The tele­com in­dus­try in the Mid­dle East is ex­pand­ing at an un­prece­dented pace.

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The growth ex­pe­ri­enced by the Mid­dle East re­gion's tele­com in­dus­try is un­prece­dented due to the high de­mand for smart per­sonal de­vices, and also mo­bile data ser­vices gain­ing promi­nence in the business mod­els of Mid­dle East op­er­a­tors as many trans­form from voice-cen­tric to data-cen­tric.

Driven in­creas­ingly by the high de­mand for smart per­sonal de­vices to a pre­vi­ously un­der-served mar­ket, we are also wit­ness­ing mo­bile data ser­vices gain­ing promi­nence in the business mod­els of Mid­dle East op­er­a­tors as many trans­form from voice-cen­tric to data-cen­tric. They re­alise that in or­der to pro­tect mar­gins and to in­crease data prof­itabil­ity, they have to ex­pand across the value chain and move from vol­ume-based to value-based data of­fer­ings.

The Qatari gov­ern­ment is fur­ther set to support in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy (IT) with many ini­tia­tives and projects. An ex­am­ple of th­ese ini­tia­tives is the launch of a gov­ern­ment data cen­tre by the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy in Qatar to host sen­si­tive IT sys­tems and in­fra­struc­ture in the gov­ern­ment sec­tor. This pro­vides so­lu­tions to in­crease work ef­fi­ciency in in­sti­tu­tions, en­sure the se­cu­rity of in­for­ma­tion, and con­trib­ute to the uni­fi­ca­tion of pro­ce­dures lead­ing to re­duced costs. Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy, the tele­com sec­tor alone is ex­pected to wit­ness a re­mark­able growth rate of 9% to 12% in the next five years.

In this con­text, in­vest­ing in cloud ser­vices and tech­nolo­gies be­comes im­pera- tive. Ac­cord­ing to Gart­ner, the pub­lic cloud ser­vices mar­ket, for ex­am­ple in MENA alone, is on pace to grow 23% in 2014 to to­tal $629 mil­lion (QR2.29 bil­lion). So where do re­gional op­er­a­tors stand to­day and what do they need to do to suc­ceed in their cloud trans­for­ma­tion? IBM be­lieves that there are three core ar­eas on which op­er­a­tors will need to fo­cus in the short to mid-term in or­der to truly win on cloud.

From com­modi­ties to cloud ecosys­tems

Both mo­bile and fixed broad­band net­works as well as data cen­tres – in which telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers in the re­gion have strong ca­pa­bil­i­ties – will play a ma­jor role in the shift to cloud. For tele­com providers, their brand value and cus­tomer own­er­ship put them in a strong po­si­tion to shift their rev­enue mod­els into the dig­i­tal ser­vices ter­ri­tory, and in­deed the cloud is the most ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive way for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers to move from just of­fer­ing com­modi­ties to de­liv­er­ing dig­i­tal ser­vices to their cus­tomers.

For ex­am­ple, Soft­ware as a Ser­vice (SaaS) of­fer­ings to­day face few en­try-level bar­ri­ers and that has spurred com­pe­ti­tion. From gaming de­vel­op­ment plat­forms to IT man­age­ment and mo­bile so­lu­tions, SaaS of­fer­ings can be rapidly de­ployed and

scaled to test de­mand at neg­li­gi­ble cost. Many of th­ese in­no­va­tors have seam­lessly in­te­grated tech­nol­ogy, sales, and cus­tomer support to de­velop not just ser­vices but en­tire ecosys­tems that cater to a cus­tomer's needs. That does, how­ever, mean lo­cal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers will face in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from other tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tors whose ex­per­tise lies in ser­vice de­liv­ery.

Know­ing your cus­tomer

To pro­vide a dif­fer­en­ti­ated user ex­pe­ri­ence and cre­ate new data rev­enues through per­son­alised cloud of­fer­ings, many tele­com providers are striv­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand their cus­tomers in the data era. Voice ser­vices are a well-un­der­stood, prof­itable and low-risk business. Us­age pat­terns are rather pre­dictable and mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion is straight­for­ward.

Data business is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent. Users of broad­band-en­abled mo­bile de­vices gain ubiq­ui­tous ac­cess to a huge num­ber of on­line ser­vices and mo­bile apps. Ev­ery smart de­vice is highly per­son­al­ized to meet the ex­act needs of its owner. In the “Data Era”, repli­cat­ing voice mar­ket strate­gies does not work any­more.

The wealth of cus­tomer and ser­vice us­age data that op­er­a­tors pos­sess is one of their great­est as­sets. By ap­ply­ing Big Data and An­a­lyt­ics to this data, they can gain bet­ter in­sight into their cus­tomers' needs and us­age pat­terns. This en­ables cre­ation of cloud ser­vices that res­onate with spe­cific cus­tomer groups and mi­cro seg­ments. The most ef­fec­tive cloud of­fer­ings in the Mid­dle East so far have typ­i­cally in­volved analysing users' lo­ca­tion, qual­ity-of-ser­vice, and us­age pref­er­ences to de­liver tai­lored dig­i­tal ser­vices and ap­pli­ca­tions to a “cus­tomer of one”.

All of this re­quires providers to rapidly un­der­stand how cloud as a new de­liv­ery and business model can be ap­plied to ad­dress the wishes and needs of in­di­vid­u­als, small busi­nesses, en­ter­prises, and the pub­lic sec­tor.

Dis­man­tling bor­ders

The com­plex­ity and scale of the Mid­dle East's tele­com mar­ket re­quire ser­vice providers to ap­proach cloud as far more than just an IT play. To cre­ate and mon­e­tise the mo­bile data ser­vices en­abled by the cloud, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers must bring to­gether all in­ter­nal de­part­ments of the business, from fi­nance to mar­ket­ing and cus­tomer ser­vice. Uni­fy­ing dif­fer­ent de­part­ments around cloud will re­sult in business plans that avoid many of the early pit­falls in Mid­dle East­ern de­ploy­ments, in­clud­ing a lack of clear key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors and rev­enue tar­gets for cloud adop­tion. It will also help providers more ob­jec­tively as­sess im­ped­i­ments to cloud ser­vices, like data sovereignty, and their ac­tual im­pact on pro­posed of­fer­ings.

Adapt­ing pro­cesses from global IT ser­vice providers – and learn­ing from suc­cesses and fail­ures in over­seas mar­kets – will also help lo­cal op­er­a­tors to en­sure their cloud of­fer­ings are first and fore­most vi­able business prod­ucts. For ex­am­ple, the is­sues sur­round­ing cross-bor­der data trans­fers are some­times de­tailed in the na­tional leg­is­la­tion. Yet even in highly-reg­u­lated coun­tries like Saudi Ara­bia and Morocco, th­ese laws typ­i­cally re­late more to the pro­tec­tion and pri­vacy of cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion than to its move­ment be­tween coun­tries.

Ad­vanced cy­ber-se­cu­rity mea­sures now avail­able can be ap­plied to data cen­tres, net­works and even end users, thereby mit­i­gat­ing th­ese fears of non-com­pli­ance. When cou­pled with ro­bust poli­cies and breach mon­i­tor­ing, data sovereignty need not limit the po­ten­tial of cloud ser­vices to reach un­tapped and ge­o­graph­i­cally di­verse mar­kets. With an em­pha­sis on vis­i­bil­ity, con­trol and au­to­ma­tion, IBM cloud se­cu­rity so­lu­tions help meet reg­u­la­tory com­pli­ance ef­fi­ciently and de­fend against the lat­est threats. With IBM, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers can have a ro­bust, se­cu­rity-rich cloud tuned to their cus­tomers' spe­cific needs. Es­tab­lish­ing a clear se­cu­rity roadmap with the right mix of ca­pa­bil­i­ties to se­cure foun­da­tional tech­nolo­gies lays the ground­work for cloud suc­cess.

The re­gion's lead­ers and decision-mak­ers should look to­wards cloud as a plat­form of the fu­ture, us­ing in­fra­struc­ture as a foun­da­tion for cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal ecosys­tem rather than a com­mod­ity in it­self. Th­ese new cloud-based ser­vices must be in­formed by a deep un­der­stand­ing of cus­tomer be­hav­iours and ad­dressed in a uni­fied man­ner within the op­er­a­tor's or­gan­i­sa­tion across dif­fer­ent de­part­ments and even mul­ti­ple ge­ogra­phies. Part­ner­ing with cloud tech­nol­ogy lead­ers and adopt­ing th­ese best prac­tices will put re­gional telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion providers in good stead to move their rev­enue mod­els from prod­ucts to ser­vices, and to cre­ate at­trac­tive cloud-based of­fer­ings that will al­low them to com­pete ef­fec­tively with global In­ter­net play­ers

BY AMHED MAROUF Global Tech­nol­ogy Ser­vices Leader IBM Mid­dle East, Saudi and Le­vant

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