It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Held under a dark cloud of Covid-19, Gitex Technology Week 2020 nonetheless proved the power of technology in helping to overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic.
The usually large global contingent was kept at bay by widespread travel restrictions. In response, organisers, the Dubai World Trade Centre, teamed up with Avaya to host hybrid physical/virtual conferences beamed to audiences in 150 countries. A lot of participants also held physical and cloud demos for the benefit of the thousands locked out.
The success of the hybrid model of the event should provide a template for a post-Covid world. “This is akin to an elastic band that has stretched so far, it’s not going to get back to the original shape,” says Savio Tovar Dias, senior director, Sales Engineering, Avaya International.
“Virtual is going to be a key part of any event moving forward with the potential to boost the reach tenfold,” he adds. Gitex also provided an ideal, if sombre, platform to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 and the lessons learned.
These past nine months have demonstrated to every business leader the need to prepare for the unexpected. “To be ready for the unknown, you need agile architectures, flexible business models, and the ability to flex up and down as your business demands,” says Dias.
Omar Akar, regional vice president and managing director of Cloud and AI Business Group at Huawei Middle East says Covid-19 delivered a clear message that organisations need to accelerate digital transformation. “Any organisation today that fails to transform and deliver digital services, effective immediately, will lose their market value. And that’s going to happen extremely fast.”
Akar gives the example of fintechs that are threatening large banks because they’re able to deliver new digital services to an eager consumer base. “Being agile and investing in technologies that accelerate the transformation, primarily AI, intelligent vision, and analytics should be key,” he says. The pandemic brought to the fore the importance of remote communication tools such as chatbots as well as customer relationship management, with employees hindered from client meetings, observes Sunil Paul, co-founder and managing director at Finesse Global.
Additionally, technologies that until then seemed niche were quickly elevated into the mainstream. Paul cites the example of blockchain-based contracts that negate the need for physical signatures. And because budgets are under pressure, managed services are the need of the hour. “Many businesses have had to reduce staff numbers including in-house IT teams.”
The pandemic proved particularly disruptive to public organisations, who still needed to deliver critical public services to residents and citizens.
Hammad Abdullah Al Hammadi, director of Digital Channels at Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) says Covid-19 helped accelerate the delivery of digital government services. “Our customers needed to have services available digitally across all channels to minimise the number of visits to service centres.”
ADDA’s digital platform TAMM brings together 33 government entities in Abu Dhabi to offer unified services.
Hammadi says TAMM’s strategy did not necessarily shift as the original plan was to digitise all public services and deliver them via a single platform.
“However, the pandemic was a push for us to accelerate the onboarding of services onto the platform. Covid-19 allowed us to be more productive since we started to meet virtually; it minimised the time and effort it would usually take to coordinate meetings with other government entities by eliminating face-to-face meetings,” Hammadi says.
Many organisations are reconsidering their workplace strategy, with permanent work-from-home policies now popular. “I strongly believe that widespread remote collaboration will be one of the most important trends to emerge from the pandemic,” says Akar.
Fadi Kanafani, managing director for NetApp in the Middle East says one of the biggest developments of 2020 is the shift towards pay-as-you-go models, which better align expenses with usage and cash flow. “Whatever the industry, public or private, responding to today’s rapid changes in work and social norms demands a new level of flexibility, which the cloud offers – be it private, public, hybrid or a consumption-based model.”
Experts agree that Covid-19 is a wake-up call for businesses to embrace speed and agility in the face of unprecedented disruption. “Undeniably, cloud has played a crucial role in helping businesses gain that flexibility and agility that enable large remote workforces and maintain business continuity. We’ve seen how data and access to this data have helped businesses continue operations even as offices shut,” says Kanafani.
“Businesses must invest now in a cloud-based model to suit their business needs and prepare a path for a sustainable future,” he adds.
Productivity has become imperative in remote working environments. “I have never seen such a focus on productivity before the pandemic. Unified communications and collaboration tools were ‘nice to have’. But today, managing employees’ workloads defining their performance based on outcomes and not monitoring tasks, while automating mundane tasks, have emerged as business imperatives,” says Dias.
Artificial intelligence was a recurring theme at Gitex 2020. AI has been leveraged for research in Covid-19 vaccine development, to speed up diagnosis, to predict the spread of the disease, and more. “2020 has proven the remarkable benefits of AI applied in sectors such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, IT and telecoms, energy and logistics by enabling new tools that yield remarkable insights,” says Dr. Mohammed Yaqub, assistant professor at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).
Dr. Yaqub says that while AI has been and will continue to be instrumental in current times as countries work to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, it will also be inherently useful in accelerating solutions for future healthcare, as well as in aiding in the research, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, heart diseases and other ailments.
“As an exceptionally flexible technology, AI can be developed in ways that will augment all industries and propel socio-economic development. It is the driving force behind the fourth industrial revolution, serving as a key component for intelligent solutions that increase productivity, efficiency, and sustainability, and leading to more proficient industrial outcomes – which, of course, contributes towards the growth of the economy,” Dr. Yaqub says.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The big picture
The Journey of Humanity is the world’s largest canvas painting. Dubai-based artist Sacha Jafri raised $62m from the sale of it, all of which will now be given to charity. Here’s what it took to create one of the biggest artistic, social and philanthropic projects of its kind to date
Navigating the Experience Age
We have an opportunity to transform and redefine travel by exploring how virtual and real experiences might complement one another
Explainer: Have workplace savings plans taken off in the GCC?
Having a pension solution ensures that the employer sets aside a defined amount on a periodic basis for end of service benefits
Calling the right numbers
Standing apart and making a mark in the regional telecom industry has been challenging and yet rewarding, states Mountasser Hachem, founder and CEO of Monty Mobile
Building a golfing legacy
Indian businessman Sudesh Aggarwal will launch the inaugural Emirates Amateur Golf League – the world’s first franchise-based amateur golf league – this November in Dubai
Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot, took a Swiss watchmaker that was only known among a select few and transformed it into a larger-than-life phenomenon. Here’s how he did it
Phi Trends: Healthy growth for alternative therapies
The market for alternative therapies such as gene-based solutions has garnered investor interest due to advancements in recent months, states entrepreneur and investor Shailesh Dash, who shares his perspective in this monthly column
Primed for growth
Abu Dhabi-based Yas Holding is rapidly expanding its portfolio across key sectors such as healthcare, education and technology. Group CEO Murshed Al Redaini reveals how the company has tackled the Covid crisis and its ambitious plans for the future
Why are we in a digital disarray?
It’s about time all of us seriously reflect on how we break this addiction
Riding the wave
UAE homegrown boat manufacturing business, Gulf Craft, helmed by Mohammed Hussein Alshaali, has built itself into a world-class player – evident in the new Majesty 175 which conducted its first sea trials earlier this year
CHINA'S HUAWEI SAYS SALES DOWN 16.5% AMID US SANCTIONS
Embattled Chinese tech giant Huawei said first-quarter revenue fell after it sold its lower-priced Honor smartphone brand, but profitability improved.
CHINA CUTS TAXES TO SPUR SEMICONDUCTOR DEVELOPMENT
China announced tax breaks this week to spur growth of its semiconductor industry following U.S. sanctions that alarmed the ruling Communist Party by cutting offaccess to American processor chips for tech giant Huawei and some other companies.
HUAWEI UNVEILS FLAGSHIP FOLDABLE SMARTPHONE
Struggling under U.S. sanctions, Huawei unveiled a folding smartphone with an 8-inch (20-centimeter) -widescreen Monday to show off its tech prowess but said it will be sold only in China.
HUAWEI: A GENUINE COMPETITOR TO APPLE AND GOOGLE
Now considered the poster child of China’s technology sector, Huawei has defied the odds in recent years amidst growing pressure from political leaders in the US and Europe. But just how did the company climb to the top, and overtake Samsung to become the world’s biggest smartphone brand? Let’s pull back the curtain and reveal the secrets behind its success.
A Silicon Curtain Descends
Trump escalated America’s war against Huawei and China. Biden should beware burgeoning technonationalism.
HUAWEI SELLING HONOR PHONE BRAND IN FACE OF US SANCTIONS
Chinese tech giant Huawei is selling its budget-price Honor smartphone brand in an effort to rescue the struggling business from damaging U.S. sanctions imposed on its parent company.
An Epic Phone-a-Thon
India’s smartphone shoppers will be spoiled for choice this festive season
NOKIA PROFIT UP, NEW CEO PLEDGES TO BOOST 5G INVESTMENTS
Finnish telecommunications company Nokia on Thursday reported improved third-quarter earnings largely in line with expectations but acknowledged it faced challenges in the race for 5G cellular networks.
HUAWEI SALES UP, BUT GROWTH SLOWS UNDER VIRUS, US PRESSURE
Chinese tech giant Huawei, one of the biggest makers of smartphones and switching equipment, said its revenue rose 9.9% in the first nine months of this year, but growth decelerated in the face of U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
NEW HUAWEI PHONE COMES AT CRUCIAL TIME FOR CHINESE COMPANY
Huawei’s new smartphone has an upgraded camera, its latest advanced chipset and a better battery. What it may not have outside the Chinese tech giant’s home market is very many buyers.