17,800 PARTNERS IN MENA

Abu Dhabi 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Wael El Kabbany, Managing Director Enterprise for MEA Microsoft, on the region's IT sector, “cyber-fatigue,” and regulatory clarity.

Can you tell us about Microsoft's positioning within the UAE and MENA IT sectors?

Microsoft has been in the region for decades and has been a significant contributor towards the technological advancement of the region. Our goal is to enable businesses and governments to use IT services to deliver on their objectives and transform their societies. MENA covers a large area, with pockets that are as advanced and maybe even more advanced than other regions. Some of our customers here, in government as well as enterprise, are using cutting-edge technologies that Microsoft itself uses in developing its own product sets globally. There are locations where we are working predominantly on the infrastructure layer, helping to build a vibrant IT base that can act as a springboard for national development and close skills or education gaps. In other, more advanced locations, like the UAE, we are working with local enterprises and government institutions to help them adopt today's most transformative technologies, from IoT, AI, and blockchain and quantum computing. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), for example, has adopted Microsoft AI, Mixed Reality and other cloud computing solutions to transform their service delivery and reinvent the customer experience. DEWA is also collaborating with Microsoft and exploring the use of quantum computing. Another example is Majid Al Futtaim, which is reimagining its entire customer experience by adopting AI at the core of their business to analyze data insights. Overall, we are well positioned in a market that is keen to adopt the most advanced technology solutions.

What impact does investing in advanced technologies have on a company's bottom line in the Middle East, and what is Microsoft doing to ensure that such investments pay off?

Microsoft has seen some cases with a number of our key customers, as well as government agencies, where adopting our cloud architecture results in an immediate benefit to their bottom line. However, that is not the most exciting part. The real benefit is when our customers' adoption of cloud technologies transforms their policies, their interaction with their customers, and ultimately their whole business model. That is when we see them really disrupt their markets, and give themselves what I call a 'risk insurance certificate' against being disrupted by competitors and other industries. We have great examples of disruption, from banking to insurance and even agriculture, in companies that have really sought to use these technologies not just for immediate cost-savings, but to really affect their customers and the societies in which they are operating.

How can large corporations like Microsoft help companies alleviate cyber-fatigue and prepare better for cloud adoption?

One of the biggest inhibitors to adopting and embracing new technology is a lack of necessary, prerequisite skills. We are sharing something we call the cloud-readiness model or the cloud-adoption framework, which helps enterprises and governments examine their readiness for adoption. We have also embarked on a number of activities over the past few years, including Microsoft Cloud Society, an online education and up-skilling portal that helps individuals and corporations educate their employees on cloud skills. With Etihad Airways, we've helped to create an AI Academy to train their employees – not just the IT teams, but other employees as well – in understanding AI and embracing new technology in their daily business. These kinds of initiatives, once carried out in an adequate and scalable way, have a massive impact end-to-end.

Have you seen any improvement in the cost ratios of connectivity in the Gulf in recent years?

In general, I would say the GCC's international data and voice connectivity cost ratios are competitive. Security and reliability costs can create challenges business progress but at the same time these are opportunities for other industry players to come up with cost effective solutions. o the whole, we have seen organizations compensate for a lot of those infrastructure costs through cloud security adoption and building cloud-based reliability models on an enterprise level.

How would you rate the GCC's progress on its regulatory clarity with respect to cloud computing, and what kinds of improvements would you recommend to the regulatory environment?

I would say that there is decent progress, not only in the UAE, but across the GCC. Kuwait, for example, recently adopted the Cloud Act. We have also seen a number of governments adopting cloud-first policies, which was never the case two or three years ago. The question in the Gulf is no longer about whether we should embrace or work on the cloud, but rather about how we can do it and how we can create the best model of adoption, including associated legal frameworks. It is no longer a matter of 'if,' but 'how.'

What do you see as the role of the private sector here in the UAE in democratizing AI and delivering its benefits correctly?

I would compare the role of AI in democratizing information today to the role of the printing press in the 15th century. We are lucky to be in this era and to witness this type of change. The word 'democratizing' is key in AI because we have to ensure that we are making AI for every individual and every government or organization, regardless of their size. That is why we are on a mission to democratize AI. That mission is founded on driving AI adoption in a fair, sustainable, and scalable way, including with our 17,800 partners in the MENA region. We want to help them to develop their applications and services using Microsoft's AI engine, so that it can reach the public in an ethical, fair, and scalable manner.