Cisco banks on Dubai to roll out intelligent network plan

Christopher Sell talks to Samer Alkharrat, general manager of Cisco's Gulf operation, at the global launch of TREC - a range of solutions designed to address increasing demand for intelligence in network infrastructure for the real estate and construction sectors.

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By  Christopher Sell Published  February 2, 2007

How important is a technology like this for Dubai in the future?

I think it’s pivotal. The next generation is going to expect a lot more mobility, ubiquitous access and customised services – if you look at Google and MySpace, it is all about customising the experience for the user. So the environments being built in Dubai have to be able to cater for customised services, and that will only happen if you invest in the infrastructure now.

If you’re investing millions of dollars in a building, then you will be looking to build a landmark that’s interesting and doesn’t just cover the basics, because tomorrow someone will build something else in Hong Kong, for example, and the emphasis will shift again. So it’s also about our ability to understand the government agenda and the environment it is trying to create.

If you focus on Dubai, there is DIFC for financial companies with their technological needs, Healthcare City for medical companies, and so forth, so an environment that has a very strong technological element is being created. And this is not necessarily for the older generation, but for the younger generation who will enter the workforce when they are 25 and then prosper, so you have to think 10 years ahead. You can’t take yesterday’s technology, install it in today’s landmarks and expect it to serve people 10 years from now, it just won’t happen.

So what was the reason behind picking Dubai for the global launch?

Dubai is the fastest growing construction market in the world. More importantly, the companies, ecosystems, building management systems, electrical management systems and the operators are here to take advantage of. This way, we will be closer to the action, far more targeted and accurate, which could then be leveraged on a worldwide basis. For example, say we wanted to supply technology to a golf course in New York – there are 20 courses planned in Dubai in the next two years alone, so if we do something right here, it could be developed elsewhere.

What hurdles do you foresee implementing this technology?

The hurdle is not technology, because this technology is not difficult, and it is there. The problem or challenge I foresee is the go-to-market strategy; the engagement model. For large cities being built, the telecom provider has a role to play when it comes to unifying the IT systems in a building, but the building services are owned by the developer and you must marry the two together to get the right operational model, so there needs to be a new breed of operators that can understand all these different systems.

Developing the blueprint is sometimes a lot more difficult than developing the solution. And that is where the real value is because you are bringing expertise to the game that wasn’t there before. It’s the expertise and the practice we put together that can advise real estate developers and customers on how to do these things.

Which regions outside of Dubai are you looking to expand into next?

We have to make sure we have got it right here and make sure that the customers are deploying our technology and are happy with it. But clearly we will look globally based on the real estate boom.

So if you look at worldwide analysis today, the Middle East and China are the two markets where construction is booming. Also, a lot of investment from Dubai is being made in Pakistan, India, Morocco and Syria, so if we do the right thing here, we will build our model elsewhere.

So, does it rely on a bit of persuasion to make people see that this is the way forward?

Of course, although I don’t know if persuasion is the right thing, we wanted to develop a value proposition, which has taken two years. It takes an intensive effort to speak to people in various companies. Once we developed a clear go-to-market strategy, which is now mature, we started to develop it, and the next step is to see the success of that grow.

The problem with the industry right now is that it is too fragmented, so when a real estate developer wants to develop a property or mall, it is very difficult for them to understand how much technology is enough. Questions such as ‘how much is enough?’, ‘what do I need to use?’ and ‘how do I get my return on investment?’ cannot be answered by one company or person. So what we are doing is developing a practice that brings in the best of industry, from building management systems to IT and telephony.

Can you summarise the key advantages of TREC for construction?

The key benefits are providing reduced capital expenditures, including ROI [return on invested capital] of invested technology being put into the building, developing new revenue streams and increased experience for the user.

And obviously reducing operational costs is a major advantage, because the construction industry is financially driven, so when you add technological investment you have to make sure it reduces CAPEX (capital expenditures) and OPEX (operational expenditure), opens new revenue experiences and adds value to the company.

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