Will digital transformation script new success story in Middle East?

Ghada Elkeissi, Director, Software Engineering & Analytics, GE Digital, Middle East & Africa

Businesses are evolving at a rapid pace in the region and with the help of technology many new jobs have been created while adding an element of swiftness in traditional jobs. TRENDS talks to Ghada Elkeissi, Director, Software Engineering & Analytics, GE Digital, Middle East & Africa, about the importance of embracing digital transformation in today’s world.

Ghada will be participating in the upcoming Top CEO Conference & Awards, which will be held at the King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, on April 10 and 11.

Excerpts from the interview:

GCC region is home of many ongoing mega-projects. Which fundamental changes should be made to ensure a successful execution of these mega-projects?

That is true, there are lots of mega-projects covering so many industries like aviation, energy, healthcare, transportation, public safety and others. One key element for successful execution is to select your right ecosystem of partners and vendors to get the right industrial and technological solutions with the right expertise appointed.

Understanding the scope, and adopting agile delivery technique with the appropriate governance is critical for success. There are many times, projects get impacted due to the fact that part of the scope is understood however is not practical and/or not achievable. Being agile, gives you the capability to split the implementation in to smaller phases where you can build, assess and pivot to achieve more realistic and optimal results.

In today’s world embracing digital transformation is a must. All projects need to leverage technology to enable customers realize their industrial implementations by providing operational efficiencies along with deep insights and decision making capabilities.

Last but not least, I believe we need to focus more and more in empowering the youth. Young people nowadays bring on lots of innovative ideas that really makes a difference. This will help also increase the employment rates of these young individuals and their productivity towards the society.

Businesses are evolving at a rapid pace in the region and it is making many traditional jobs and corporations redundant. How you look at this ongoing transition?

We are in an era where most business and corporates are embracing transformation. The transformation can be related to their customer portfolio, strategy, business models, etc. We saw many new startups disrupting industries leaving traditional businesses impacted e.g. Airbnb, Uber, etc. Also we keep hearing that with digital transformation, and embracing AI, many jobs will be redundant.

In my view, there is no room anymore for any traditional business or even individual to just stay as is. Everyone need to look for creative opportunities and adopt the change.

Individuals need to keep an eye on what changes are happening, and leverage those to attain new skills and capabilities that can keep them essential and relevant, as well as aligned with what the market needs in terms of new set of job roles and responsibilities.

For traditional businesses, they need to acknowledge that a change need to happen and that any transformation requires investment, time and persistence. They need to assess the market and the competition, identify new differentiators, channel their investments, identify their partners and empower their people to adopt and embrace the change.

Startups and entrepreneurs are facing the problem of limited venture capitalists that are ready to commit to new ideas. What is your take on this?

It really differs from one region to the other, and in our region we saw fluctuations in term of the venture capitalist investment due to economic slowdown, currency volatility, etc. Having that said, during the last year and this year we experienced a shift in the Gulf Region and some other countries like Egypt.

If we take a closer look at UAE and Saudi, we see lots of emphasis on startups supporting them via establishment of accelerators and incubators based on joint effort between private sector, corporates and different governmental authorities to invest in the youth. Through these incubators, startups receive the right coaching to produce minimal viable products that can encourage venture capitalists and investors to sponsor and fund.

We saw huge investments in disruptive startups like Careem. Nevertheless, there is also a lot of effort through the media, and conferences to encourage startups to present their ideas, win funds, and even get assigned to investors to grow further.

What role Fourth Industrial Revolution and concepts like blockchain, augmented reality and other new technologies could play in the transformation of public services sector?

Digital transformation is already playing huge role in public sector transformation. Various Gulf region governments have released their future vision plans (e.g. Dubai 2030, Saudi 2030, etc.) with commitments toward embracing technologies like blockchain, internet of things, and artificial intelligence as part of their journey to provide better services and experience to their citizens and the public.

We can see governments signing MOUs and agreements with huge corporates to build strategic plans and execute against them. With this, the public would be able to get more secure, smarter services, meanwhile government will be able to deliver more optimized and efficient services increasing their customer satisfaction.

How you look at the ongoing women empowerment drive in the region?

There is a big focus around Arab women in the region. This year, I believe we have witnessed a strong vibe towards women empowerment on March 7th & 8th, that I did not really experience before within the region or even globally.

Majority of businesses are examining carefully their diversity strategies, and are working on defining areas of improvement with women empowerment as a core focus. Also we see lots of efforts around hosting women networking events, and conferences covering topics related to empowering women in various domains and industries.

We do have many inspirational examples whom are role models that we should be proud of and we need to socialize their achievements to encourage more and more women to step up.

Also, we cannot overlook the social changes that is happening in Saudi towards empowering women which I believe is remarkable. It’s really proud moments for the region.

Do you feel restructuring businesses in the Gulf and the Middle East has always been a challenge?

I do not really believe so. We can see lots of corporates opening up in the region, and lots of industrial transformation, along with shifts in mission and vision happening. I believe that GCC is one of the most flexible, innovative, disruptive markets and the fastest to adapt and re-align to changes aiming at offering the best environment and services to the public and customers.

Are GCC’s public and private enterprises prepared enough to defend them against any probable cyber attack or will they be the weak link that falls first?

In recent years we have encountered lots of the cyberattacks targeting different sectors. It was not focused only in GCC, yet GCC was one of the main targets.

I cannot say that today the GCC is fully prepared to defend themselves, yet I do not believe that GCC will be the weak link. With countries like UAE, where Dubai has launched its blockchain initiative, I believe that GCC will be one of the fastest regions adopting state-of-the art technology to protect the data and transactions against various malicious attacks.

Also, with the evolvement going around, we see many corporates taking the step towards building their cloud data centers in the region. I believe this is huge critical step, as it reflects on the emphasis of the region, and its importance in terms of adopting digital solutions. With these cloud data centers,  governments will be able to deploy their solutions leveraging various cloud cyber security technologies thus protecting their data and embracing regional and global compliance and regulatory requirements.