TBY gathered some key thought leaders in Dubai to discuss the growth and development of the smart cities concept.

Fahad Al Thani
Director, Investment Support Section
Dubai FDI
HE Abdulla Bin Touq
Director General, The Executive Office and Acting CEO
Dubai Future Foundation
Ammar Al Malik
Executive Director
Dubai Internet City
Safder Nazir
Regional VP
Digital Industries, Huawei Middle East
Dr. Hichem Maya
Head of Industry, Digital Transformation & Value Engineering, MENA Region

What makes the start-up ecosystem in Dubai unique and what are the competitive advantages?

SAFDER NAZIR When I first came to Dubai from the UK 14 years ago, it was very difficult to understand the opportunities available here, but today it is far easier to access information. Thanks to technology, today people are enabled to come here, set up their lives, and start adding value to the economy. That is part of attracting people to come here; and it is a talent war to get people to come here in the first place and bring their skills with them. In December 2015, Huawei announced the opening of a regional innovations center with Dubai FDI. That center is letting us work with companies of all different sizes. SAP is one of our global partners and there are many small local enterprises that we are working with that are providing software and components for us. That is how we have started to access that ecosystem of people, and the ecosystem comes together as one thing builds on top of another.

HE ABDULLA BIN TOUQ One important part of Dubai's uniqueness and its competitiveness is its thought leadership, which has played an important part in building Dubai since the late 1980s. Dubai's development history is one of taking risks and designing the future. The first dredging of Jebel Ali Port was the first risk, i.e. designing a port for which the ships did not really exist. This ambition to push forward runs in the blood of our leadership, and today we are doing the same thing in the creation of an ecosystem for startups. One important part of that is Dubai Future Accelerators, whereby the government poses challenges and brings in startups from around the world to design solutions for them. The most important thing is our newly launched Dubai 10X, which is an initiative aimed at keeping Dubai 10 years ahead. HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum does not want to be number one in the region or world; he wants to be number one with a 10-year lead. This is important as these 10X units are going to create a disruptive innovation strategy and help take a lot of companies and organizations out of their comfort zone. Finally, there is the Dubai Future Academy, which focuses entirely on how to build the skillsets for candidates that come in from the private and public sector. All of this falls into one very important goal; to develop Dubai into a lab and test bed for new ideas, new technologies, and new ways of seeing the world.

AMMAR AL MALIK His Highness launched Dubai Internet City in 1999, and over the last 18 years we have attracted over 1,600 technology companies ranging from multinationals such as Huawei, Accenture, Visa, Snapchat, Uber & Amazon, and regional home-grown success stories such as and Careem, Propertyfinder, and many more. in5, which was launched in 2013, is our enabling platform for entrepreneurs and start-ups that are to be incubated and nurtured to their next phase of growth. Combined with Dubai's drive for innovation and disruptive technologies, Dubai Internet City is a conducive environment for ideation and exchange of knowledge.

How are SAP's investments in Dubai contributing to these goals?

HICHEM MAYA When we started here in 2008, we had 10 people. Now we have around 600 people covering the entire MENA region from our headquarters here in Dubai. We opened our headquarters here because we have the talent in the region and the vision of the leadership of Dubai, which is in line with SAP's vision of innovation. If you look at how SAP has evolved over 40 years, innovation has always been the driver. We always think 10 years ahead in terms of where the world will be and what we can do in order to prepare ourselves and our customers. One focus area is cloud technology, and we announced the opening of our new data center facilities here in the UAE, which will help government and local organizations in Dubai use the potential of cloud in a way that ensures privacy and data security. In terms of contributing to the start-up ecosystem, SAP has Startup Focus, which currently facilitates around 4,500 start-ups globally. We started a few years ago here in the UAE and already have around 450 start-ups registered. They are developing on our platform, but everything is oriented to meeting the needs of the country. This means developing solutions for Smart Dubai and of course Expo 2020. We are proud to be a premium partner for Expo 2020 and this helps us focus our innovation on solutions for the event, which will also fuel multiple legacy initiatives.

What areas of innovation will Dubai excel in to create globally competitive new technologies?

AT What is important is the type of innovation we are looking at. There are two different kinds of enterprises: SMEs and innovation-driven enterprises (IDE). Dubai has understood how to differentiate between the two and draw a line between what is an SME and what is an IDE. For IDEs, the important part is to look at enterprises that have technology, R&D budgets, and IP. They are the focus of Dubai Future Accelerator (DFA). By attracting and enabling these IDEs, we aim to make Dubai a laboratory for new technology, especially technologies important to the future of Dubai's economy. This includes technologies related to blockchain applications, energy efficiency, autonomous driving, consumer retail, and transport and logistics.

Where does the Internet of Things (IoT) fit into Dubai's future economy?

SN Part of the outcome of digital transformation is smarter cities and digitalized industries. IoT is an enabling technology and is born out of a vision of convergence between the real and digital worlds. It was in 1999 when the term IoT was first coined, when a gentleman working for Proctor & Gamble who was responsible for a line of lipstick that was selling out on the shelves faster than they could replace it came up with the idea of using microprocessors to signal when stocks needed to be added. The idea of being able to know what is happening in real time has become increasingly advantageous. Huawei is leading in new ways of being able to connect at lower price points to make this technology more accessible to people. 5G and other new technologies will be available by 2020, and we are working with the operators at the high end in terms of bandwidth capability and at the lower end of the spectrum we see things like Narrow Band IoT, which is bringing in a new form of technology to allow connectivity to more things at a lower price point. Once we do that it will allow us to connect the billions of devices. To make that a reality requires a new form of technology, and we have been working diligently for the last couple of years with the regulators, operators, and other industry partners to work on a standards-based approach for doing this. The IoT will give us the ability to connect to more things and what we do with that capability depends on how creative we can be. All the innovation and younger brains we manage to foster will envisage new use cases for this technology.

How is the procurement landscape changing with the technology here in Dubai?

HM The most interesting part of this technology paradigm is that it is possible to combine the public sector on one side and the private on the other in order to address joint business opportunities. There is a shift in the government's role in business, moving onward from the role of administering a country like we have seen in Europe over the centuries. We see, specifically in new markets like the UAE, that the government is stepping ahead and getting closer to a business rational, and this is very motivating for us. We are now able to combine both elements on one platform, with government on one side and private companies on the other using a common dataset in order to analyze data and make predictions. For example, data about the consumption of electricity can allow government to take appropriate actions, while other data analysis can help us to provide better living standards for citizens, and innovative projects like Expo 2020 can engage participants across the spectrum.

Dubai Internet City is somewhere between the public-private divide. What is your role in this paradigm?

AM Our efforts are closely aligned to the National Innovation Strategy and we work closely with our partners to enable innovation at all levels. In fact, some of our partners, namely Huawei, Samsung, Visa, Accenture, and SAP recently announced the new premises of their respective innovation centers. As we look forward to the next phase of growth and creating an ecosystem in which Smart Dubai will grow drastically, we are excited for the launch of the “Innovation Hub." Located in the heart of Dubai Internet City and cutting across industries and disciplines focused on bringing innovative solutions and ideas to market, the Innovation Hub will support 15,000 professionals. It will offer companies of all sizes, including multinational corporations, start-ups, and SMEs world-class facilities and services, robust and adaptable state-of-the-art infrastructure, and a vibrant working environment to support and encourage creative processes.

As the number of start-ups grows, will funding for them be able to keep pace?

AM in5 offers entrepreneurs and start-ups five key benefits: a robust start-up business framework, training and mentorship, opportunities to network, access to investors, and cutting-edge creative spaces that include offices, smart labs, and studios. Since the launch of in5, our members have raised approximately USD38.1 million in funding. With over 1,400 applications, in5 to date has supported more than 160 entrepreneurs and startups through more than 100 mentors and three dedicated Innovation Centres in Tech, Media, and Design, located in Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, and Dubai Design District (d3), which house smart labs, recording studios, and design workspaces among other facilities. We look forward to continue providing emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups with platforms to not only succeed in their own businesses but also yield transformational benefits for entire societies.

One goal is to see Dubai produce a “unicorn," a start-up valued more than USD1 billion. Where do you think your unicorn is going to come from?

AT The government's perspective is that we cannot create a unicorn; what we are good at doing is creating the kind of place where people can try things out, fail, succeed, and move forward. An important part is that government can help with fundraising and to set targets and strategies. For example, we want blockchain implemented in government 100% by 2020, we want 20 to 25% of driving to be autonomous by 2030, and we have similar targets for 3D printing in the construction of buildings in Dubai. His Highness wants these technologies to be put in place gradually, rather than shocking the industry. For example, we are slowly incorporating 3D printing technology into the construction industry, making projects faster and cheaper, and we expect Dubai to benefit accordingly.

Which dimensions of the Dubai Smart initiative are you most excited about?

SN Dubai has some of the best companies in the world located here all applying their best people to solve pressing problems, whether it's from the application, communications, or data perspectives. At Huawei, we have over 3,000 high-end scientists whose job is purely to do blue-sky thinking, and we invest somewhere between 10 and 15% of our revenue every year in R&D.