|Africa and the Middle East 2014
|Connecting business in a better way
|Mr. Ihab Ghattas
|Assistant President, Middle East
Mr. Ihab Ghattas has been Assistant President of Middle East operations for Huawei Technologies since September 2008. In his role Mr. Ghattas is responsible for driving Huawei’s business in the region in addition to being instrumental in developing strategies related to marketing, human resources, social activism and administration. He is also responsible for establishing and developing key relationships with clients and operators across the region.
Mr. Ghattas is a senior telecommunications professional and has over 28 years’ experience in the telecoms industry. He has previously served as Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) of Huawei Technologies, and was responsible for establishing and developing key relationships with operators across the MENA region as well as promoting and introducing Huawei’s Enterprise Solutions to businesses outside of the telecommunications arena.
The future looks set to be one of ubiquitous connections and the reconstruction of social life; enabling zero-distance contact between people, enterprises and their customers.
The ICT industry is embarking on a new era of in-depth integration of both the digital and physical worlds. Amidst these new opportunities, both the public and private sector must embark on a digital reconstruction to realize the full potential of virtualization.
The virtualized networks of today are channels for information acquisition, communications, digital entertainment and e-commerce. ICT technology fundamentally serves as a tool to improve human and business efficiency.
After two decades of predictable growth patterns and advancing technologies, the information and communications technology (ICT) industry is now entering a new era of in-depth integration of the digital and physical worlds. Amidst these new opportunities, both the public and private sector must embark on a digital reconstruction to realize the full potential of virtualization.
The future looks set to be one of ubiquitous connections and the reconstruction of social life; enabling zero-distance contact between people, enterprises and their customers. Keeping in mind this issue’s theme of ‘Anything can be hosted, anything can be virtualized’, we are conscious of the fact that enterprises today are now getting huge amounts of data that is arriving at a much faster rate than ever before. Deciding how to process this data, sort out what is valuable from what is not, and leveraging that information to drive productivity are all challenges being faced in the region across all sectors of the economy.
How then, can we connect business in a better way? Developing more agile network infrastructure – powered by cloud-based technologies and broadband capacities—is one area that I think deserves particular attention. In the Middle East region we have already seen the digital reconstruction begin through the rapid development of advanced ICT infrastructure. Fiber-optical networks, virtual desktops, and LTE-powered mobile services are already being advanced in countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and many others.
What then does the future hold? In this article, I would like to highlight five key areas through which virtualization will likely impact the socio-economic development of the region. These include: the rise of data-driven enterprises; the move from value delivery to value creation; advancing regional smart city initiatives; customer-centric telecoms; and the transition of the Middle East IT market to a truly software-defined landscape.
Many businesses and governments in the region today are realizing the benefits of big data and are making great efforts to become data-driven enterprises. At the same time, many are challenged by a lack of IT people, skills, experience and resources, with most enterprises in the region having not leveraged data to its full potential. For many enterprises data is something akin to a byproduct of day-to-day business and is maintained statically inside an enterprise’s information system – just sitting there, doing very little, consuming resources and yet gathering dust.
With much more data being generated today compared with ten years ago, organizations are also starting to realize that the technology they deployed previously wasn’t designed to cope with the size and variety of data types that exists today. Deciding how to process this data and sort out what is valuable and what is not remains a key challenge for many organizations.
With the emergence of big data, more and more business leaders are starting to realize that data has intrinsic value – a resource to be leveraged instead of a mere burden to be stored. One of the ways that business leaders can leverage the IT skills and resources in place for big data projects is by building a cross-functional team of experts, all working in sync for a common cause. Enterprises must also build an organizational culture that enables data to be leveraged. This means a change in mindset as people need to start paying attention to how data is shared across an organization so that it can flow freely across departmental boundaries.
In other words, major internal changes across the organization may be needed if an enterprise is to become data-driven rather than data-dependent.
From value delivery into value creation
At its core, a business mainly comprises of value creation and value delivery.
Value delivery is what we often refer to as information flow, capital flow and logistics flow. All the three have been ‘smoothed out’ through the boom of e-commerce platforms, with broadband access really transforming the value delivery process. The digital and physical worlds are more closely integrated, reducing or even eliminating many intermediate processes.
Today we see ICT connectivity starting to have a deeper impact on value creation—especially in the R&D field. Looking at the R&D model, we already see a movement towards greater user participation and crowd-sourcing activities. This evolution has a technical dimension as well, seen in the case of companies like Tesla redefining automobiles using IT and the Internet. After the steam engine, electricity, and IT, the Internet is driving the fourth industrial revolution—or what we call “Industry 4.0”—enabling efficient mass production with the diversity of individualized manual workshops.
Smart Cities bridge a connected world
The role of ICT companies will almost certainly widen within the Middle East as there is a greater emphasis placed on powering Smart Cities—communities in which the analysis and sharing of information provides a new level of intelligence to public facilities and services. From ubiquitous ultra-broadband connectivity to simpler access to m-Government portals, ‘greener’ utilities, unified hospital systems, and more efficient public transportation networks, there is a lot for businesses and individuals to look forward to.
Within the Middle East today we can already see these projects emerging in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. Most of today’s Smart City projects involve a mix of government bodies, developers, technology vendors, telecom operators, and consulting firms. However, we believe that the overall construction should always reflect the interests of the wider public, and I think this is where government plays an essential role in translating the national vision into infrastructure policy.
Telecoms Go Experience-Centric
Over the past decade customer experience has become a key driver of change across many industries. As a result of mounting competitive pressure, telecom service providers are also increasingly focused on enhancing the customer experience by being smarter about how they host and analyze data on their network.
Customer Experience Management (CEM) was initially recognized as an industry concept in 2001, though it would take another three years for the TM Forum to officially embrace it and even longer for operators to start catching on. Operators have discovered that traditional network KPIs do not always reflect customer satisfaction accurately. In fact, an operator can boast the top KPIs in a given market and still lose market share to a competitor with a lesser score but a more compelling experience (or price point).
Today’s advanced CEM solutions are designed to give services providers an in-depth understanding of just how satisfied customers really are. This must be supplemented with a big-data analysis platform that can scale down to the Per-Service Per-User level, enabling real-time monitoring of service quality. Getting more granular with end-to-end measurement of the customer experience not only assists operations with better network planning, but also helps sales and service departments in improving operations that we as customers depend on every day.
As a result, the concept of customer experience management is already starting to look remarkably different in the Middle East from even a year or two ago. This is beginning to transform the wider ICT industry as its priorities evolve from purely managing the technical side of a network and into assuring a positive customer experience across the whole service life cycle.
A Software-Defined, scaled-out IT landscape
With organizations today facing such a huge amount of information and data traffic, ICT infrastructure must absolutely be more agile and scalable. This renders the traditional hardware-based architecture and pre-planned construction model outdated. This is exactly where software-defined and scale-out computing models will come in to meet businesses’ IT needs.
The ‘software’ definition refers not only to the IT domain, such as software-defined storage, but also to the network domain including software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). It realizes more flexible architectures via software, on the basis of programmable hardware.
As for the ‘scale-out’ network model, it is permeating everywhere in the region; from distributed storage to parallel computing and fully distributed network architecture. Different from the scale-up model, which is confined by material and processing constraints, a scale-out network models allows for huge capacity and low cost.
Software-defined and scale-out computing models are transforming traditional IT and network architectures, making it easier for businesses to scale their operations and serve customers more efficiently.
In the last 20 years, industrial and human behavior has been radically transformed with the advent of the closely-connected digital world. This is driven by phenomenon like the mobile internet, machine-to-machine communications, and social networks. The virtualized networks of today are channels for information acquisition, communications, digital entertainment and e-commerce. ICT technology fundamentally serves as a tool to improve human and business efficiency.
Despite this unprecedented progress, we must recognize that the digital society is still in its infancy. It is now up to us all to cast a light on an even better way forward.