Knowledge Village to solve skills crisis

Dubai’s latest free zone brings together training companies to create local workforce

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  April 23, 2002

I|~||~||~|With the success of Dubai Internet City (DIC) and its associated free zones, the emirate has streaked ahead of local rivals in its efforts to become the centre for IT in the Middle East.

However, success has bought its own problems. Foremost among these is the need to produce a stream of well educated and tech savvy employees. Unfortunately, the current educational system isn’t delivering the necessary recruits.

“In the past, the local education sector has been looked at as a more social and government thing. If you look at the education systems in this region then you will see that it is a long way from [the technology] industry and has few practical connections with it,” says Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, director of Knowledge Village.

In order to address this need, and answer customer demand from the numerous training and education companies in the region, Dubai’s government is forging ahead with the creation of Knowledge Village.

“We have a lot of large companies in DIC and DMC, but for them to grow they will need talented staff. They are not expected to bring their entire workforce in from overseas so there has to be in-house development. By creating Knowledge Village and bringing in international and focused academic and training companies we will be able to create this workforce,” says Al Karam.

To attract such companies, Knowledge Village is currently offering temporary floor space in DIC and DMC. When its official home is opened on March 30th 2003, Knowledge Village will have the look and feel of an academic institution with libraries, class rooms and dormitories.

The facility will also leverage the IT infrastructure of DIC and tenants will be able to take advantage of its Internet connection, telecoms services, hosting and managed services. More importantly, Knowledge Village is investing in the development of an e-learning infrastructure that will provide an e-learning application service provider (ASP) solution for resident companies.

“When you talk about e-learning there are certain tools that you have to use to create live interaction, for content management and authoring. These are very specific and only for learning. There are companies worldwide that produce this e-learning software, but it is very expensive, as is maintaining it. It is also not available in Arabic either. We are creating and delivering e-learning services,” he explains.

The infrastructure investment appears to be a sound one, as any company wishing to take up residence in the new facility will have to offer e-learning services. “It will be a mandate for those who enter Knowledge Village to deliver part of their programme using ITC technologies,” he says.

||**||II|~||~||~|As such, he continues, it makes sense for companies to rent Knowledge Village’s infrastructure as it saves them both time and money.

“For a university it doesn’t make sense to build the technical infrastructure because they have to invest in the hardware, software and tools, which have a high initial cost and also depreciate quickly. They also have to hire their own IT staff, which is expensive. On the other hand, DIC has already invested in its data centre and we have the IT staff to support it [an e-learning infrastructure],” he says.

Such commitment to digital education stems from the fact that those within Knowledge Village believe that e-learning is the only way the region can utilise its limited staffing resources and raise the standard of its education.

“We have a lot of students that graduate, but don’t go onto MBAs or masters because they don’t want to leave the area. What they would like to do is gain access to the best course overseas. But how can they complete this without e-learning?,” explains Al Karam.

Focusing on e-learning will allow Knowledge Village to address the entire region, something that Al Karam feels is very important because it is not just Dubai that is moving towards a knowledge economy. “We have very strong contacts with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria,” he says.

Alongside the philanthropic concern for the Middle East, a regional focus will also help Knowledge Village pay for itself. As Al Karam says, “the focus is on the entire region because from a business prospective if we were to do it just for UAE then it would not succeed.”

Two organisations that have already signed up to join the Knowledge Village are Dubai Police and Synergy Professional Services. Dubai Police will host and run its Electronic Total Quality Management College (E-TQM) from the free zone as it answers customer demand to extend its programmes throughout the Middle East.

“The idea of E-TQM is to support the dissemination of quality culture among Arabic speaking people,” says Major General Dhahi Kalfan Tamim, Commander in Chief of Dubai Police.

Melad Ghabrial, president & CEO of Synergy Professional Services (SPS), believes that Knowledge Village’s extended learning community will help the company enhance its end-to-end training solution as it will be closer to its partners and in a position to take advantage of the shared services on offer.

At the same time, the company plans to use Knowledge Village’s IT infrastructure to develop a remote networking lab, where students can work with over US$1 million worth of Cisco kit online.

“This means that we do not need to ship the high end equipment to our training locations. We can also run 24x7 so if people want to practice outside of the arranged sessions they can schedule time to practice on the equipment,” explains Ghabrial.

While the CEO admits that such a venture could have been completed without residing in the Knowledge Village, he says that the free zone’s infrastructure made it too good an opportunity to ignore.

“We could have done this anywhere, but Knowledge Village provides the bandwidth and reliability that we need. Also, the cost may have been much greater,” he says.

Once the remote laboratory goes live, SPS will adhere to Al Karam’s vision of Middle East expansion as it looks to increase its customer base throughout the region.
“We already have branches throughout the Middle East, but we are increasing them. Having the remote laboratory and being in the Knowledge Village will allow us to attract people to our solution,” he says.||**||

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