Using Technology To Break Down Barriers To Change

Blog Post • Suparno Banerjee, Vice-President Healthcare and Public Sector at HPE

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Technology is an enabler; it helps create jobs, break down barriers to entry and barriers to scaling up

The Middle East's reliance on oil for its wealth can hardly be overstressed. In pursuit of a sustainable long-term economic development, diversification for the region is a highly desirable aim - but how can it be achieved? One key requirement is innovation, and one of the vehicles to achieve it is the growing contribution of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and micro-enterprises to Middle East and North Africa's (MENA) national and regional economies.

According to statistics from the World Bank, SMBs generate revenue and GDP six times faster than larger businesses and create jobs four times quicker. In fact, more than 100,000 new SMBs have been established in the UAE in the past three years, and the sector has the potential to add US$100 billion to regional GDP and generate up to two million jobs in the GCC in the near future. This presents a strong case for MENA to start thinking about these businesses as the real key to harnessing economic disruption for the good of all.

Spearheading change and the local economy is not an easy feat - but, as with so many of the challenges we face today, a large part of the puzzle can be solved through technological innovation. SMBs are required to be much more nimble, agile and responsive than larger businesses; these qualities have defined their appeal and success. Yet one of the impediments to any business incoming into this dynamic market is the challenge of addressing digital transformation. Continuous digitization of multiple aspects of business, intensified competition, discerning customers, and increasing need for high quality talent is disrupting the way SMBs operate. In a global study of more than 3,000 SMBs conducted by analyst firm IDC, 39% of respondents said active participation in the digital economy will be essential to their company's survival.

Too often people think of technology as a cost or efficiency driver, but in so many cases that is far from the truth. Technology is an enabler; it helps create jobs, break down barriers to entry and barriers to scaling up. This is why despite the challenges, the opportunity for SMBs to embrace technology and change the way they do business, connect with customers, drive profits and innovate has never been greater. Digital platforms can be a catalyst here - using them can open up new opportunities for these groups throughout the MENA region and help them navigate a digital transformation journey that will allow them to transition easily into the digital world. Digital platforms will need to be designed in an open, collaborative, and partner-centric way, which will help SMBs simplify and accelerate access to key services - like cloud computing - that will help them lead in the game of economic change.

An example of such a digital platform is HPE's Cloud28+. This is an open community with hundreds of cloud service providers, cloud resellers, ISVs, system integrators and government entities dedicated to accelerating enterprise cloud adoption. The community model provides ideal search and sorting functionalities to connect end customers with HPE partners - benefiting both and accelerating business deals. Cloud28+ users are privy to an expansive catalogue of cloud services, thought leadership, and a diverse community of providers and customers sharing advice, building solutions, and chronicling shared successes. Solution providers are introduced to an interactive space that can bring them tailored connections with customer leads that are a great fit. This kind of collaboration helps grow the market - in fact, something very similar could be developed specifically for the unique needs of the MENA region. It would require the help of government agencies to initiate, act as aggregator or facilitator, and perhaps even participate by offering some of their services through the platform, leading the way and inspiring others through their own actions.

Imagine an open community where people can network, make new business connections, easily search a diverse catalogue of approved suppliers and their offerings, build and consume cloud-based services, and download and deploy applications to help serve the needs of their customers. Essentially an "app store" for public sector and commercial business applications, this portfolio of services would serve both government and citizens, providing value added services with opportunities for solution providers to design, develop and market complete, innovative solutions that meet needs of all stakeholders and complement services provided by government agencies.

Such an undertaking would create significant numbers of new jobs and would allow SMBS to participate in the value chain in several ways:

 

  • In the development of new solutions or service delivery, hence increasing the competitiveness of IT in the region.
  • In case of curated applications (e.g. for social services or other services regulated by the government), accredited SMB's can play the role of solution or service assessors to ensure that these comply with regulations.

 

Change at the scale we're talking about here cannot be driven by any one party in isolation, no matter what resources are committed. Initiatives will need inclusivity at their core and targeted investments in key areas to help achieve real change.

With a combination of the right digital platform, a new mindset open to change, and supportive institutions, and the right set of supporting regulations, the MENA region can accelerate its transformation into an inclusive, collaborative, and truly digital regional economy - less reliant on oil - which will be generating opportunities for all.

As our CEO, Meg Whitman said in Davos earlier this year, "technology is about opening doors to make new things possible", and if we're proactive and open to new approaches, it can help us bring about real change.

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