How GCC governments can digitally inspire the Middle East
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How GCC governments can digitally inspire the Middle East

How GCC governments can digitally inspire the Middle East

How the Gulf’s digital evolution can influence its neighbours across the Middle East

Gulf Business

In one of the most diverse regions in the world, frontrunners of digital transformation must spark the fire for less developed markets in the Middle East.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and it’s no longer a question of whether to transform digitally or not. Organisations around the world are aggressively altering their tactics for a digital future, underpinned by a strong and stable economy. As customer demand grows, competition increases, and resources become more elusive, seamless, agile and sustainable business models continue to emerge as the do or die strategy for almost everyone.

By and large, the private sector has been the guardian of this trend, with start-ups skipping legacy systems to leapfrog competitors, and enterprise companies investing millions in re-engineering their products and operations to become more efficient, economic and attractive.

Until recently, government entities and the private sector were playing hard to get. Whether lack of competition on a national scale, complexity in multi-layered transformations, or an evident number of barriers stood in their way, they simply were not following in the steps of their private sector comrades.

Today, however, disrupting the status quo has become more mandatory than voluntary: It’s no longer a choice. The benefits are widely understood, but how to see through the transition is the part that causes much debate. Enacting a digital transformation strategy requires myriad investments, ideas, and planning. For large, static governments this can be a fairly daunting task. For example, 38 per cent of the driving force behind public sector transformations comes from budget pressures, yet budget falls under one of the core barriers to success.

And it’s not just a case of basic technological investment – it’s an overhaul of strategic approach, skills, people, processes, and a vision and mission to match. In fact, as stated in Deloitte’s National Transformation in the Middle East Report, co-developed by Huawei, the five key areas of assessment for understanding a government’s transformation progress are technology uptake, training or hiring in key positions, updating processes and approaches to operations, a vision statement for the future, and an understanding and record of current and potential customers.

For GCC governments, the assessment is healthy. But the GCC doesn’t reflect the wider region, and it’s important not to forget that. The Middle East region is possibly one of the most diverse in the world, in terms of population demographics, economic strength, tradition, habit and most other factors worth measuring.

That said, it’s a region bound by history, and it can do much to support its individual parts. With digital transformation, the onus lies very much with the GCC nations making waves in the process. Digital transformation is crucial for delivering advanced hubs of innovation and sustainability in green field countries like the UAE, but at the same time it’s crucial for building prosperity and growth in less stable parts of the region.

On a global level, the GCC is not leading the way in terms of transformation. Its progress has been admirable, but it still lags some way behind more advanced nations, such as the Nordic nations, Japan, and the United States. But this is a positive, as it can act as an example for Middle Eastern nations looking to begin their transformation from the back of the pack, much like the GCC did a few years ago.

It would only take a small step for this process to catch wind, too. For every 20 per cent of ICT investment ploughed into an economy, a nation will see a 1 per cent rise in its GDP. And although digital transformations from a government and public sector perspective might seem like a fancy way of describing online payments, the outcomes for advancing nations can have an immeasurable impact.

Firstly, there’s smart care, which focuses on the healthcare industry. Here the GCC is gathering pace as a potential leading healthcare hub. Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Plan is ambitiously aiming to have 70 per cent of its citizens unified through digital medical records by 2030.

Secondly, there are classrooms of the future, driving an education sector that’s competing with the very best the world has to offer. In the UAE, for example, leading global institutions continue to invest in campuses, as the demand for leading curriculums grows. The UAE has held aside $272m for government spending in this area over the next five years.

As a way of equipping its future leaders with the skills necessary to govern and advance a technologically flourishing nation, its education system has moved from traditional textbook learning methods to digitally enhanced learning experiences. Its Smart Learning Programme has already yielded quite wonderful results, taking its infrastructure from 283 schools with 6,349 teachers in 2015, to 423 schools and 12,320 teachers today.

The next great driver is smart tourism, which again has been led by the UAE. As nations move away from oil-dependent strategies, tourism continues to show its value in the digital sphere with visitors demanding more seamless travel experiences. Dubai has taken full advantage of this, developing biometric technologies that reduce inconvenient immigration procedures, and improve the travel experience for both holidaymakers and citizens alike.

Their next stage is to develop more co-created experiences using smart technologies, truly altering the travel experience.

One of the most advanced areas for GCC nations is mobility. Dubai has already begun working towards its ambitious goal of making 25 per cent of all trips driverless by 2030, and Saudi Arabia has set aside $140bn for mobility optimisations over the next decade. The reason for this progress is mobility’s role in the wider Smart City development mandate, which has taken a front row seat in parts of Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE.

Further citizen-centric, collaborative, and data-driven innovations will see parts of the GCC catch the leading pack in terms of digital transformation. And although not all nations are at this stage, a $15bn investment across the region in 2018 alone suggests a positive, upward trend.

Safder Nazir is vice president digital industries at Huawei Middle East


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