Trescon got in touch with JK Khalil, General Manager of Mastercard Saudi Arabia, who talked about the need for businesses to let go of their apprehensions when it came to embracing digital transformation.
1. Big Data and Digital Transformation are hot topics nowadays, how do you see them? In your opinion what are the main trends that are shaping the future of Big Data Analytics in the Kingdom?
It’s difficult to imagine any organization that will not be impacted by digital transformation. Whether it is because digitization has the ability to reinvent existing business models or those that embrace digitization will realize the cost and the benefits it will bring. Ultimately the risks of inaction are too great to ignore.
I see the explosion of data as a subset of digital transformation. As we become software-enabled and technology dependent, we can expect a massive amount of data to be generated on a massive scale as a consequence. There are extremely valuable hidden insights in this data and it may also have amazing derivative value. Those that leverage data in ways such as these can create advantages for their enterprise. We must begin thinking about digital transformation and business analytics as the norm, instead of an exception.
As such, we see the role of Big Data as the new oil that will fuel new innovations, new opportunities across the economic, cultural and societal domains in the Kingdom. Data is a limitless resource – coming in all shapes and sizes. Nearly 50 percent of the world’s population is online and there is an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that is being generated by IoT every day – that’s 18 zeroes! Interoperable ecosystems are the key to enhancing data flows. And ensuring data is clean, safe and used responsibly.
2. Big Data has become one of the biggest buzzwords in technology, yet it is misunderstood in many cases. In your opinion, what are the myths attached to Big Data and how is it affecting the overall understanding of the concept?
Big data gives insights and informs organizations about the vast sets of customer behaviors; it helps in predicting when machines will malfunction; it helps airline pilots in making course corrections so that passengers don’t have a bumpy flight; it enables cars to drive themselves; it enables physicians to make a better diagnosis; and it helps farmers harvest more productive crops. Big data is no myth. It’s the real deal.
What I will agree with is that while big data is a really big deal, not many organizations are investing as they should in cleansing, transforming and enriching their data to enhance them in order to turn raw data into a real gold mine.
To combat any notion of big data as a hype, every organization needs to understand the core business they are in, focus on the essentials and the unique elements of their own data and look to enrich it with strategic data partnerships. This allows a merchant working with a bank to identify the various behaviors of various segments of the population when it comes to spending on staples vs. discretionary goods, or allows a government to understand where their tourists and visitors are coming from and where they spend their money, and so on and so forth.
3. Nowadays E-government, M-government, and analytics are growing at a remarkable pace in the region. How is it affecting the industry? Can you name other developments that are still not very familiar to the sector?
I’m pleased to see more governments in every part of the region begin to see the value in bringing more digitization into their operations and adopt Smart Government practices with more readiness than ever before. Governments are focusing on digital solutions to enhance customer experience, sourcing and procurement and increase in inter-connectivity between public sector entities, as well as enhance public-private collaborations as well.
These solutions, increasingly provided on mobile devices are remarkably diverse. For example, in India, they are helping with expanding healthcare to rural areas while in Africa, mobile apps help in supporting micro-businesses and providing e-government services, such as the case with Huduma in Kenya. E-government and M-government, in particular, is expanding its outreach to communities that had historically been separated by distance and lack of connectivity before. Now technology is bringing solutions and services when and where they need it, reducing the financial inclusion gap that exists in various economies.
Adoption of e-government drives sustainable development and also creates more big data that enables and supports better policy making and regulation. For instance, Saudi Customs is the second largest revenue stream for the Saudi government and digitizing the end-to-end process would tremendously boost efficiencies and minimize leakage and cumbersome paperwork.
We’re still not in a place where this is yet to become the mainstream, but we are not very far from it either. So my advice for every government is to put in place an aggressive strategy for both E-government and M-government and then work tirelessly to execute it. Our communities are waiting. And the opportunities awaiting them from revenue growth, reduction of cost, increase of economic efficiency and citizen happiness are all at stake!
4. Digital transformation in the Middle East region is facing many challenges when it comes to implementation. Can you please name some of them and elaborate on the best ways to address them?
Digital transformation seems to be a big hairy topic that business people are still somewhat suspicious about, while IT stakeholders are wary of adopting it due to the huge incremental workload it will pile up to their already clogged pipelines. For too many people, it seems challenging, and too abstract and complex to either define or execute. From that angle, our experience with innovation internally and also externally, and based on over 200 digital innovation related exercises globally, is that it’s also about simplification. When you break down the innovation process into simple and specific components, instead of creating large out of focus agendas that with no scope, innovation becomes much easier to qualify, quantify and execute.
The second challenge is monetary. Changing business models cost money. There is inherent risk in that. Organizations are going to need to figure out where to place their bets. Some choices will be obvious like ensuring your organization’s products and services are accessible via a smartphone. Others like the use of voice recognition or artificial intelligence will be more difficult choices. Some organizations will get lucky with their investments, but many will fail to try. At any rate, it’s always important to simplify and scope down the challenge in a clear and specific problem statement, clearly articulate the success criteria, as well as the ultimate behaviors and benefits that will translate into a convincing business case. Once that is sorted, it becomes beneficial for businesses to understand what they are trying to solve and what its financial benefits are. It also becomes easy for IT or digital teams to manage in a short span, rather than a long-winded multi-year engagement with no end in sight.
The third and last challenge is about skill sets. Digital transformation and our data needs require experts with top-notch skills. Many of the needs ahead of us are new and so the skills our organizations have today won’t serve us in the future. Instead of trying to go at this challenging task alone, many organizations had better define their objectives and identify the problems they want to solve and engage the experts who are more capable and better tested in the realm of innovation ideation and execution. Understanding when to be inclusive and when to out-source is the key to ensure digital transformation roadmaps don’t become another internal 2-year engagement running at the same slow pace of a core system upgrade or a database migration.
In Saudi Arabia, Big Data technologies will be one of the fundamental enablers for the success of Vision 2030 since data will power the Kingdom’s blueprint for the future, creating new opportunities, expanding the economy and transforming society, which are key objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030. Another goal is to increase investments in and lead digital economy through technology.
The Saudi government is also seeking private sector partnerships to develop the telecoms and IT infrastructure. Saudi’s $500 billion plan to build a business and industrial zone that links with Jordan and Egypt – NEOM, is a monumental example of the government’s deliberate approach to achieving the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.