Smart tech­nol­ogy

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

Gulf Business - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert An­der­son

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.

Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion

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.

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