overcharges for lack of a table of value linked to the international network, (price, weight costs/quality).  The present state system that promotes land squandering; the undigitised tax system that leads to tax evasion, the public banking system that allows enormous loans without real guarantees and interest rate bonuses, with collaboration, without correlation of business would require a radical change.  In this context, bureaucracy, the legacy of an administered economy, is one of the heaviest constraints and whose eradication is necessary.  The new system should instil the dynamics of development in the context of a controlled liberalisation reconciling economic efficiency and social justice.  The latter not being antinomic with efficiency, on the contrary, would prompt the mobilisation of citizens for a new Algeria. The less different the reforms, the more we will deplete the foreign exchange reserves, and this crisis of governance risks turning into a financial, economic and political turmoil with the risk of regional destabilisation.  ademmebtoul@gmail.com


[1] “Dr. Abderrahmane Mebtoul: “Algeria Still Faces Significant Challenges” and three parts in the international site AfricaPresse Paris on the challenges of Algeria 2018/2020/2030 as follows:

  1. “Algeria’s development involves the reform of the political system”
  2. “There is an urgent need to adapt Algerian political parties, for the majority related to rentier interests” and
  3. “No development for Algeria without strategic vision of the transition to a non-hydrocarbon economy”