Taking stock
Gulf Business|January 2021
Gitex Technology Week 2020 previewed a tech-led post-Covid future
DAVID NDICHU

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.”

Public services

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

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.

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