|Changing the face of the Middle East ICT
|Dubai Internet City
Jamal Abdulsalam is the Executive Director of Dubai Internet City (DIC). Mr Abdulsalam was part of the original DIC team that developed and implemented the concept of a free zone for information and communications technology, ICT, companies in Dubai. Initially, Mr Abdulsalam worked as Account Manager responsible for major IT multinationals, and later as Manager of Operations. He led the creation of a Partner Relations department in Dubai Internet City, tasked with managing relations with companies in the zone. Mr Abdulsalam brings with him his experience as the former Assistant Regional Manager for Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA), with responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region.
The Dubai Internet City (DIC) is applying vision, imagination, planning to harness the power of information and communications technologies. Dubai is well on its way towards its goal of generating 25 per cent of the country’s GNP from knowledge-based industries by 2010. The DIC offers powerful incentives to ICT companies that join it. The country aims to build its economy by ‘doing what we do best, better’; by leveraging existing financial, media and telecom/IT sectors; and, by developing new high-value, high-tech sectors.
The world over, economic breakthroughs have been achieved not by individual action but by communities that have built a momentum for change. Communities multiply skills, ideas, innovation and energy to deliver a result that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Communities work to accelerate growth in ways that individuals or organizations cannot. Even in an age when information and communication technologies enable us to be connected anywhere anytime, being part of a community provides tremendous benefits. A community gives individuals or organisations the ability to collaborate, share knowledge and ideas or leverage a support network. The best example of a community that has changed the face of the global economic landscape is Silicon Valley. In 1999, Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, embarked on creating a Silicon Valley-like cluster of ICT organizations with the larger aim of accelerating the growth of the Middle East’s industry. Dubai Internet City formed part of Dubai’s 2010 vision, which seeks to transform itself into a knowledge-based society and economy by the year 2010. To achieve this objective, it has set itself many strategic targets. By 2010, it aims to generate 25 per cent of its GDP from knowledge-based industries. The overall service sector is projected to represent 70 per cent of GDP. To embrace and exploit the potential of the knowledge economy, Dubai’s economic development is being directed towards three growth horizons. The first horizon involves strengthening its existing expertise in trading and logistics or ‘doing what we do best, better’. The second horizon entails the application of established competencies to develop knowledge-based fields like technology-enabled services in financial, media and telecom/IT sectors. The third growth horizon involves developing new competencies in high-value sectors that can make a big impact on knowledge economy development. These include R&D and education as well as emerging sectors like pharmaceuticals, biotech, nanotech and wireless. Dubai Internet City is part of the second horizon of Dubai’s growth vision. It was his Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who articulated the vision for Dubai Internet City. The initiative was part of the much larger economic aim of developing Dubai through means other than oil. On 28 October, 2000, HH Sheikh Mohammed officially launched the Dubai Internet City community. It offered ICT companies several incentives to be part of the community, and 100 per cent exemption from tax was on top of the list. Additionally, it offered 100 per cent foreign ownership, 100 per cent repatriation of capital, quick turnaround of visas and a one-stop-shop of business support services. DIC went further than any other similar initiative to support its resident companies. It provided the same amount of connectivity and hi-tech infrastructure that international companies were used to. In fact, it implemented next-generation technologies, which were just starting to be commercially adopted in developed countries. This led to the deployment of a vast high-speed network in and around its campus. This huge network was designed to operate on Internet Protocol (IP) and IP phones were installed on this network. This meant that one network system offers both telephone and high speed Internet access with speeds of up to 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) per user. At its inception, it is fair to say that DIC was ahead of its time. No other project could hope to challenge the advanced communications infrastructure or the dedicated Government Operations Services team that was set up to provide a single point of contact for all businesses looking to process visas and other government paperwork. On a global scale, international ICT companies rushed in to leverage the platform offered by Dubai Internet City. Major players, such as Microsoft, IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco established their regional headquarters in Dubai Internet City. By 2002, many companies that competed against each other were located on the same campus. Despite healthy competition within a localised environment, senior figures from the ICT industry were vocal in their support for Dubai Internet City and its capabilities. Dr Craig Barrett, then CEO of Intel Corporation and one of the most formidable leaders in the ICT industry, was suitably impressed during a visit in 2002. “Dubai Internet City is a fantastic example of Dubai’s clear technology direction for the future. It exemplifies Dubai’s commitment to harness Information Technology for the competitiveness and well-being of the region,” he said during his visit. The presence and strategic importance of DIC as a central hub for business was confirmed a year later, when British company Carrier Devices, which makes the popular i-Mate phones, moved its global headquarters to Dubai Internet City. For a business that was looking to grow rapidly and expand its operations to export its products across the world, DIC was an ideal global base. The Dubai Internet City community has accelerated the development of the ICT industry in many ways. It created a channel economy of its own that has enabled many companies to find and develop business opportunities and partnerships. For the future, the next frontier is global expansion. DIC’s management team is working to set up partnerships around the world to create similar centres of excellence. Dubai Internet City has reached agreements with the governments of Malta and the Southern Indian State of Kerala, to develop ‘Smart Cities’ within the cities there, hi-tech business campuses for knowledge-economy companies. Taking a location and turning it into a vibrant business community is something that DIC understands well. Developing this further in other parts of the world is something it also has vast expertise in. Despite the impressive new expansion, infrastructure is not its key achievement in the past five years. In fact, its chief strength today is the talent, entrepreneurship and business leadership its community has generated. Some of the brightest business and technology minds in the region work here. It is in the development of its pool of skills and expertise that its future lies. As more resources are invested and more organisations and people consider it their ideal development platform, Dubai Internet City is set to develop into a vastly richer and more vibrant ICT community in the future.