Accelerating country digitization for competitiveness
Realising country-wide digitisation needs government focus, says Shukri Eid of Cisco
Every market and every industry sector is moving from the Information Age to the Digital Age, and the pace of change is happening faster than ever before. Every country, city and company is realizing they must transform to survive and thrive in this new era. This transition to the Digital Age calls for massive change — technological, organisational, cultural, and beyond.
Digital transformation, which is the connection of cities, companies, and countries to the Internet, has emerged as the most transformative means to ignite sustainable growth and improve society. The potential for countries to prosper in the coming decade is staggering. Those countries that have embraced digitization are unlocking limitless opportunities to drive innovation and economic growth by increasing the country’s GDP and creating the jobs of the future while reducing spending.
Digitization allows governments to extend the reach and impact of public services by converting insights into action. It will enable new and diverse groups of entrepreneurs to build businesses, providing more accessibility and opportunities for education and technology-based careers, and in the process reshape the world. As a result, it will make some countries more competitive on the global stage. Having the right digital ecosystem in place will be a necessity to achieve any of these things.
The Middle East has been making phenomenal progress towards digitization by embracing digital transformation strategies that are bringing about positive social and economic changes. Across sectors as diverse as healthcare, transportation, education, telecommunications, utilities, and government services, the region has been a hotbed for digital transformation.
What will it take for the Middle East to accelerate digitization?
As we move into an era of complete digitization, where technology begins to connect everything from people, processes and data to things, Middle East countries will need to rethink how they approach their infrastructure on a grand scale. At its core, Country Digitization is the process of planning, and ultimately building, a sophisticated, forward-thinking and networked ecosystem that will allow for greater connectivity, productivity and security to drive this positive impact.
New countries will emerge as global powerhouses over the next twenty years because of their early commitments to invest in digitization. Middle East governments need to be more aggressive in their strategies to gain a first-mover advantage and maintain a dominant position that enables them to reap the real benefits on a national scale.
There is tremendous potential in the region to build effective, competitive and sustainable economies through digitization, which will transform citizen services, health, education and safety and security, while improving citizens’ experience and productivity. This will require fostering an innovation, talent and entrepreneurship ecosystem that shifts the economy towards greater private sector participation and a more market-based approach.
A country’s digital agenda starts at the top with a clear vision and a capable team. Irrespective of a nation’s digitization maturity level, accelerating country digitization needs to be made a national agenda priority, with high level endorsement by country leaders and policy makers playing a key role in driving this initiative.
Considering the complexities of developing a plan to digitize an entire country, the entire process from evaluation to having an executable plan requires countries to partner with global technology leaders that are able to bring in the expertise to progress on the journey towards a vibrant digital and knowledge based economy. A technology partner will work closely with government teams to analyze and examine the country’s digital agenda and then extract key objectives the country wants to accomplish.
The next step is to identify project-focused horizons and an execution strategy to realize opportunities in areas including developing national IT infrastructure, accelerating business innovation, stimulating startups and enhancing research and education.
As the global economy witnesses phases of volatility, countries in the region need to be smart in the way they co-fund initiatives — making resources go further, creating new operating models for public service provision, and forming new types of service partnerships that are centered on new technology consumption models.
With an increased number of valuable connections, a digitized economy’s success will not only come as a result of changing business models and innovating, it also needs to be driven by a change in mindset. The opportunities of digitization are enormous, but they will be constrained by a global talent gap in ICT unless the global community takes action to train and educate more people in the technical disciplines. Middle East governments need to deploy policy and training programs to help solve the world’s fastest-growing gap in networking professionals. Public and private sectors, businesses and governments must work together to invest in future job areas, while focusing on closing the skills gap to create the next generation of innovators. Countries that forge ahead have much to gain, not only for their own citizens and internal efficiency, but also for their economy.
To remain competitive and meet the increasing demands of its citizens, governments must find ways to innovate faster and more efficiently. Software-enabled services and analytics provide greater intelligence, improve operational efficiency of business, and enhance the overall performance of the infrastructure. Analytics that provide increased visibility and actionable knowledge about the IT environment by proactively identifying potential problems can help increase infrastructure availability and reliability.
The huge surge in mobile devices, internet connectivity along with digital services both in the private sector as well as the public sector will need massive networks and infrastructure. Embracing new security, cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies required to digitize takes imagination, investment and expertise.
To put this in context, let’s take Dubai as an example. In Dubai, the deployment of citywide Wi-Fi will form the backbone of smart, mobile government services, with the Dubai Smart City Executive Committee guiding public sector access to systems, collaboration tools and business insights.
Creative collaborations will help to drive not only accelerated developments, but also new operational models that create substantial savings for the public wallet. Today, global Smart Cities have already reduced water consumption by 50%, enhanced energy savings by 30%, and reduced traffic by 30%. From a regional perspective, smart transport such as the public transport nol card, the Salik electronic toll gate, and driverless Dubai Metro have significantly reduced traffic fatalities over the past decade, and the percentage of the population using public transport has grown from 6% in 2005 to 12% in 2014, according to the Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority.
While the benefits of accelerating country digitization are obvious and the need to transform is mandatory, the path is not easy. Leaders must act now to address not only the technological elements required by digitization, but also those related to organisational issues such as governance, policies and skill requirements.
Countries are looking to improve efficiencies, reduce their spending and move with speed and agility in deploying new services. However, how smartly Middle East countries build, manage and operate their governments, infrastructure and businesses will be one of the biggest determinants of their people’s future.
Shukri Eid is Managing Director, East Region, Cisco Middle East.