By Jad Hajj, partner, Imad Atwi, Jean Salamat, principals, and Riazul Raquib, senior associate, with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, governments and companies throughout the world have been forced to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to mitigate its impact. They understand that such technologies can alleviate future economic upheavals. GCC governments, together with regional technology and telecom companies, should follow suit. They should adopt a structured and phased approach to digital transformation, take the necessary steps to turn theory into reality, and then collaborate to build a robust ecosystem that supports this transformation.
The GCC regional economy is suffering from a dual shock, the Covid-19 pandemic and lower oil prices. Before the dual shock, GCC countries were part of a global trend to increase technological investment in such areas as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and robotics. The search for means of managing the economic and societal problems arising from the pandemic has intensified the trend toward emerging technologies. Once countries have resolved immediate problems, they need a fundamental digital transformation to sustain long term growth and soften the blow of any economic shocks. Organisations that do not prioritise digital transformation will quickly lose relevance.
To prepare for this digital transformation over the next two years, regional leaders must develop a structured approach to their unique challenges, devoting attention to both the short term and long term. Short term requirements involve shoring up the economy, continuing vital services, and ensuring containment of the pandemic. Digital technologies can be invaluable in all these endeavours. Meanwhile, institutions should revisit their digital strategies for the long term and make certain that they have the necessary supporting framework in place.
For governments, this supporting framework comprises various elements, such as laws, public awareness, and tax and governance measures that will contribute to a thriving ecosystem. In terms of policies, they need to ensure that they have a legal framework that encourages innovation, protects patents and ownership of new technologies. They should build public awareness by making use of marketing techniques to inform citizens about digital developments and increase relevant knowledge and adoption of technologies. Taxation and other incentives, such as long term contracts, will foster the emergence of cutting-edge and highly motivated technology companies. Appropriate governance and operating models should delegate authority within government ministries to ensure the efficient supply of technologies to the marketplace. Public-private partnerships can also be a fertile breeding ground for technological development.
Telecom operators and technology companies also need to re-examine how they can contribute to a successful digital strategy. They should undertake bold new initiatives and set revised goals accordingly. Companies which can exploit their specific areas of expertise will benefit and become national technology leaders.
Telecom operators and technology companies should rethink investments. They should divert their plentiful resources to the technologies and use cases that can resolve the business challenges of specific industries. Before moving to the development phase, they should carry out rigorous quantitative and qualitative analysis to determine those use cases that promise a strong return on investment. They must be ready to deploy use cases widely as soon as they receive such validation, and thereby encourage large scale adoption in targeted industries.
However, governments and the private sector will confront major obstacles without a strong digital ecosystem to facilitate success. Collaboration between government and the private sector should be founded on a common interest in creating a technologically adept economy and society. A broad range of areas require digital upgrading, and both private and public stakeholders must participate in this process.
One example of this cooperation could be new technology parks. These create a platform for an exchange of ideas and day-to-day development of technology, pilots, and proofs of concept. Governments and telecom and technology companies, together with private sector and society leaders, can also establish taskforces to set a targeted agenda for these technology parks, establish use cases, and monitor progress.
Similarly, the private sector can engage proactively with government officials to overcome legal and regulatory barriers. Open sharing of data between stakeholders will stimulate more rapid technological development, while both parties should prioritise secure data transfers and personal privacy. Stakeholders can agree on essential infrastructure, thereby preventing duplication and securing the efficient delivery of services.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology and all institutions will need an advanced digital framework to keep pace. Successful institutions will take a systematic approach to digital transformation. To succeed, governments, telecom operators, and technology companies must take the necessary independent actions and then come together to create a robust digital ecosystem.