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Companies bridge the digital divide

A new 'digital ecosystem' is forcing ICT companies to reassess their traditional business models.

A new ‘digital ecosystem' is forming, forcing IT, telecommunications, media and entertainment companies to reassess their traditional business models and cross over into each other's markets, according to WEF participants.

While the challenges are global, the Middle East region faces specific issues such as content, cultural context and language. The overarching critical issue in the region is education, as key consumers are young people - 50% of the Middle Eastern population is under 20.

Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of the US's museum of television & radio, noted that there had been a "complete change" in how content is created and distributed. Today, he said, executives "wake up to see their business model changed everyday."

Matt Bross, group chief technology officer at BT, said that any healthy digital ecosystem begins with a healthy human ecosystem.

Bross suggested moving to a model of open innovation to harness the best in the region, and then fusing the results with innovations taking place globally.

"Most important, is that innovation must be at the speed of life, not at the speed of technology," he warned.

Mobile technology is being adopted more readily than the internet in faster growing markets, commented Sir Martin Sorrell, co-chair of the WEF on the Middle East and group CEO of the UK's WPP.

Traditional media in the region is becoming "cluttered", as is TV advertising. "An important issue is that Arab content is limited," he added.

Mickael Ghossein, CEO of Jordan Telecom Group, confirmed the need for Arab content. With the growing demand for mobile multimedia, his company faces a huge challenge in that just 1 to 2% of its revenue comes from content, and demand is skyrocketing.

He insisted that companies such as his own must seek partners to share the risk in creative content development. Kenneth Willett, HP's vice-president and managing director for the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa, said that what end users ultimately want would be technologically available.

"Governance issues are important and education has an important role to play. Technology will enable the digital ecosystem and it will enable children when it comes down to education."

"All of the digital ecosystem scenarios will be ultimately shaped by external factors. Yet for a flourishing digital ecosystem, it is critical to begin with the human ecosystem in a move away from entitlement," concluded Bross. "There is no crystal ball to determine customer needs in their personal and work lives," he added.

"But people know good things when they see it. We are moving into the era of youth, where they must be empowered to innovate."