Surviving in a digital economy
Rushika Bhatia
Movers & Shakers

Surviving in a digital economy

As digital transformation takes a centre stage across the world, what are some of the key challenges and opportunities facing businesses in this region? In this month’s technology-focused issue, we turned to one of the Middle East’s foremost digital experts – Rabih Dabboussi, General Manager – UAE, Cisco, who assesses the evolving landscape…

Surviving in a digital economy
Rabih Dabboussi, General Manager – UAE, Cisco

We’ve seen that the digital revolution has happened. How can companies exploit this digital revolution?

Internet Technology has changed the way we work, live, play and learn. The power of the Internet has allowed us to do more things, from more places, faster and better. Computers, mobile devices, homes, cars, clothes, businesses and even cities are all being connected to the global network.

Digital revolution has the potential to reshape markets faster than perhaps any force in history. Organisations that do not drive their own digital business transformation will be left behind. Those that do will be pulled toward a ‘digital centre’ in which business models, offerings, and value chains are digitised, driving new revenue streams and substantive business outcomes.

As we move into an era of complete digitisation, where technology begins to connect everything from people, processes and data to things an era which we are calling the Internet of Things (IoT) today and the Internet of Everything (IoE) in the future – organisations will need to rethink how they approach national infrastructure on a grand scale. Digitisation has the potential to create sustainable and positive impact for every area of society. At its core, digitisation is the process of planning, and ultimately building, a sophisticated and forward-thinking IT network ecosystem that will allow for greater connectivity, productivity and security to drive this positive impact.

With the digital revolution, businesses are becoming more efficient, consumers are making better-informed decisions and whole industries are being transformed as the real impact of technology becomes clear. From healthcare to transport and beyond, the shift to digital ways of thinking is helping to streamline processes, remove inefficiency and create better experiences for patients, passengers and the general public alike.

In order to reap the utmost benefits from the IoT today and the IoE era of the future, organisations are going to need to adopt strategies to become fully digitised. According to Gartner, by 2020, 75 per cent of businesses globally will be a digital business or will be preparing to become one. While many organisations have digital business transformation initiatives planned or underway, Gartner predicts that only 30 per cent of these efforts will be successful due to lack of talent and technical expertise.

What impact has this had on organisations and their strategy?

Every market and every industry sector is moving from the Information Age to the digital age, and the pace of change is happening faster than ever before. Every country, city and company is realising they must transform to survive and thrive in this new era. This transition to the digital age calls for massive change – technological, organisational, cultural, and beyond. Organisations must be bold and have the courage to disrupt themselves in order to compete, or otherwise risk being left behind. Now, more than ever, organisations must reinvent themselves to embrace the opportunities that digitisation presents.

As digitisation accelerates, cutting edge infrastructure will increase a country’s GDP, reduce spending and create jobs. It is enabling new and diverse groups of entrepreneurs to build businesses that will shape the world, whilst providing more accessibility and opportunities for education and technology-based careers. As a result, it is ensuring that countries and organisations are becoming more competitive on the global stage.

Having the right digital ecosystem in place will be a necessity to achieve any of these things. It is Cisco’s goal to help organsations throughout the Middle East region to accelerate their plans to develop this ecosystem and remain competitive as the world transitions into this new digital era.

How can you define an integrated digital strategy? What are its benefits?

To really be ready for this digital transformation, organisations need to transform their business strategy and IT, connect everything, embrace analytics, and secure their technology and operations. Becoming a digital business requires an agile IT model, and the ability to rethink core processes for the digital era. Embracing new security, cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies required to fully digitise takes imagination, investment and expertise. The benefits of digitisation and connectivity will be enormous – greater efficiency and economy, better end-user experiences, greater usage of assets and clearer views of the business, but they will be constrained by a global talent gap in ICT unless the global community takes action to train and educate more people in the technical disciplines.

To achieve the immense business benefits afforded by digitisation, SMEs need a highly robust and secure network infrastructure. They need to converge unrelated networks, scale to meet increasing traffic demands, employ advanced data analytics and inspire a new class of intelligent applications to increase productivity without sacrificing security.

What, according to you, are key components of a digital strategy?

As mentioned previously, a digital strategy requires embracing an agile IT model, and the ability to rethink core processes for the digital era. Embracing new security, cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies required to fully digitise takes imagination, investment and expertise.

Cisco’s Digitisation Acceleration strategy is a long-term commitment to a partnership with national leadership, industry and academia to deliver real outcomes faster and more effectively.  It aims to accelerate the national digitisation agenda to grow GDP, create new jobs and invest in a sustainable innovation ecosystem across public and private sectors.

There is tremendous potential for Middle East organisations to build an effective ecosystem by becoming smart through digitisation. While the benefits are obvious and the need to transform is mandatory, the path is not easy. Organisations are looking to improve their profitability, reduce their spending and move with speed and agility in deploying new services. There is a significant push towards the cloud in terms of hosted and managed services as these provide customers with tremendous agility, along with lower risk and the ability to scale quickly.

In order for SMEs to develop business agility, they will need to deploy solutions to manage and store data in the cloud and data centre that can improve productivity and operational efficiency today, while laying the foundation for tomorrow’s IoT opportunities. With IoT, organisations can expect new operational efficiencies, improved safety and security, distributed intelligence and control, faster and better decision making and new business opportunities and revenue streams.

How can SMEs use technology to differentiate themselves in a market?

The IoT/IoE are offering a whole new level of opportunity for technology leadership for SMEs. IT will be in the spotlight to enable actionable information, build new connections and open new revenue streams for SME organisations throughout the Middle East region. As SMEs continue to invest in technology today and in the future, the implications will be transformational. Companies that digitise will be better positioned to unlock new revenue streams, provide better experiences, and create new operating models that will drive efficiency and value.

What is a digital business model? What are some of the opportunities it provides and challenges it poses?

The connection of devices, machines, and things allows small businesses to dynamically generate, analyse, and communicate intelligence data, increase operational efficiencies, and power new and greatly improved business models. The IoE is creating value by lowering costs, improving employee productivity, generating new revenue, and enhancing citizen benefits. For SMEs, the benefits include improvements in innovation, supply chain and asset utilisation.

To move faster and more efficiently, companies must shift their focus and build their business around mobile, cloud, social, data, and analytics. If companies don’t take advantage of these intelligent networks, it will inhibit their ability to move with the speed, scale, and security required. The pace of change is accelerating in every industry – success depends on companies’ ability to make the digital transformation and leverage new IT structures.

The opportunities of digitisation are enormous, but they will be constrained by a global talent gap in ICT unless the global community takes action to train and educate more people in the technical disciplines. Middle East governments need to deploy policy and training programmes to help solve the world’s fastest-growing gap in networking professionals.

What are some important factors that companies need to keep in mind moving forward (in the years to come)?

There is tremendous potential for Middle East organisations to build an effective ecosystem by becoming smart through digitisation. SMEs need to keep in mind the following in order to achieve short- and long-term success:

  1. Become a Digital Company

Digital transformation will enable them to innovate faster and achieve their desired business outcomes. Digitisation should be across technology (data), people, and processes. Data analytics will be an important element to ensure availability of high-quality, actionable, trusted, and complete data.

  1. Develop a Workforce for the Future

Must become agile enough to compete in the IoE era, where employees must possess an optimal mix of technical skills, industry knowledge and business acumen.

  1. Integrate IT and OT

Companies could improve end-to-end business efficiency when they integrate the IT and OT segments of business. They must begin to build a culture of communication, collaboration and coordination between these teams, strongly supported by company leadership.

  1. Ensure End-to-End Cybersecurity

To help mitigate cybersecurity risks, as well as prepare for future industry developments, companies need to put a strong security policy in place and deploy threat-centric security solutions that will help them gain visibility of the assets, protocols, users, applications and traffic patterns on the control network to develop a picture of what is “normal” for that environment. They need to classify assets and systems based upon their value to maintaining operations and build out defenses for the critical assets and systems first. Regularly test, review and update defenses and policies. Being “secure” is temporal, as threats and attack techniques constantly evolve. Therefore, defenses should be regularly tested and modified, as needed.

  1. Innovate for Growth

SMEs must always look beyond their horizons for opportunities to innovate and create growth.