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The Swedish company Ericsson says improved broadband penetration benefits a country's economy and that for every 1 per cent broadband penetration, its GDP grows by 0.1 per cent. Antonie Robertson / The National
The Swedish company Ericsson says improved broadband penetration benefits a country's economy and that for every 1 per cent broadband penetration, its GDP grows by 0.1 per cent. Antonie Robertson / The National

UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia lead way in e-government solutions

Governments in the region are driving the development and uptake of ever-more sophisticated e-government solutions and the sector is only set to grow.

The connected society is one that many countries are now striving for.

Many of the region's governments have recognised IT as a necessity to improve and sustain an economy and a robust infrastructure where communication takes place with speed and ease is fundamental to enabling this goal.

This has led to numerous information and communications (ICT) initiatives, especially within government and many countries in the Middle East are taking advantage of the lack of legacy issues by leapfrogging to the latest technologies and investing in the latest infrastructure.

"IT investment in the Middle East is going well. The situation is very positive especially in the GCC. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done extremely well in investment and focus on IT," says Biswajeet Mahapatra, the research director at Gartner.

"We see the momentum going forward in the next one or two years. The majority of the investment is coming from the governments."

Governments keen on taking their services and departments online in e-government initiatives are one of the main drivers of this investment as they look to enhance their infrastructure. The UAE has launched numerous mobile-enabling and e-applications for various government activities. Large conglomerates that are also adopting the latest technologies are also helping to drive investment.

"One of the great things about the technology industry is the constant change and developments new IT innovations bring. The Middle East, as a region, has seen a lot of development within the IT sector, namely enhanced infrastructure and connectivity," says Samer Abu-Latif, the regional general manager at Microsoft Gulf. "The regional IT trends that have emerged mirror the global trends."

The need for a robust economy is not the only driver of this growth in connectivity. Consumer demand has helped to push development in this sector. The GCC has some of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world. The mobile phone market is so saturated it exceeds 200 per cent in some countries.

"The ICT sector in the Middle East has been growing significantly in the past few years due to high subscription rates, the increasing demand for mobile data, the intense competition and dynamic demographics of the region," says Victoria Strand, the president of Ericsson GCC.

"The region has seen the swift adoption of new technologies such as long-term evolution [LTE, also known as 4G]."

According to the Swedish telecoms vendor Ericsson, for every 1 per cent of mobile broadband penetration in a country, GDP grows by 0.1 per cent. Doubling the speed of mobile broadband raises GDP growth to 0.3 per cent and quadrupling the speed raises GDP growth by 0.6 per cent.

The company has over the past few years been promoting the concept of a "networked society" believing everything that can benefit from being connected will eventually be connected.

The company believes by 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices around the world.

"We are working together with our partners to bring the 'networked society' to life by helping operators rethink how to perfect the delivery of broadband services through existing and new network assets," says Ms Strand.

"We will continue to work this year to strengthen the three main enablers for the networked society that we are building in this region."

These enablers are mobility, to help people stay connected at any time, in any place and on any device. The second is broadband, to develop faster internet connections and finally cloud computing, which will enable access to data from any location.

"We still define Mena [Middle East and North Africa] as an emerging market. What you see here, especially in some of the big countries is that the people are very technologically savvy," says Oliver Ebel, the vice-president and general manager at Lenovo Middle East and Africa.

"They take up new technologies very fast and it is interesting to see tablets and smartphones will play a big role. For many, it will be the first device they use."

More than 90 per cent of organisations expect to spend money on mobile devices this year, while half of them expect to use social networking apps internally. The proliferation of mobile devices will enhance the need for greater flexibility and better connection.

"Whether it be from a hardware or software perspective, the ever-evolving working environment means that employees want to have access to core business tools no matter where they happen to be working from. This will impact the IT sector in how people and businesses remain connected, raising enhanced opportunities for cloud-based apps," says Mr Abu-Latif.

According to Forrester, enterprise adoption of public cloud computing is expected to exceed 30 per cent by the end of this year

"The cloud can also improve the economics of IT for companies and governments as well as provide greater flexibility and responsiveness. The cloud can also enable entirely new business models, including all kinds of pay-as-you-go service models," says Mr Abu-Latif.

While many in the region are quick to adopt the latest technologies, the lack of reliable vendors or lack of services is holding many back.

"Certain stuff like the public cloud have not been readily adopted. Many say they want to adopt the public cloud, but there are not enough reliable or established vendors. Some services are not available so that is a challenge for some of the CIOs [chief information officers] in the region," says Mr Mahapatra.

A skills shortage is also another obstacle facing the region as a whole.

"There is a huge amount of change happening in the IT sector. These new technologies and processes will need the right people and getting the right talent is going to be challenge going forward," says Mr Mahapatra.

The sector needs continued investment, not just from the government and large organisations, but a ripple effect is needed from the top to smaller and medium sized businesses (SMBs) to sustain the momentum.

"Applications continue to be a strong growth market and with a region that is incredibly rich in entrepreneurialism and SMBs, the apps sector is one that presents immense opportunity," says Mr Abu-Latif.

"The influence of social and the impact it can have on business, particularly a business that relies on the ability to be flexible and engaged with its specific stakeholders is significant."

 

thamid@thenational.ae

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