5G implementation: How the GCC nations leapfrogged the world

The local governments’ willingness to invest in niche technologies helps GCC outdo the rest of the world in 5G deployment

Article from Samuel Abraham, International Finance Mag

There is a lot of hype around the world with regard to telecom players’ 5G plans and the intention of enterprises and countries to leverage the benefits of the technology. In the world’s most technologically advanced nation, the US, 5G fixed wireless broadband internet from Verizon, C Spire, and Starry are available at just a few locations and T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon have made 5G services available for a few select customers in a few cities. In the US’ chief economic rival China, three carriers launched wireless services on October 31, 2019, and again like in the US, 5G services are not widespread.

With regard to early 5G implementation, one region seems to have stolen a march over the rest of the world in terms of speed of execution and achieving the most mass coverage – the GCC. While 5G services were made available in a limited scale in China late this year, leading Middle East telecom operator Zain first announced the launch of 5G services in Kuwait in June 2019.

According to Zain, the company’s commercial 5G services today cover 95 percent of Kuwait’s populated areas with full coverage imminent. Moreover, in Saudi Arabia on May 10, 2019, Zain Saudi Arabia announced that it had completed one of the first 5G calls in the region on its network. It was one of the first 5G calls in the world without using voice-call apps. Furthermore, on October 6, 2019, Zain Saudi Arabia announced the launch of 5G commercial services, with the first phase of the rollout being implemented through a network of 2,000 towers that cover an area of more than 20 cities in the Kingdom which is probably the largest 5G network deployment in the region to date. The company said that it will be followed by a gradual expansion of the network to cover a total of 26 Saudi cities utilising 2,600 towers by the end of 2019. In Qatar, telecom company Ooredoo claims to have been working on 5G implementation since 2016 and in May 2018, Ooredoo claimed a breakthrough with the launch of what it claimed was the world’s first commercial 5G network. In a statement, the company said it had launched a live 5G network on the 3.5GHz spectrum band and, effectively, beat rival global operators to the post. In the UAE, 5G became available through local carrier Etisalat with the launch of the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G phone in May 2019. Earlier in March, the other local carrier in the UAE, du announced that it had conducted the first live 5G data call on its network while rolling out 700 5G sites across the country.

Zain’s 5G network in Kuwait is available through the 5G Bolt router for home broadband internet. For using 5G mobile connections users need 5G capable mobile phones and the accurate information on the actual number of mobile 5G users in the region is scant. An Ericsson spokesman told International Finance that while the number of 5G users in the Middle East will be significant in five years, as a proportion of all mobile users the number will still be small. “In fact, all major service providers in the region are moving aggressively to launch 5G commercially. According to Ericsson Mobility Report MEA, 5G will reach 60 million subscribers in the MEA region by 2024 though that will represent 3 percent of all mobile subscriptions in the region,” the Ericsson spokesperson said.In 2019, Ericsson started the commercial roll out of 5G with leading operators in advanced markets and announced 5G commercial launches with Etisalat, STC and Ooredoo. Ericsson was also selected by Batelco to commercially deploy 5G across Bahrain. According to the GSMA, The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans. Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC states – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. According to GSMAIntelligence, by 2025, there will be around 50 million 5G connections across MENA, with around 20 million in the GCC Arab States alone.

What’s behind the GCC’s 5G advantage?

What was the reason for the lead that the Middle East had over other regions in 5G deployment? Zain Group CTO Hisham Allam told International Finance that “the region has definitely an edge in viable use cases to the extent in that we have good frequency which is the mid band 2.6 mghz and 3.5 mghz that provides for better coverage and is much more efficient, as opposed to millimetre wave spectrum elsewhere. Moreover, because access to fibre is very limited in the region, especially the markets Zain operates in, 5G will provide massive capacity and is the best alternative. In short, 5G is a perfect fit for region.”

Matthew Reed, Practice Leader for Ovum, Middle East and Africa notes that some of the Gulf markets – the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain – were among the first in the world to launch commercial 5G services.

Part of the background to those early 5G launches is that the governments of some of those countries are keen to show that they are technologically advanced and also to use new technology to support their broader national development plans, including economic diversification, Reed told International Finance.

The intent on part of the local governments to roll out niche technologies before others and to develop viable use cases fast is definitely one reason behind the Middle East leapfrogging the rest of the world in 5G deployment. Jawad Abbasi, head of MENA at GSMA corroborates this fact.”

The GCC Arab States have been quick to establish the foundations for global leadership in the deployment of 5G technology moving rapidly from trials to early commercialisation. This has been achieved by proactive government support and close collaboration between mobile operators and businesses,” Abbasi told International Finance.

Abbasi notes that intent was followed with action because the governments ensured that there was an emphasis on creating a regulatory environment that allows 5G to flourish by releasing sufficient spectrum, so that businesses and citizens can fully enjoy the innovative new services that 5G will deliver.

Bernard Najm, head of Middle East market unit at Nokia, MEA also backs this observation.  “While we see a strong initial appetite for 5G in the US, China, South Korea and Japan, we also see a strong acceleration of 5G launches in the Middle East region in this year. The Middle East has a strong top-down approach, driven by local governments, to adopting new and smart technology for its citizens and residents and we see that this tends to sometimes help these countries leapfrog into new technologies before the rest of the developing world,” Najm told International Finance.

In the region, Nokia has worked with telecom operators including du (UAE), Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Zain KSA (Saudi), and Ooredoo Qatar on 5G implementation. From the industry to the government there seems to be clear understanding of the value proposition of 5G in terms of higher mobility. “We see this understanding and awareness of the advantages that mobility brings a society as one of the driving advantages in the Middle East, which has led to the region continuing to have the motivation to invest in and roll out of nascent technologies such as 5G,” Zain’s Hisham Allam tells International Finance.


GCC will be ahead of global average

The region will be among the top 5G players, according to GSMA. The GCC states will be slightly ahead of the global average in 5G usage by 2025, with 16 percent customer 5G adoption, compared to 15 percent globally, according to GSMA. 5G progress in the region is mainly driven by the mobile operators and governments with the support of mobile technology partners. “Some GCC countries ensured both consumers and businesses will have instant access to 5G as soon as the service becomes commercially available and they installed 5G towers across the country,” Joe Lahham, General manager, TBWA/RAAD, in charge of du told the International Finance. “5G progress in the region is also driven by governments, with 5G set to have a profound effect on countries’ economic performance and GDP. GCC governments are playing an active role is creating right environment to drive 5G growth,”

adds Lahham.  5G innovation and deployment is also part and parcel of the regional governments’ ambitious vision for a technology-driven future.

“In Saudi Arabia, for example, the sheer size of the population and implementation of national policies such as Saudi Vision 2030, will no doubt have a direct impact on roll out plans for 5G, although other countries in the GCC especially Kuwait and Bahrain where Zain operates have similar imperatives,” says Hisham Allam of Zain.

Zain KSA recently inaugurated its 5G network at the Neom Bay Airport, an area regarded as Saudi Arabia’s futuristic gateway. Zain KSA also showcased some technologies the 5G network will enable during the inauguration ceremony of the Kingdom’s new ‘welcome the world’ tourist visa.  In Saudi Arabia, 5G will be essential to the country’s flagship new city project (Neom). Dubai has also announced that by 2030, autonomous vehicles which will leverage 5G should account for 25 percent of journeys within the emirate.

The first popular use case of 5G in the GCC is likely to be consumption of digital content on 5G devices. “We believe early on, access to digital content at a must faster rate will be the first popular use case powered by 5G. Customers will be able to access videos and exchange content at much faster rates than they do over current mobile networks, and that will prove popular,” says Zain’s Hisham Allam. Allam says that 5G low latency use cases will be rarely applicable in the industrial sector in the region. “However, in the energy industry, 5G will support new levels of industrial safety as technicians remotely control mining and oil drilling equipment,” he adds.

Nokia’s Bernard Najm says many interesting use cases that could transform society and industries are being developed in the region. For specific examples already being developed for the Middle East he cites the following:

  • Low-latency, ultra-reliable connected cars are expected to be developed in Dubai.
  • High level of government and public safety use cases, building on previous 4G public safety networks and taking it to the next level.
  • Fully replacing the need of fibre to the home (FTTH) with equal or better fixed wireless connectivity.
  • Enabling digital top-quality education across the Middle East, with full classroom interactive experiences for remote schools by interactive HD VR projections.
  • Fully automating, monitoring and controlling shipping and container ports across the Middle East with high bandwidth, highly secure low-latency 5G networks.

Ericsson has identified four industry verticals that form the primary focus of the addressable 5G business potential opportunity in Middle East and Africa. According to an Ericsson

spokesperson, regional service providers not only have established expertise in these verticals, they also offer clear opportunities for 5G use cases. The verticals include oil and gas (mining), transport and automotive, public safety, critical infrastructure and manufacturing.

A highlight was the innovative 5G solutions Nokia brought to Hajj this year. Nokia together with Zain Saudi Arabia brought 5G-enabled VR (Virtual Reality) advanced use case in Mashaer area and the Holy Mosque area in Makkah. It allowed visitors to experience Hajj remotely as if they are present on site. And with STC, Nokia deployed the first-ever 5G-based volumetric 3G hologram communications during Hajj. This innovative solution was used to provide educational and awareness service to the pilgrims about Hajj rituals. The visitors were able to talk, meet, and interact with a 3D hologram who made them aware of Hajj provisions.


Short term and long term 5G innovations

What are the innovations that can happen in the short term and long term in the GCC region? According to Mathew Reed of Ovum, over the next couple of years one can expect to see the development of 5G use cases in vertical markets, such as for automation and remote monitoring in the oil and gas sector; or more advanced video services for transport management systems. He says that 5G smartphones will become more widely available from 2020 onwards. The 5G quick win use case in the Middle East has been the rollout of 5G primarily for broadband.

The next big step for 5G is high data rates and very low latency that are expected to enable a range of new applications and services. “As a long-term objective, the region’s 5G application is expected to emerge in entertainment, health, retail and education, oil and gas, and mining. Governments and operators are collaborating on smart city initiatives to address population-related challenges and deliver socioeconomic benefits,” says TBWA/RAAD’s Lahham.

“Users will experience smart cars that are capable of communicating with traffic lights; augmented reality and 360-degree immersive gaming and movie experiences; and transmitting touch and texture to realize the tactile internet. Truly, the IoT applications that 5G will help enable is limitless,” the Ericsson spokesperson adds. Looking at the expected innovations in the next two to three years, Etisalat is expected to demonstrate 5G technology and services including streaming video from drones to VR goggles during Expo 2020. Ooredoo is looking into using 5G in smart-city developments (Lusail), and is working with tech vendors to develop applications for the 2022 World Cup.


Spectrum challenges to overcome

How soon can we see use cases such as immersive reality, autonomous transport, and remote surgery implemented in the GCC and what are the current challenges? The most pressing challenge is the availability of necessary radio frequencies, including those known as ‘millimetre wave’ frequencies that will deliver ultra-high capacity and ultra-high-speed services.

GSMA’s Abbasi told International Finance that 5G mmWave spectrum will be identified at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), which will take place in Egypt from 28 October to 22 November 2019. WRC-19 is the only opportunity for years to come for countries to identify mmWave spectrum for 5G use. “The MENA region stands to benefit from better healthcare and education, as well as new benchmarks in industrial productivity, entertainment services and smart transport, but only if we can secure the needed spectrum, adds Abbasi.

International Finance Mag Issue: 2019, NOVEMBER – DECEMBER

International Finance Magazine - Digital Edition


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Ireland: Is the Silicon Valley of fintech facing a Brexit windfall?

As the Brexit uncertainty drags on, Ireland’s time to snatch the European fintech innovation hotspot tag might have come

Article from International Finance Mag

In Europe, the continent’s entrepreneurial dynamism currently seems to be concentrated in its islands at least as far as technology driven innovation is concerned. While Malta is making a major play to be a blockchain innovation hub in Europe as International Finance reported earlier, Ireland seems to have found in Brexit an opportunity to buttress its claim to be Europe’s ‘Silicon Valley of fintech’.The KPMG Pulse of Global Fintech report published early this year showed that there is an increasing interest in Ireland from fintech companies looking to establish a European presence. One report showed that 55 fintech companies established a base in Ireland creating at least 4500 jobs in 2018.  “In 2018, we’ve seen a lot of financial services companies and fintechs establish operations or grow their footprint in Ireland” Anna Scally, Partner and Fintech Lead, KPMG in Ireland, said in a press release.Scally also added that traditionally these companies might have built their businesses in the UK but are choosing Ireland because of the Brexit uncertainty. She noted that many of these companies were at that time working with the Central Bank of Ireland to obtain licences that would enable them to continue to deliver their products and services across the European market in the event of a hard Brexit.AssureHedge is an example of how Irish fintech companies are leveraging Brexit to their advantage. The company offers a range of hedging instruments to help clients prevent unexpected currency losses — and is making its products available to smaller corporations, SMEs and new entities.  AssureHedge’s differentiator with respect to competition are products that also help clients to benefit should the rate move in their favour.An AssureHedge spokesperson told International Finance that Brexit might be Ireland’s opportunity to grab the European fintech hotspot advantage from London. “Ireland has strong competitive advantages and is uniquely positioned to be a significant global fintech hub. Our vibrant tech talent-based ecosystem and low tax rates make us a highly attractive destination for international fintech firms.As a currency hedging fintech, AssureHedge expects to gain from Brexit. Brexit has heightened many businesses awareness of the need to hedge currency exposure to protect profits. “As Brexit drags on, we have seen an increase in the level of understanding businesses now have to their hedging needs. With this increase in the potential customer base and our unique offering in the marketplace, Brexit offers a unique opportunity for Assure Hedge to capture a greater market share sooner than might have been possible in less turbulent market conditions,” the AssureHedge representative told International Finance.

In the view of J.F. Clarke, Market Advisor for Financial Services at Enterprise Ireland, there is a possibility that Brexit could give Ireland a competitive advantage in financial services. The reason is that regulatory changes around Brexit will give the Irish business ecosystem a boost — and reroute companies seeking to trade in the EU to Ireland.  With Brexit, Irish companies will be able to operate and move easily across Europe compared to UK companies as the Common Travel Area shared between the two countries predates the EU.

The main factors supporting Ireland’s fintech growth have been in place for a number of years.  “Brexit has, however, increased the interest of investors in Irish firms, creating a broader range of players to support early stage and Series A growth potential and, following recent clarification around the common travel area, Brexit has heighted interest in Ireland as an EU-based headquarters location.  It remains a story built around people, and Ireland, has over the past several years, attracted international talent to drive the fintech sector forward.  Our stability should continue to encourage and promote that flow of talent,” said a spokesperson from Corlytics, a growing Irish fintech.

A spokesperson for Carne, a global provider of fund management solutions from Ireland told International Finance that the company is enjoying the twin benefits of being English-speaking and Brexit-proof — although it operates within Europe, mainly concentrated in the UK, Ireland, and Luxembourg.  Ireland’s wealth of fintech talent from around the Europe has helped Carne to meet its diverse technical requirements.

Ireland’s fintech scene has over 400 companies employing roughly 37,000 people in the sector. An enabling technology ecosystem and a skilled workforce are certainly empowering Ireland’s fintech sector. Ireland’s academic institutions have developed excellent manpower with a sophisticated set of skills and access to both the EU and the UK marketplaces to lay the foundation for fintech innovation.

The government of Ireland’s national financial services strategy, also known as IFS2020, has supported financial services businesses and helped scale up exports.  In addition to these, there has been a strong presence of international financial services institutions operating in Ireland including fund administration and middle office services that boosted the quality of skills available before Brexit.

Government support critical for Irish fintech

So far, the Irish government has played a pivotal role in supporting Ireland’s fintech industry. Enterprise Ireland has also been helping Carne to expand its business for over many years now, according to its spokesperson. This is especially true in helping the company to locate centres of operational excellence outside of Dublin, where it has been attracting a diverse highly skilled workforce.

The IFS2020 strategy and the new 2025 strategy have put in place a framework to coordinate between agencies and government departments. Clarke explained that Enterprise Ireland assists fintech companies planning to set up or scale up their existing businesses. A long term view of the fintech situation gives international clients certainty — positioning Ireland as an ecosystem with unique capabilities to support fintechs.

In fact, IDA Ireland, an agency designed to streamline foreign direct investment provides critical support to foreign fintech startups seeking establishment in the country, compared to Ireland’s rivals like Malta, Clarke said.

Regtech Ireland’s stronghold

In one of 2019’s biggest rounds of Irish fintech funding, regtech Fenergo raised $66 million in July. Led by CEO Marc Murphy, Fenergo is one of Ireland’s fastest growing companies. It now has a dozen offices spread across the world. J.F. Clarke told International Finance, “Being a small territory has enabled Ireland to develop a more effective and collaborative business network. In turn, this has played a significant role in Irish businesses meeting legally binding targets and attracting bigger and smaller businesses alike to look at investing in Irish fintechs.”

According to Colm Heffernan, COO, Fenergo, Ireland has demonstrated a unique ability to create progressive entities that draw from a diverse pool of talent stimulating global digital growth.  Even though one might notice a particular strength in regtech or compliance in Ireland— the truth is that it is the pedigree of software innovation that works as the foundation for Ireland’s fintech innovation.  Fenergo helps solve regulatory challenges for financial institutions by streamlining the end-to-end client lifecycle management processes for investment, corporate, commercial, and private banks.

Regtech and identity tech are particularly strong fintech sub sectors in Ireland. After the financial crash of the late 2000s, a raft of new legislations governing financial services were introduced across the world. This, in turn, necessitated the industry to remain vigilant with the new laws in the picture.  Irish entrepreneurs have been proactive in identifying the role technology can play in this regard leading to the rise of a robust regtech and identity tech sector in the Irish fintech ecosystem.

Irish companies such as Corlytics have devised regulatory technology solutions that are globally perceived as rigorous in their approach to compliance. The reputation of the Irish regtech sector is rapidly growing on a global scale.  Regtech has reinforced its role in the country “from a combination of experienced market professionals, entrepreneurs, and an academic network that supports both technical and

subject matter development. The clustering effect also helps support startup companies, as firms, at different stages, tend to help and support each other. We have been building the fintech sector for a long time, but there is now real global momentum,” a Corlytics spokesman told International Finance.

Corlytics’ system tackles 80,000 regulatory notices a year. Its cloud-based service collates, structures, and organises data in a manner that helps clients manage their regulatory risks effectively. The company uses leading data techniques such as AI and machine learning coupled with the expertise of legal and financial subject matter expertise to deliver solutions covering EMEA, North American, and APAC regulations.

Fenergo, on the other hand, differentiates itself from its competitors through financial industry expertise, pre-packaged future-proofed data solutions, and community-based product development model. With that, clients are empowered to build a robust product development roadmap to address their regulatory and technology needs.

It has built a regulatory community with 20,000-plus risk and compliance experts that convene on a regular basis to thrash out regulatory and compliance challenges.  In fact, these sessions ensure that the Fenergo Regulatory Rules Engine is able to track all known and planned regulations — and allows teams to explore upcoming regulatory risks.  To accelerate growth, Fenergo continues to invest in R&D ($10 million in FY18) so that its solution can respond to market demand. Showing the truly global scope of Irish fintech innovation, the company’s coverage extends over 70 regulatory jurisdictions worldwide.

Irish fintech aspirations are all global

Scaling up a global fintech startup from Ireland is a challenge but there is persistent support from the government through Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, and the embassy network — all aimed at delivering a global clientele base to Irish fintechs. The Irish by large carry an innate ambition to be global which is perceived as an advantage to companies such as Corlytics, a leader in regulatory risk intelligence, a Corlytics spokesperson told International Finance.

In the globalisation context, Corlytics explained that having team members who worked closely with US banks has been an advantage, for its solution.

And Fenergo is thriving on the global fintech-regtech stage. Last year, Fenergo’s revenue growth in APAC rose 256 percent from the previous year. With offices in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne to support regional clients, Fenergo attributes its growth to unrelenting regulatory changes and intensifying regulatory scrutiny. Recently, the company partnered with TUNG-I, a Taiwanese solutions provider to drive growth in APAC, including Taiwan and China.

Carne, an older fintech company, similarly innovates with a global scope. Carne’s fintech solution CORR (Compliance, Oversight, Risk and Reporting system) has been designed to streamline the traditional processes of the financial services industry that have, up to now, been predominantly manual in nature.  “These governance and oversight functions exist globally and are comparable, so like many global tech firms the development is scalable, particularly by location,” a Carne spokesperson said.

Irish fintechs breach the US market but need more support

Older Irish fintechs have successfully breached the ultimate tech frontier market – the US. The Irish network in the US and its connectedness are established through Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland that has given Corlytics a range of entry points to the US. Also, partnering with early stage Silicon Valley companies such as Digital Reasoning has provided opportunities for it to effectively compete with larger global incumbents.

AssureHedge will be expanding its operations to the US in the fourth quarter this year. “We have already made our first hire there in Chicago. This decision was made after an EI Fintech trade mission to Chicago last year,” the AssureHedge representative said.

Likewise, a major percentage of Carne’s clients are US-based or owned by US parent companies. Its fintech solutions are mainly designed to operate on a global scale — to support companies from its Irish operational support centres.

But it is questionable whether Irish fintechs entering the US have a level playing field in the US while jousting with well-funded US fintechs. “We strongly need government policy innovations to support indigenous fintech firms to compete for tech talent with the US tech giants. The US tech giants have lower tax rates and deeper pockets which then is utilised to increase the cost of employing the talent pool. This impacts indigenous fintech firms in obtaining talent which could have been used for the product and service offerings,” the AssureHedge spokesperson said.

Local VC funding limited and conservative

One aspect in which Irish fintechs lag their British counterparts is raising venture capital funding. According to the Irish Venture Capital Association, VC investments in Ireland’s tech sector dropped to €430 million during the first six months of 2019. But funding increased over 90 percent to €233 million in Q2 2019 compared to Q2 2018.

The Irish VC sector is small and often conservative in its approach – but Irish fintech startups can easily access capital next door in the UK.  “Of course, the UK is a global hub for fintech and fintech investment. We strongly advise any Irish fintechs to engage with the London VCs as early as possible. Being an Irish firm does not put you at any sort of disadvantage to a UK firm, other than the 55-minute flight to get there,” the AssureHedge spokesperson told International Finance.

Ireland has, however, built a supportive business landscape where access to global talent is easy. The Corlytics representative said, “We are very fortunate, although we’re based in Dublin, our team of 35 people comes from 10 countries.” Ever since Apple’s arrival in Cork in 1980 — technology companies have been establishing their operations in Ireland — with Dublin becoming the headquarters for some of the world’s leading corporations. The fact that technology skills are transferable has added to the ease of locally finding highly skilled talent for Ireland’s fintech startups, the Carne spokesperson said.

Ireland confident of its position as the Silicon Valley of fintech

According to the Ireland Fintech Census of 2018,  32 percent of Irish fintechs foresaw global revenue growth of between 100 percent and 500 percent, while 17 percent of them anticipated growth of more than 500 percent in the future.

Although Ireland’s fintech leadership aspirations are well known, it has formidable challengers in Europe – both established technology innovation hotspots and upstarts. In Europe, the one country that rivals with Ireland in fintech innovation is the UK. “As long as Britain remains in the EU, it is the biggest market for fintech innovation. Aside from that, there are a number of countries with forward looking attitudes to fintech. Estonia, Germany and Malta are some of the countries that have vibrant fintech ecosystems, that would appear to have government support,” Clarke said. However, “Ireland is well placed and confident in its capacity and skills to continue being the Silicon Valley of the fintech world.

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Finding your Technology Mojo

5.30 AM, on a crispy morning, year 2030. Jason gets out of bed and walks into the bathroom. Lights turn on automatically and Alexa says, “Good Morning Jason, here is your calendar for today…” By the time he reaches for his toothbrush, Alexa is already reading the latest news for the day and the traffic and weather conditions, exactly the way he set his preference. Dang, my after-shave is almost finished, let me squeeeeze the last bit out of the tube. “Alexa, pause. BUY my favourite after-shave (favourite is already preset to ‘Gillette after-shave gel – sensitive skin’ on Amazon) and continue”. Alexa continues with updates on global financial news, the Collingwood football club score from the game last night, stock prices for Apple, Vanguard ETF and BHP Billiton, travel time to the office and rain forecast for the day. “Accident on the freeway, your trip will have an additional drive time of 30 minutes Jason”, warns Alexa. “Forget the brekky, I’ll grab one at the café near work. Gotta run now or I’m going be late for my 9 O’clock meeting”, Jason thinks to himself.

“Alexa, in 15 minutes, START the TESLA and ACTIVATE fastest route to my OFFICE, OPEN the GARAGE and READ me in the car, all news on market share and announcements, total employees in Australia, and share prices for last 10 years for BHP Billiton and any news articles on Andrew Stewart Mackenzie, CEO of BHP Billiton”. “Turn home lights OFF in 16 minutes”. Jason is a Sales Manager in an IT Company who has a C-suite meeting with one of his major accounts today and this was a typical morning for him.


The days of reading the morning newspaper over a cuppa is well and truly over. From a face-less newspaper subscriber to ‘David who has a 12-month subscription to the newsletter with interests in Finance, Cricket and Tech gadgets’ is how intimately businesses know their customers. Customers still exist, their eyeballs have just moved to new places. If you already look away from the TV (to your phone) when an Ad comes on, or watch Netflix to get away from Ads, or read news from the online edition of the Financial Times, you know where the eyeballs have moved to. Consumer behaviours have evolved and will continue to do so, hence the need for products and services to adapt and ‘live’ where the consumers live to be consumed the way customers want to consume them.


Will Everitt, Head of Product and Technology, Pacific Magazines, discussed the transformation to a product-thinking organisation with the values of a technology start-up at a recent CIO Leaders Summit Australia in Melbourne facilitated by Focus Network. Yahoo took on the digital rights for Pacific Magazines in 2006 as part of the formation of Yahoo7, which is a joint venture between Yahoo and Seven West Media. This meant that Pacific Magazines was focused mainly on print with no digital DNA for a decade. In 2016, Pacific Magazines brought the digital rights back in-house from Yahoo7. He shared the epic journey of how a magazine publisher became a media technology company.
“We focused on 4 areas – Product, Process, People and Technology”, says Will emphasizing the need for a plan in the absence of which we plan to fail or make ourselves extinct.

  • Product – Identifying the consumer behaviours and defining product strategies around them are keys to successful transformation. Mobile, Video and Data Analytics were three main pillars of this strategy. Consumer trends are heavily increasing on mobile, people are time-poor and want to consume content on the go. A mobile first strategy is key to success with focus on unique value propositions. The video advertising spend growth rate is at, and continues to grow at, double-digit figures. The dollars are there – so we needed to provide inventory to capitalise on this demand. Placing the audience at the heart of everything we do. Maximise the value of our
  • audience to improve monetisation. Developing concepts targeted at audience growth among high value consumers. Data is the key asset. Finding it, analysing it, consolidating it and monetising it is paramount.  Get data in one place and create services to dynamically expose information.
  • Process – We had clear roadmaps which everyone signed up to with regular innovations days.
  • People – We brought in new talent, re-booted the organisation and established a supportive culture. This created a high performing team that drove agile adoption.
  • Technology – We introduced the right operational infrastructure to support rapid development. This enabled to establish a scalable and high quality platform with speed to market. Strategically embracing the cloud-enabled infrastructure on Amazon Web Services, Test Automation (unit and e2e) triggered from the build server and Continuous delivery by automating integration and deployment resulted in an unprecedented transformation of the Pacific Magazines business.

“Focus on these aspects and change into a Tech savvy, high performing , startup like organisation to execute the vision for growth and success”, concluded Will in his engaging and thought-provoking session at the CIO-CISO Leaders Summit on how companies need to find their inner technology mojo to ensure survival in the fast changing marketplace.

“If I had 9 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 6 sharpening my axe” – Abraham Lincoln

6.30 PM, a cloud-less night in 2030. Jason returns home. He has been thinking about getting married. Throw in voice instructions from wife and kids into the Alexa algorithm, aaahh!. “Welcome home Jason”, says Alexa interrupting his thought train. “Playing recording of the Boston Red Sox game you missed today” informed Alexa while the TV turns on and his attention is completely diverted into the game. “GO XANDER (Bogaerts)!”, yelled Jason, settling down into his recliner with a highball glass of Jack Daniels neat. The wedding and kids and their toys can wait for another day.

Focus Network is a leading B2B event company that builds and creates C level communities throughout the APAC region for commercial connections to our clients to engage directly with C-level executives throughout a key number of verticals. Some of the excerpts in this article have been shared from one of our recent well-acclaimed CIO Leaders Summits Australia held in Melbourne.


– Jilfy Joseph


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UAE leads AI-led digital transformation in the Middle East

AI is expected to contribute 14 percent of UAE’s 2030 GDP

Article from International Finance Mag

AI-led digitalPwC in a recent report said that it expects AI to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030 and the Middle East is not to be left behind in this worldwide AI revolution. With companies and organisations in the region deploying AI across various verticals to boost efficiencies, the report estimates that the Middle East could accrue two percent of the total global benefits of AI in 2030, which translates to about $320 billion.Within the region, the PwC report highlighted United Arab Emirates (UAE) as one of the countries that could lead the region in AI implementation. It said AI could contribute about 14 percent of UAE’s GDP in 2030 and this would be the largest share when compared to other countries in the region, in relative terms.This, however, seems unsurprising considering the prominence the country has given to this technology, so far. UAE made its AI ambitions evident after it became the first country in the world to have a dedicated minister for AI – Omar Sultan Al Olama was appointed as the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, way back in October 2017. The move had then come just days after the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the UAE Strategy for AI, a first of its kind in the region with the main objective to make UAE the leader in the field of AI investments in various sectors and ensure this technology is implemented across nine sectors such as transport, healthcare and energy, to boost efficiencies.

AI investments already initiated in the UAE

Businesses in the UAE, the PWC report added, had already initiated huge AI investments with the government acting as an early user of the technology. And one company that is helping UAE businesses with their AI agenda is Microsoft. Speaking to International Finance, Ihsan Anabtawi, chief operating and marketing officer at Microsoft Gulf said, that the company was providing AI solutions across several core areas and to several customers in the UAE.

One such area he said, was related to developing the skill sets of people. Microsoft Gulf has recently started an AI Business School to help provide specialised curriculums focusing on AI strategy, culture and responsibility. In this regards, Anabtawi said, the company will bridge AI skill gaps, by training the current generation of youngsters to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Another area, according to Anabtawi was innovation. He said that Microsoft Gulf was building coalitions for responsible innovations in the UAE, by working closely with the government and other stakeholders to create a responsible, community-centric approach to developing AI solutions.

The third area is in digital transformation. He explained this area was being enabled by spearheading the adoption of cloud and Azure AI technologies to help its clients better engage their customers, empower their employees, optimise their operations, and transform their products and services.
The final area was society. In this regards, he said they were “generating positive societal impact by applying Microsoft technologies to address challenge-areas such as the environment, sustainability, accessibility, and humanitarian programmes.”

In terms of specific UAE organisations it is working with, Anabtawi said Microsoft Gulf was working with companies such as Etihad Airways, Smart Dubai, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures and government entities such as the Abu Dhabi’s Smart Solutions and Services Authority (ADSSSA) and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) to develop AI-based solutions.

With regard to government entities, Anabtawi said, they had signed strategic MoUs with Smart Dubai, and ADSSSA as part of their ongoing efforts to accelerate digital transformation and boost adoption of various technologies. “Microsoft believes AI is a key part of an organisation’s digital transformation strategy, and we have long urged public and private organisations across the Middle East to consider that when formulating migration plans. To help them, we recently opened two dedicated cloud data centres in the UAE, to serve regional customers and help them achieve more,” he explained.

Anabtawi added that their general goal was to democratise AI and make it accessible to every individual and organisation in the UAE, and to do this it was infusing intelligence across all their products and services. “Azure AI, through products like Azure Machine Teaching and Azure Cognitive Services, provides developers and data scientists the AI tools to train custom data models and add vision and knowledge capabilities to applications – simplifying the process of bringing more advanced intelligence into their organisations. We expect UAE organisations looking to compete in the new global digital economy will find these capabilities invaluable.”

With regards to DEWA, Anabtawi said, that his company was working with this government entity to support ‘Rammas’, a chatbot service built on Microsoft Bot Framework and hosted on Azure, which was helping transform customer experiences using AI capabilities. Meanwhile, with regard to Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, a group that operates across industries such as shopping malls, hotels, cinema, and hypermarkets, Anabtawi said that they were leveraging various Azure AI solutions in an effort to gather data-driven insights that would enable the organisation to transform business models.

Finally, with regard to Etihad Airways, the second-largest airline in the UAE, he said it had partnered with the company to launch the region’s first AI Academy, to reinvent the way the airline serves its passengers.

An Etihad spokesperson further explained to International Finance that this academy was launched in January this year and would allow for the provision of AI training to all its employees, through a mix of self-led online training and instructor-led classroom and lab sessions. This, the representative said was aimed at driving AI literacy across all of Etihad, and accelerating the identification and adoption of AI in its business.

UAE airlines heavily invest in AI

When we queried Etihad on other AI collaborations, the representative told International Finance that the airline had a large portfolio of partners with which it had worked together in the development of several AI projects. Of these, an integral one includes the partnership with Plug and Play and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, the representative added.

With regard to specific AI developments in the company, the representative said that Etihad and the airline industry as a whole, had been investing heavily in this technology. “AI in the form of data-driven automation has been crucial in advancing things like airline seat inventory and pricing optimisation. Many of our technology vendors and partners have been embedding AI into their applications over the last decade, audio transcription is an example.”

The representative added that Etihad was applying AI solutions and automation across all its business units and areas such as its Etihad Guest loyalty programme, aircraft maintenance, onboard catering and through to corporate departments like audit and compliance. This, the representative said was expected to improve the customer experience and also ensure they operate as effectively as possible.

Another company that is using AI in its operations is Liv, the UAE’s first digital bank aimed at serving millennials. Jayash Patel, head of Liv, told International Finance that they recently joined forces with US-based Kasisto – the creators of the KAI Banking AI platform for finance – to introduce Olivia, Liv’s conversational AI based chatbot.

The purpose of introducing Olivia, Patel said, was to help their customers make better financial decisions through human-like conversational AI. Olivia helps customers get account information and insights on their spending as naturally as texting a friend, apart from helping customers get quick answers on how to make a local transfer or to block their card; text back account balance, answer queries on their expenditure helping them plan and manage their finances better and so on, Patel explained.

Liv’s parent bank, Emirates NBD, is also known for giving equal, if not more, prominence to AI. Speaking to International Finance, Suvo Sarkar, senior executive vice president and group head at the retail banking and wealth management division at the Dubai government-owned bank said, it has already made investments to develop a conversational AI-enabled voice banking ecosystem to simplify customer interactions and its first initiative under this road map is EVA (Emirates NBD Virtual Assistant).

This, Sarkar, said is the first English speaking virtual assistant in the region and used conversational AI levers such as intent recognition and natural language understanding to interpret customer requests and intelligently steer the customer towards automated resolution of their requests.


Apart from this, its other AI developments include a chat-bot to enable staff access HR services easily. It also uses AI and robotic process automation (RPA) in other areas such as marketing to enhance communication effectiveness and also improving operational processes.

Additionally, the bank is also utilising Amazon Polly, a cloud service that uses advanced deep learning technologies, a subset of machine learning in artificial intelligence to convert written content into human-like speech, in its automated call centre to further enhance customer interactions by delivering lifelike voice banking experiences, Sarkar explained.

Additionally, a significant AI development in the pipeline for the bank includes its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), to build an AI-enabled bank of the future. In this regard, Sarkar, said that they will use AWS’s AI services, along with other technologies such as data analytics and internet of things (IoT) as part of its ongoing efforts to better engage with customers and to simplify banking.

Unimaginable transformations

With regard to the future for AI, the Etihad representative said they believed there would be no verticals that will be untouched by AI and automation within its company, going forward, indicating the huge potential for AI going forward.

Emirates NBD meanwhile is working on building an AI and Advanced Analytics Centre of Excellence, as part of the bank’s ongoing Dh1 billion digital transformation initiative that will see the implementation of high impact AI use cases across areas such as sales, service, operations, compliance and risk, Sarkar told International Finance further indicating the huge potential for AI in the UAE.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Anabtawi said that they firmly believed that this technology had the potential to transform communities, societies and nations, with people at the centre, in ways previously unimaginable. Citing a June report that was commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by EY, Anabtawi said, 94 percent of companies in the UAE were reported to have shown involvement in AI at executive level – the highest percentage among all surveyed MEA countries, further indicating the huge potential for AI in the UAE.

Publishing Information

International Finance Mag Issue: September – October 2019

International Finance Magazine - Digital Edition


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Why your organisation needs to lift its data game

Having a few people in your organisation who are skilled with data is no longer sufficient. We’re reaching the point where being able to understand and manipulate data is becoming as important as being able to understand and manipulate words, writes Mary-Ellen Gordon. 

Article from New Zealand Management Mag

From problems stemming from the recent New Zealand census to data collected by Facebook, data has been in the news a lot lately. It may seem obvious that large organisations such as Statistics New Zealand and Facebook need to continually improve their data capabilities, but the same is true of nearly every organisation.

Organisations that lack data capabilities are at a strategic and operational disadvantage. Data can help organisations be more efficient and effective, and in the case of private-sector organisations, get ahead of competitors.

For example, mining data on who watches what armed Netflix with insights about what original content is likely to be popular.

Closer to home, most New Zealanders no longer have to fill out tax returns because it can be done by the IRD with data they already collect through other means. That saves time for the IRD and taxpayers and eliminates some possible sources of error.


Data helps identify and mitigate threats

Many organisations use data to manage risk and prevent negative outcomes. For example, banks and credit card companies identify anomalies in spending patterns to check for fraudulent transactions. Email providers use similar processes for identifying spam, which prevents most of us from being inundated by it.

But an inattentive employee clicking on a link in the wrong e-mail, attaching the wrong file, or sharing a password can result in unintended data exposure.

That can lead to at least a loss of trust among stakeholders, if not more serious consequences, for their employer.

In most cases, data is essential to the core business of the organisation, so the only answer is for employees to learn to be good data stewards.


Development of organisational data capabilities

A data revolution has occurred within the working lives of many people as organisations transitioned from mainframes to personal computers to smartphones. Even tinier computers are now being embedded in objects from vehicles to lights to speakers.

As those transitions have taken place, the knowledge and skills needed to use data effectively have grown and spread throughout organisations.

A relatively small number of people knowing how to program and maintain a mainframe was fine, since data was used for relatively few tasks.

Once many people in an organisation had a desktop or a laptop computer, having some ability to work with spreadsheets became increasingly important as they started to be used to track everything from financial performance to inventory to human resources.

Then we got the internet, and with it, the ability to track things such as how many people visited organisations’ websites, where they came from, and what they did.

The volume of data generated grew significantly and has grown further as sensors generating real-time data have been introduced into more and more objects with data coming not only in the form of numbers, but also words, sounds, and images.

That volume, speed, and variety of data has required new ways to store, process, and analyse data.

As data, the number of people within an organisation who use it, the things it’s used for, and the number of tools used to work with it have grown, so has the imperative for organisations to develop their data capabilities.

Having a few people who are skilled with data is no longer sufficient. We’re reaching the point where being able to understand and manipulate data is becoming as important as being able to understand and manipulate words.

With that in mind, organisations should be striving to ensure that everyone who encounters data as part of their jobs, whether in reports prepared by others or in systems they need to use, has the capacity to use that data effectively.

Organisations that want to grasp opportunities that can be created through data should ensure that many employees have enough knowledge to see how data can be used to improve existing processes or to innovate, and the skills to implement those changes or to connect with those who can.

Think of employees as being part of a data team, with different people contributing different things, whether that be technical skills, analytical ability or subject matter expertise.

There’s an old saying that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and that’s true of data capabilities too.

I lead a team that has developed a way of measuring and monitoring organisational data capabilities. We’ve tested it with 13 organisations, including several large public sector organisations.

Because it’s part of an academic research programme, participation is free and we’re looking for more organisations to get involved, so if you are ready to start lifting your organisation’s data game, please get in touch.


Dr Mary-Ellen Gordon is a senior lecturer in the School of Information Management at Victoria Business School. maryellen.gordon@vuw.ac.nz

Publishing Information

NZ Management Magazine Issue: Management November 2019

Page Number: 11


If you would like the opportunity to have your articles published on our website and included in the industry insights weekly newsletter, submit your content to stacey@focusnetwork.co for consideration.


Championing Inspirational and Aspirational Leadership – Driving Digital Innovation – Nicholas Fourie

Nicholas Fourie, Vice President ICT – Fisher and Paykel Healthcare

Nicholas discussed during his workshop at the CIO Leaders Summit the challenges involved in leading and driving digital innovation and keeping people engaged and inspired during these large transformational changes
He shared some of approaches he takes to face these challenges including:
• Championing People First
• Give Leaders Targets to Lead
• Foster a culture of Less is more Leadership


Nicholas Fourie was appointed Vice President – Information & Communication Technology in February 2017. Nicholas has been with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare since 2007, and in that time has held various systems engineering and IT management roles, including his most recent position as ICT Manager – Development & Engineering.

Prior to joining Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, he worked for the South African division of BHP Billiton. Nicholas holds a Diploma in Computer Engineering from Damelin School of Information Technology in South Africa, and is currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Business at the University of Auckland.

Data Sharing to Unlock the Potential of Cities – Matt Montgomery

Matt Montgomery, Head of Innovation – Auckland Council

Matt presented during his workshop an introduction to the need and value of sharing data between government, the private sector and individuals. He also shared insights into what the journey has involved to date in Auckland and what the near future looks like.


Matt is Head of Innovation at Auckland Council and is currently responsible for a broad portfolio of programmes including the smart city and big data. Matt has recently launched Innovate Auckland, a council family cross-industry innovation platform to deliver radical systems level change across a range of topics including things such as waste via the circular economy, innovation in the housing and infrastructure sector, and food through the Farms for the Future programme. Matt used to be Head of Innovation & Technology at a global civil engineering company and has a doctorate in systems thinking for sustainable development

Right-Sourcing (Insourcing versus Outsourcing) – Getting the Balance Right Considering the Trade-offs, Cost, Agility and Risks – Tim Palmer

Tim Palmer, General Manager, Head of Workplace Technology – NAB

Tim’s presentation discussed the key executive decision points in determining when and what to outsource versus insource and the structure and controls required to ensure success.
Analysis of the services well suited to outsourcing and the pitfalls of poorly contracted agreements, versus services and capability that must be retained within the organisation will be discussed. Complexity, cost, agility, risk trade-offs and the benefits of ‘Right-Sourcing’ in-line with customer needs.


Tim is a technology and finance executive with proven results across strategy and architecture, operations, software and solution development, financial management, digital transformation and cloud adoption, cyber-security, program delivery, outsourcing and insourcing and corporate restructuring.

How to Determine the Right Cyber Strategy for your Business – Doug Hammond

Doug Hammond, Chief Information Security Officer – Inland Revenue

During Doug’s workshop at the CIO Leaders Summit he Cyber Security risks, he raised points on how although organisations have very similar security threats their strategy for managing these risks can and should vary widely. This is because each organisation will have a different risk appetite, the financial and reputational consequences of a security breach will be unique and their current Cyber Security maturity will differ.

In essence, each organisation needs to first understand what their current starting point and target is and quantify the risk they are trying to manage and use this to determine their Cyber Security Strategy.


Doug joined Inland Revenue in May 2014 and is Chief Information Security Officer in the Information Technology & Change business unit of Inland Revenue. His role is Tier 3 and reports to the Chief Technology Officer. The primary purpose of this role is to manage IR’s security portfolio as it relates to digital security for Inland Revenue’s Information and Application Assets (including cyberspace and electronic protection). Doug is responsible for ensuring that security design, education and policy is positioned appropriately and tailored to meet business outcomes.

Other roles and organisations Doug has worked in, prior to joining Inland Revenue, are Senior Manager, Business Risk Services at Grant Thornton; Head of Technology Business Risk and NZ Divisional Information Security Officer at ANZ Bank; Security Assurance Manager at Vodafone NZ Ltd; IT Risk and Security Manager at Air New Zealand; Manager Enterprise Risk Services at Deloitte.

At the Heart of Change: Letting Customer Experience Insight Drive your Transformation Effort – Tony Wickstead

Tony Wickstead, General Manager, Digital Transformation and Delivery – Fonterra

Tony joined us at the CIO Leaders Summit to share his perspectives about working in the technology industry where as technology leaders you must set the pace and lead the way on digital transformation as you find the right way to help the organisation ease into a ubiquitous new reality.
He expresses that although beginning with the end in mind is a smart approach – and IT executives that lead with a customer-centric vision will find their efforts pay off significantly, however, crucially, CIOs must adopt the strategic business perspective as they build up a solid transformation timeline toward long-term success.
Tony spoke about positioning the customer at the heart of a transformation vision to maintain relevance and remain abreast of dynamic market change and how sourcing insight and relevant experience across sales, marketing and technology and harnessing the power of data analytics in strategizing around change will enable vital insights around the end-goals
“Setting the right culture and highlighting what matters most ensures a successful digital transformation effort for your organisation.”


Tony Wickstead is General Manager, Digital Transformation and Delivery for NZMP at Fonterra New Zealand, with more than 15 years of management experience in technology, telecommunications, professional services and supply chain industries.

An experienced Business and Technology leader and strategist Tony has delivered successful technology and business transformation in corporate and start-up businesses, weather leading the implementation of a world class Operations and emergency centre, as CIO of Auckland Airport or as COO with start -up Tomizone, growing this wireless internet technology business across Australia, China, India and NZ.
Tony has also held senior Technology management roles within Kodak Australia, NCR Australia, Ernst and Young and NZ Post.

A passionate New Zealander Tony has an unwavering focus on contributing to and improving NZ Inc. to also leave a sustainable legacy for our children.

Tony holds an MBA, and Post Graduate Diplomas in Business Marketing and Operations from The University of Auckland

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