‘Modernized Saudi Arabia is hungry for latest technologies’

Updated 10 March 2013

‘Modernized Saudi Arabia is hungry for latest technologies’

The ICT (information and communication technology) is all set for a very positive growth, both in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. "We see a very positive growth, thanks to new technologies," Audai Altaie, regional head of enterprise business, Enterprise Business Group, MENA HQ of Samsung Electronics, told Khalil Hanware of Arab News in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of Samsung's recent MENA Forum 2013 in Dubai.
Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing markets in the region. "They are hungry for the latest technologies. Saudi Arabia is a very rich country and they are investing in their infrastructure, education sector, and in modernizing their streets and roads, and airports. They are acquiring the latest technologies and are building on them more and more," Altaie said.
The MENA region is a growing market for IT and the latest technologies. "The Internet penetration has also increased tremendously in the region. That is why we see huge growth in the ICT sector in the region," Altaie said.

Following are the excerpts from the interview:

What is your perception of the ICT sector in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region?
We see a very positive growth. Whether in Saudi Arabia or in the MENA region, it is growing. If you look at the past few years, the growth is very steady and positive. We believe it will continue growing with the new technology that Samsung is offering. Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing markets in the region. They are hungry for the latest technologies. Saudi Arabia is a very rich country and they are investing in the infrastructure of the country. They are investing in their education sector, they are investing in government, they are investing in modernizing their streets and roads, and airports. They are acquiring the latest technologies and are building on it more and more. The MENA region is a growing market for ICT and the latest technology. The Internet penetration has also increased tremendously in the region. That is why we see huge growth in the ICT sector in the region.

How are new social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus contributing to the development of communication technology in the Gulf and worldwide?
With the Internet, the center of our modern lifestyle, we see the Middle East's huge population is using social media every day. It is growing and what is happening is the news going across through social network services is one of the ways of communication with each other. The numbers are growing dramatically in the past few years. Which is great for us because Samsung is the leader in providing the tools for your Internet access, whether it is Tablet or Notebook or mobile. They are all connected to the Internet. Even printers are connected to the Internet now. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Google are very effective. That is why we are integrating them in our latest devices. This trend is happening in the market so we make it very easy for customers to use within our devises.

How can SMEs benefit from new trends in ICT? What are your suggestions?
As you know, new trends are being witnessed around the world, and coming here in the MENA region is new consumerization of the companies. What we mean is putting consumer products inside the SMEs such as new phrases like 'Bring your own device' and 'We will connect to you.' Also, we believe soon we are going to say 'Bring your Notebook and we will connect to you.' This is making the companies not to get stuck to one vendor or one contract but actually to be open to every one. I believe this will help a lot of companies in the region and it is not going to be monopolized.

What obstacles, if any, do you see for the growth of business innovation and private enterprises in the region?
Actually I see a very positive growth. I don't see any obstacles that I think of. There were obstacles when the economy collapsed around 2009 but now you see the business is growing. Everything is positive and the nice thing is that we are bringing a lot of new innovations, a lot of new technologies for the region that will help and develop their business and even boost their performance.

What is your advice for youngsters in Saudi Arabia who want to pursue a career in ICT? What are the success tips?
First and foremost is education. Because education is their tool to face the world. Second, look at the new and emerging trends as there are lots of new trends unfolding. They have to look at the new trends and learn from them, and see what are the benefits of these trends. Third, talk to the people who have been very successful in the region and learn from them and ask questions. Be proactive and not reactive and just wait. If you want to succeed in your life you have to work really hard and learn, learn, learn.... The more you learn, the higher is your education, the more you know how to face the world and you know how to accept the technology and improve on it and build on it.

There are some concerns over the threats posed by hackers to regional industries and businesses. How can this issue be tackled and what are the possible safeguards?
Basically with the hackers there are two sections - the hackers and the security systems. My recommendation is check all your systems and prevent any holes you have in your system with the latest technology that can prevent hacking wherever the system exists. And remove all vulnerability and upgrade your system with the latest in software.

‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

Updated 26 May 2018

‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

Tom Fletcher might be best described as “the anti-diplomat.” Not in the sense that he sees no value in diplomacy, but in his steadfast refusal to live up to the stereotype expected of the ambassadorial profession.
While British ambassador in Beirut, he tweeted his way to acceptance by his hosts with an informal style and social accessibility that was in distinct contrast to the stuffy image of the traditional diplomatic circuit.
He told the BBC that there was not a single Ferrero Rocher in the embassy building — referring to the chocolates jokingly associated with the job after a 1990s TV commercial — and his “Dear Lebanon” farewell blog in 2015 after four years in the job boosted his broad international online appeal.
Now, Fletcher is running a portfolio of careers in the space where business, technology and public policy intersect. He is a visiting professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi, specializing in international relations, and is also involved with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, the “ambassadors’ finishing school” in the UAE capital.
The former envoy is also chairman of the international board of the UK’s Creative Industries Federation and a member of the United Nations’ Global Tech Panel, as well as continuing a career as a successful author. His book “The Naked Diplomat” explored the interactions between governments, technology and big business, and became an international bestseller.
His experience and Internet renown make him a star attraction on the international forums circuit. He was on a panel in Dubai recently to discuss the findings of the 10th Arab Youth Survey, and afterwards went into some detail on the findings of the poll, which showed — alarmingly for some — that the US was waning in popularity in the region under President Trump and that Russia was increasingly regarded as a friend for young people in the Middle East.
Fletcher told Arab News that there was some reason to be worried about those findings, but also cause for optimism. “We have seen a striking fall in reputation among young people in the region since the US elections. But it was also worth noting the wider admiration for the American people as a whole, which looks quite resilient.
“The Russia results were interesting, because Russia has not always been a stabilizing force in the region. On Trump, they are further confirmation that the election of the leader of the free world created a vacuum. But the lights will eventually come back on in the shining city on a hill,” he said.
The survey seemed also to reveal a generational split in the Arab world, with many youngsters demonstrably not sharing their elders’ view of the US president. “I think that the region has access to the same information as the rest of us, and can take from it a pretty clear assessment of Donald Trump’s reliability. There are clearly some areas of alignment with some countries, such as the rejection of the Iran deal. But the survey shows that people across the region also hear the Trump administration’s wider messaging on the Middle East,” Fletcher said.
The Iranian situation was clearly on his mind, but he said there were alternatives to an escalating confrontation between the US and the Gulf states on the one hand, and the regime in Tehran on the other. “Wherever you stand on the Iran deal, its violation is a concern for regional security. The issue we have to ask ourselves is ‘what is the alternative for restraining Iran’s nuclear potential?’ Personally, I haven’t seen a better answer to that than the existing Iran agreement.
“Of course, the Iran deal in itself isn’t sufficient in reacting to Iran’s wider regional role, not least in Syria. But I worry that it is the hard-liners in Tel Aviv and Tehran who seem keenest to end the agreement,” he said.
A lot of his time in Beirut was spent dealing with the regional fallout from the Syrian crisis, which started just as he began the ambassador’s job. Surely, seven years on and with no solution in sight, that represents a failure of traditional diplomacy?
Fletcher’s response was, well, diplomatic. “Not all has failed. Huge effort has gone into keeping Lebanon relatively stable, despite the scale of the Syria crisis just across the border. Diplomacy has failed on Syria and on Palestine/Israel. But George Mitchell (the American politician credited with helping bring about an end to the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1990s) said that making peace was 700 days of failure and one of success. We have no choice but to keep trying, and to work harder than those who want to see diplomacy continue to stumble,” he said.
Fletcher’s work in the Gulf has enabled him to take a broad overview of developments in the region, and there is no more intriguing situation than in Saudi Arabia, which is going through a rapid transformation of the economy and society under the Vision 2030 strategy. “I think there has been a shift in international opinion on Vision 2030 over the last year. Initially many were curious, and conscious of the obstacles.
“But there is now a growing realization of how important a reform agenda is, especially if it succeeds in creating more opportunity for young people, including women. We all should hope it succeeds — I think it can, but will need maximum involvement of citizens themselves in shaping an open approach,” he said.
Fletcher also has a clear view of the kind of socioeconomic order that will emerge from the transformational policies of regional leaders.
“The Gulf has clearly realized that there is a need to move away from oil dependency well before the oil runs out. The answer has to lie in a knowledge economy. I’m heartened by the kinds of issues that my students at NYU AD want to work on and pioneer. And by the government focus on themes like wellbeing and education reform.
“Twenty-first century skills will need to be at the heart of the school curriculum, with learners encouraged to be curious, to seek out sources of knowledge and wonder, and to learn teamworking and innovation. This is happening increasingly in the larger cities, but there is still work to be done to mainstream knowledge, skills and character in education systems,” he said.
With the power of Big Data coming under scrutiny as never before in cases such as the controversy over Facebook’s role in the political process in the US and elsewhere, Fletcher’s work for the UN is more relevant than ever, and he believes there is a big role for the Gulf states to play in that debate.
“The Middle East needs to ensure it is better represented in the international architecture. It needs to be a key part of the debate about security and liberty online — the UAE Artificial Intelligence Minister (Omar Bin Sultan Al-Olama) is a great example of this. And it needs to help get everyone on to a free Internet,” he said.
Before entering the diplomatic service, Fletcher was an adviser on foreign policy to three British prime ministers, which gives him a unique perspective on the big current issue in the UK — the increasingly bitter process of leaving the EU, or Brexit.
The search for new trading partners has seen a succession of British ministers visiting the Gulf region in a bid to clinch new business. Fletcher does not share the view of some that the UK is destined for insularity and isolation in the post-Brexit world.
“The UK is going through a complex process, but it is always at its best when it has a worldview formed from having actually viewed the world. When it is open minded, outward looking. When it stands for more liberty — rights, trade, thought.
“The creative industries are already showing the way. And the royal wedding was a brilliant reminder of what the UK can be — diverse, modern, self-aware, creative. We all badly needed that reminder,” he said.
Fletcher was the youngest person ever to get a major ambassadorial post, and seems well set to pursue a handsomely paid career in virtually any sector, from international policy-making, to domestic UK politics or the private sector.
But he still regards himself as a diplomat with a creative twist. “I still write diplomat on the landing cards in planes.” And there is a second book in the works, he revealed: “I’ve just finished a murder novel, featuring an ambassador detective,” he said.
It is doubtful there will be a Ferrero Rocher mentioned in the book.