This year’s Gitex conference was host to giant drones, virtual reality headsets, 3D printed cars and robot police officers, but there were also signs of a more realistic pivot for the future in light of tougher economic conditions
How drones, AI and VR are changing the region's tech landscape
If the annual Gitex Technology Week conference serves as the pulse of Dubai’s, and the region’s IT market, then this year’s edition appeared to reflect a sector in good health.
The packed exhibition hosted everything from 3D printers to robot police patrol craft, drone hunters and automated transport solutions.
But beneath the service there was some acknowledgement of the tough economic times the region is facing.
While many vendors were still showcasing the latest and the greatest in tech- nology designed to shape the future, others appeared focussed on areas more appealing to the current economic environment.
“I think people are looking more at the return of it [investment] which is a good discussion to have,” says Pete Costa, VP for MENA at American smart solu-
tions firm Honeywell. “We’re getting out of smart for smart sake and what is the real value.”
Honeywell, which was showcasing its smart mosque thermostat claimed to have achieved energy savings of 37 per cent by switching on the air conditioning to coincide with prayer times at a pilot in Sharjah, was among several companies at this year’s conference that were focussing on products designed with efficiency or cost savings in mind.
As Safder Nazir – Huawei’s regional vice president for smart cities and Internet of Things – notes, the current economic situation has prompted a more realistic approach to ambitious plans by cities like Dubai, which famously announced its intention to become the world’s smartest city during more prosperous economic times in 2014.
“With oil prices and the economic situation being a little bit more challenging than it might have been in past years, there’s going to be a focus from governments to spend more effectively,” he says.
But while executives are acknowledging the tougher economic climate the region is facing at present there is also optimism that the oil-led slump is presenting its own opportunities.
“We see it as an opportunity for us to help governments be more precise and effective in the projects that they might WITH OIL PRICES AND THE ECONOMIC SITUATION BEING A LITTLE BIT MORE CHALLENGING THAN IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN PAST YEARS, THERE’S GOING TO BE A FOCUS FROM GOVERNMENTS TO SPEND MORE EFFECTIVELY. take on and to help them realise the result from that,” says Nazir.
Among the key factors IT companies and vendors are hoping will guarantee sales in the coming years is the need for so called ‘digital transformation’ among traditional companies and governments.
The term, which was used heavily at this year’s Gitex, describes the process in which companies utilise digital technology advances to develop new business processes and strategies.
The benefits of this transformation are said to be profound. In a study released by ‘ big four’ accounting and consultancy firm PwC last month it was forecast that Middle Eastern industrial firms could generate $16.9bn in extra revenue annually from 2017 to 2021 by embracing digital technology.
A further $17.3bn of annual cost savings and efficiency gains was also forecast during the period, according to the firm.
Another study released by professional services firm Accenture during Gitex predicted that targeted investments across digital skills and technologies could boost GDP in Saudi Arabia by 4.2 per cent by 2020, or $31.4bn. A similar increase in digital density could add $13.8bn to UAE’s GDP and $7.8bn to Qatar’s GDP by 2020, according to the firm.