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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Creating more data is key to success in MENA, Accenture exec says

Major firms are opening data centres in the region, allowing companies to focus on data creation rather than storage

Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive of Accenture Digital, sees very high degree of interest in AI in MENA region. Accenture
Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive of Accenture Digital, sees very high degree of interest in AI in MENA region. Accenture

Without more data, MENA companies will fail to get adequate value out of cutting-edge technologies like machine learning, the top executive of New York-listed IT firm Accenture said.

“There is a very high degree of interest in AI in [MENA]…but one of the difficult things in this region is access to enough data for machine learning purposes,” Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive of Accenture Digital, told The National. “There are smaller data sets here that too are fragmented. So sometimes it is difficult for machine learning to find out accurate results because of the dearth of local data.”

Machine learning is a kind of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that uses vast quantities of data to detect industry trends like consumers' shopping habits or preference towards a particular product or service, helping industries to hone in on tailored offerings for their clients.

The Middle East and Africa region’s investment in AI is forecast to reach $114.22 million by 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate of 32 per cent for the 2016-2021 period, according to the US research firm International Data Corporation.

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Mr Sutcliff, who traveled from Accenture’s Atlanta office to Dubai to attend the ongoing Gitex technology summit, said the region must focus more on establishing reliable data sources rather than on data centres, which are used to store saved information on massive servers.

“We have started seeing announcements by large data service providers like Microsoft that they will be offering their services in the region,” Mr Sutcliff said. “Therefore, local businesses do not need to focus much on having their own data centres but on more diverse and detailed data sets.”

In the past few months, top IT firms have announced opening data centres in the region.

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba, opened its first data centre in Dubai in November 2016 and announced plans to open its second this year.

Amazon Web Services has also signed an agreement with the Bahraini government to open at least three data centres by next year.

In March, Microsoft announced plans to open data centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, its first in the Middle East, as the software maker seeks to capitalise on the region’s growing demand for digitisation.

“Most technology services come from global providers like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon," Mr Sutcliff said, which presents a challenge because such firms typically have not set up facial recognition, video recognition and language translation software tailored to the region. This results in a delay, he said, where "most of the time, local communities have to spend extra time on training and advancements to make technology more native and make it more useful for the consumers”.

Mr Sutcliff said offering personalised solutions and services to customers could be a "game-changer" for MENA companies. But designing such capabilities requires an enormous amount of data and data analysis.

The biggest opportunities he sees for growth regionally are in education, healthcare and "citizen-centric" services, while financial services, industrial and oil and gas companies representing the three front-runners.

"We see a lot of interest among local leaders to find ways to bring digital to real life,” he said.