It is confirmed here in The Brand Berries.comOPINIONS 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
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:
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.
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.
UNEarthmag with Assia Tej’s article on E-Waste in the Middle East and North Africa can be summarised as being relevant to all parts of the region. In effect, E-Waste in the MENA region with disparities between parts of it regardless of socio-economic strata could limit perhaps expectancies of theories based on Western countries cannot be copied to the MENA despite that countries are aligning to EU values. Not all values though as per Assia Tej.
While E-Waste has the potential to become a profitable enterprise, it remains under-utilized and marginalized in the Middle East and North Africa.
We buy them, use them, break or replace them, and finally throw them away. This is the cycle of electronic devices, the revolutionary gadgets that made our life easier and the recycling process harder. It is an undeniable fact that nowadays the waste from electronic devices, known as “e-waste,” has reached unparalleled levels and presents increasing new obstacles to recycling.
We buy them, use them, break or replace them, and finally throw them away. This is the cycle of electronic devices, the revolutionary gadgets that made our life easier and the recycling process harder.
The global situation is overtly alarming, and the lack of information or media attention on the subject is only exacerbating the matter. The problem is exceedingly apparent when it comes to sorting. Despite the fact that E-waste is just as environmentally devastating and pollutive as plastic, it is not included in primary recycling systems. As many countries in the MENA region have no centrally established waste-sorting systems, any hope for short-term improvement in their dealing with e-waste seems futile.
“E-waste management in the Arab region is in its startinE phase,” says the Centre of Environment and Development for the Arab region and Europe, a Cairo-based NGO.
In countries where recycling is not yet a habit and where environmental concerns are far behind, the question remains as to how this new type of pollution will be handled by governments?
E-waste as a new profitable business
Recycling stations for electronic devices does not yet exist in the MENA region for the simple reason that it requires expensive and specialised equipment. However, the establishment of such stations would not only create a much-needed breather from increasing pollution, but it would also generate new opportunities for employment. The road to improvement would require significant financial support, which to this date has been absent from any government plans. Any attempts to recycle e-waste manually would present a huge health risk, as it may be submerged in toxic acids.
But what if recycling started to benefit the economy? Many electronic devices, such as computers and phones, contain quantities of precious metal such as gold, silver and platinum, that could be extracted in special stations and be given another life.
Investment in recycling is hindered by the inability of some governments to cover the costs. According to Global Recycling, “cost recovery is partially implemented in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon (Zahlé only) and the Palestinian Territory; in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and Mauritania costs cannot be recovered by the services. In Egypt and in Jordan, cost recovery arrangements are made through the electricity bills.” But what if recycling started to benefit the economy? Many electronic devices, such as computers and phones, contain quantities of precious metal such as gold, silver and platinum, that could be extracted in special stations and be given another life.
Unfortunately, this new type of pollution is largely being disregarded by populations and no further action is taken by citizens to demand and ensure the restriction of e-waste. Meanwhile, old electronics are laying neglected in unsuitable locations, as their potential continues to be overlooked.
In the UK and Europe, companies like Apple offer financial compensation for the return of their old electronics. Discounts up to 500£ have been issued on new products in exchange for the recovery of older models. This initiative encourages people not to dump their old devices and allows companies to benefit from the reuse of worn ones. In the end, this process creates a new kind of business while being careful of environmental matters.
Some initiatives have been undertaken by governments, but there is a still a long road towards the establishment of a more complete recycling infrastructure and legislation. In Morocco, civil society played a significant role in demanding efficient e-waste solutions although overall, in the MENA region, the driving force comes from the private sector and cooperation with national and local governments.
With the assistance of the private sector, governments of various countries, such as Egypt, have addressed the need for recycling and “recycling programs” for end-of-life products, most of which are multinational companies such as Nokia or Dell.
However, national legislation is still very poor regarding e-waste. An important legislative measure is the passage of a law on the recycling of mobile phones in the UAE. Morocco has been looking into embarking on a national e-waste management strategy, although the present legal and recycling infrastructure is not yet adequate for it. Qatar’s telecom operator, Qtel, is in the process of drafting a law on e-waste management, which is supposed to be completed by the end of 2010. Further initiatives have been noted but nothing very determinative has emerged.
There is still a lack of a comprehensive regional e-waste strategy, and much work remains to be done at the national level. The national level requires a more extensive and process-oriented e-waste management policy, strategy. and implementation plan than what is provided by individual initiatives. E-waste recycling is a high-tech industry and will require more investment and management processes than are currently available.
This sector is a den of treasures capable of making a huge change all over the globe so investment is worth the try.
In the end, what is needed is a global mediatization of the phenomenon that is strong enough to push governments to review their policies regarding e-waste. This sector is a den of treasures capable of making a huge change all over the globe so the investment is worth the try.
In Manama, 5G and edge: unlocking new possibilities could have been perceived by all elites of the Gulf media as a reassuring means to help reach landscapes of a better future.
With 5G we’ll see an entirely new range of applications enabled by low latency of 5G and the proliferation of edge computing – transforming the art of the possible, said professional services firm Accenture in a new report.
“5G standards have been finalized late last year. We’ll soon start to see a growing number of devices rolling out across the regions. By 2025, it’s estimated that there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections covering 34% of the global population,” said Tejas Rao, Managing Director – Technology Strategy & Advisory, Growth Markets at Accenture in the company’s Business Functions Blog.
From digital to augmented consumer
The evolution of the consumer is one major leap forward. 3G and 4G helped to create the digital consumer, always connected to the internet through their mobile devices. But with 5G we’ll see an entirely new range of applications enabled by the low latency of 5G and the proliferation of edge computing – transforming the art of the possible. Rather than simply experiencing digital through their devices, consumers will have their experience of the world around them enhanced and augmented through real time data and the technologies such as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) that it enables through edge computing.
The edge cloud forms
The evolution of the network in this context is synonymous with the evolution of the cloud. So rather than what we typically see today in the public cloud, which is services residing in centralized data centers, those cloud services will move to the edge of a mobile network – the ’edge cloud’ – to drive real time cloud computing capabilities. And that development will support a wide range of new use cases across every industry, with network connectivity itself becoming the platform on which others can build new services and solutions.
From capacity and coverage to network as a platform
Accordingly, we are starting to see the strategic intent of maximizing capacity and coverage that informed network build in the 3G/4G world shift. Instead the focus is now on how to unlock 5G to deliver innovative solutions and services.
With networks no longer having to be the same everywhere, they can be built or sliced to support new use cases and opportunities for specific industries. Today’s web platform companies are already exploring this and making investments in order to capitalize on the transformational changes that 5G’s low latency can offer.
Low latency–currency for the 5G world
Ultra-reliable low latency is the new currency of the network world, underpinning new capabilities in many industries that were previously impossible. And these are not in the realm of science fiction. They are becoming possible today, ranging from real-time language translation to remote robotics and from autonomous logistics to AR-enabled industrial maintenance.
As they plan their future networks, operators need to understand how to intelligently direct 5G network investments from just pure coverage and capacity, and towards unlocking new revenue streams and business value. This is a significant departure from previous generations of network deployment. The network has moved from being a pipeline to instead becoming a platform and gateway for solution innovation and real-time connectivity services.
Partnering and collaboration will become more important than ever as operators sit at the center of new ecosystems developed around the ultra-reliable low latency, real time data at scale and responsiveness that the ‘edge cloud’ delivers.
New landscape of opportunity–and challenge
This emerging landscape of mobile edge networks can unlock many new opportunities to create value. These consist of new services to drive revenue and new possibilities for managing network costs. But the new networks also pose some novel challenges to preserving margins.
Today’s cloud world is characterized by the presence of a limited number of mega data centers in remote locations with data travelling from device to cloud and back again in order to execute a computational process or data analysis. Data typically makes the round trip travelling at 50 to 100 milliseconds over today’s 4G mobile networks.
Data travelling over 5G at less than five milliseconds facilitates the edge cloud and the ability to create new services that it empowers. But achieving that requires a proliferation of micro data centers numbering in the tens of thousands. To support edge capabilities, these will need to be deployed closer to the consumers and enterprises that use them and densely installed in urban settings.
They will need to handle the progression from millions to billions of connected devices. And move from remote connectivity to providing ultra-reliable, low-latency capabilities at the edge as data flows accelerate to real-time in order to execute time-sensitive services, from autonomous vehicles to real-time visual analytics.
Deciding where and how to play
As they create these capabilities, operators need to understand where they want to locate the edge and what the operational implications of their choice will be. That means understanding the likely demands of the territories they cover and the use cases for specific industries that are likely to be most relevant.
The one-size-fits-all approach of the 3G/4G world is no longer useful. Instead, operators need to take a more targeted view of where they want to play and the likely returns they can generate from placing much more specific bets than in the past.
Anirban Bagchi Posted on October 21, 2020 in MEConstruction News that Euro Auctions reports rise in lot prices, bidders and online bids at September Dubai sale. What is the meaning of such a movement? Anirban Bagchi explains.
Internet buyers double in number as average lot prices go up 63% while first time bidders grow exponentially
Euro Auctions has reported a year-on-year increase of 63% in average lot prices at its September sale in Dubai while first-time bidder registrations rose by nearly 300%, with 20% of the new bidders placing successful winning bids.
The global machinery auctioneers said the results prove that there “is an appetite for good used equipment in the region” and that Euro Auctions is “fast becoming the auction of choice for buyers and sellers in the Middle East for the disposal of stock to a true international audience”.
According to Euro Auctions the Dubai sale on September 28th attracted increased number of bidders, doubling the number of internet buyers, and also increasing the number of UAE vendors. The one-day sale resulted in 33% of all bids being transacted online proving the success of the marketing reach for this sale.
Bidders for the sale came from 65 countries, of which, 21 countries successfully bought on the day. Online bids came from 19 countries around the globe, with the top bidding countries being the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, the UK and Africa countries as a whole.
Derek Bleakly, general manager of Euro Auctions, Dubai, said: “Euro Auctions has been working hard with consignors across the Middle East over the last three years to build awareness and trust, demonstrating that our auctions are the place to bring good equipment, which in the Gulf, is in high demand. Plant and machinery auctions are no longer seen as the place to dump old, poor quality, low-spec machinery. Quite the reverse in fact, with many rental companies sending entire fleets of good, well-maintained two- to three-year-old machines to auction, making ideal purchases for dealers, contractors, and civil engineering companies.
“In last 12 months since mid-2019, there has been a marked uptake in the Middle East market for good machinery and equipment. Contractors and rental companies in the Middle East have been buying relatively low levels of new machines for the last 4-5 years and, as a result, stocks of plant are aging. Not buying through dealerships, buyers have turned to auctions for good late-year machines as well as new unused stock.”
Euro Auctions added that now with Covid-19 affecting the global economy, the used equipment market could well boom in the next 12 months. The auctioneer projected that with major OEMs pausing production globally, as happened in 2008, it is likely that when demand increases, OEMs will be unable to accelerate production, fuelling a demand for good, late, low-hours equipment. Euro Auctions has several other sale events around the world for the remainder of this year, including another in Dubai on December 14th.
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.
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
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.
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.
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