Predictions 2018: Emirates Global Aluminium MD and CEO Abdulla Kalban

Kalban details how EGA is preparing for changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution



Each new year brings the opportunity for change in our businesses and our lives. Today, as we stand in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are witnessing change at a monumental scale that is transforming entire economies.

The drivers behind this new change are powerful advancements in technology and digitisation including mega-trends such as data analytics, automation, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and the Internet of Things.

As the world and our region realise the potential of these new opportunities, companies are bringing enhanced efficiencies and new capabilities to their operations. From product development to quality assurance, and material sourcing to marketing, we must all change the way we do business to stay ahead of the competition.

Simultaneous with this new epoch of industrial development, the Middle East is also embarking on its own transformational journey. Investment in technology and innovation rank high on most regional countries’ lists of priorities. This shift places the manufacturing and industrialisation sector in a key position to play a vital role in reaching national targets by focussing on technical advancements, contributing to economic diversification and creating jobs.

As our governments seek to cultivate world-class capabilities in each of our individual countries, it is clear that our industries will need to take strategic steps in 2018 to grow for the future.

Our key focus over the next years should be to advocate education for our employees, invest in technology and deliver on sustainability.

In the new scheme of things, companies will need to be able to address technical challenges and optimise use of data, as well as welcome new forms of human-machine interaction. This will require up skilling our people so that they are well equipped to harness the advantages advanced robotics and digitisation have to offer. With a predicted global gap in demand and supply of qualified personnel, companies will have to step up to find ways to meet their skill needs.

At EGA, we have already long initiated investment into continued education for our employees. Measures such as sponsoring university education and launching training programmes not only bring new expertise to firms but also result in high retention, employee engagement and innovative idea generation.

While ensuring our workers are capable of operating within the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must also re-evaluate our overarching strategies. In addition to other company ambitions, we must also prioritise rigorous digitisation and continual improvement of our operations. One out of three global companies continue to use low-risk, low exploration strategies. This approach compromises on our development. If industrial and manufacturing companies wish to grow, we must be prepared to ride the waves of innovation and seek new avenues for expansion and technology use.

EGA recently commissioned a study on innovation in the workplace. A key finding was that 96 per cent of senior executives and 92 per cent of junior staff in the UAE believe that innovation at the company level makes a country more competitive. However, at the same time, one in five senior executives and one in three junior staff feel they are not empowered enough to innovate. Companies will need to employ robust employee suggestion schemes if they want to be able to continuously improve and stay ahead of the curve.

The year ahead is also one in which we need to develop long-term plans to ensure our businesses and our economies survive and thrive in a sustainable manner. As we align our business models to become more data-driven and technology intensive, our companies become leaner and more responsive to market trends and demands.

It is a promising time, however not every organisation is prepared to change course – to their disadvantage. Research by McKinsey Global Institute shows that early adopters of AI who have invested in strong digital and technological capabilities are experiencing higher profit margins and expect to continue to widen the gap between themselves and their competitors who are still uncertain about these changes.

Staying abreast of the advancements in the industrial revolution and the new era of digitisation within the next few years will be a challenge. However, change is not just a necessity, but also a priority for industrial and manufacturing companies in the region who are important drivers of national growth and diversification.

This year will be a crucial one for all of us as we each have the opportunity to unlock our potential in a way that affects not just our businesses, but the future of our industries and economies as well.

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