An Egyptian company helps local businesses adopt AI

An Egyptian company helps local businesses adopt AI
Cairo-based digital transformation firm Synapse Analytics has been exploring AI’s benefits in market sectors ranging from robotics to banking. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 December 2019

An Egyptian company helps local businesses adopt AI

An Egyptian company helps local businesses adopt AI
  • AI is expected to make an economic contribution of $320bn by 2030 in the MENA region
  • Cairo-based venture experimenting with integration of AI in a variety of sectors

CAIRO: An Egyptian technology business is aiming to help regional enterprises benefit from the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI is being relentlessly integrated into the fundamentals of business and everyday life, demonstrating exceptional potential for boosting the global economy.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the new technology is expected to make an economic contribution of $320 billion (SR1.2 trillion) by 2030, with gains expanding annually by between 20 percent and 34 percent.

Saudi Arabia is forecast to be the chief beneficiary of this trend as it adds an estimated $135.2 billion to its gross domestic product, with the Neom smart city project being a clear sign of the Kingdom’s commitment to technology and AI.

On the other hand, there has never been a more controversial time for AI, not just in the region but also around the globe.

While companies are excited to explore its use to obtain insights that can help them transform their products and services, employees are fearful of losing their jobs to AI-powered bots.

“AI is trendy now, and there are so many talks and events about it, (but) many executives might agree that despite all the interest, tangible business results are scarce,” said Ahmed Abaza, co-founder and CEO of Synapse Analytics, an Egyptian digital transformation company helping businesses adopt AI solutions.

Founded in January 2018 by 29-year-old Abaza and Galal El-Beshbishy, 24, the Cairo-based venture has been experimenting with a variety of market sectors — from robotics to banking — and utilizing AI for everything, from image tracking and analysis to business analytics.

The company’s ultimate goal is to revisit how AI could be Incorporated within enterprises. In spite of an influx of funds into AI business adoption, Abaza believes that firms can easily fall victim to the powerful hype surrounding the technology instead of making results-driven investments.

Dr. Mark Esposito, the instructor of Harvard’s two-day intensive AI in Business program, shares this view, with one publication quoting him as saying that “the low-hanging fruit is recognizing where in the value chain (companies) can improve operations. AI does not start with AI. It starts at the company level.”

However, this is not the only challenge for the region’s AI sector. Many executives that Synapse Analytics worked with could not understand the potential of the technology.

“Pitching that we could save 15 percent of their working capital using AI seemed too good to be true,” said Abaza.

IT personnel were not exposed to much AI, either, which made them demand extensive testing and led to project delays.

Finding and maintaining talent was another challenge for the fledgling industry.

Abaza said that a good AI engineer was a person with comprehensive knowledge across multiple domains, including software development, IT, statistics and mathematics, plus a hefty dose of business acumen.

Synapse Analytics currently has a team of more than 30 employees, all from highly diversified backgrounds.

“Retaining these talents in the Egyptian market could be a bit challenging since competent AI engineers and data scientists are in huge demand globally,” Abaza added.

To make it easier for businesses to tap into AI, the company is transforming the services it offers into products.

The first one, Azka Vision, is an AI suite designed to collect data from surveillance cameras and CCTVs to provide material for actionable insights.

Two more products are expected to launch soon, including Azka Analytics, an end-to-end supply chain optimization platform using AI that will help companies cut operational costs.

According to Abaza, Synapse Analytics is a profitable operation with a range of local and international clients across the retail, fashion, and finance industries.

His aim is for the company to become a big data and AI lab not only for businesses but for economies, too.

•  This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 

 


Music business: Is musical talent the new commodity?

Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Updated 13 min 3 sec ago

Music business: Is musical talent the new commodity?

Shakira (L) signed the rights of her music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund and in recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
  • What does this new way of doing business mean for the music industry?

BERN: Monetization of an artist’s craft has always been a tricky issue. It is also a bifurcated one: Very few top names earn big money and the vast majority just get by, if even that.

That holds true in all art forms, but particularly in the music industry. In 2017 the top 1 percent of recording artists dominated income in all categories — 78 percent of music sales, 68 percent of live performances, and 56 percent of merchandise.

Very few recording artists operate at that level. The chosen few have recently started taking control of their future earnings power by signing mega deals on their music rights. In recent months Bob Dylan sold the rights to 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMG) in a deal believed to be worth more than $300 million.

Others have followed. Shakira, Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, Debbie Harry, and Mark Ronson signed the rights to all or part of their music titles to Hipgnosis Songs Fund. This catapulted Hipgnosis, which was founded and is run by former Elton John manager Merck Mecuriadis, into the super league when it comes to buying rights and providing upfront liquidity to the stars of the music business.

It is a win-win move for both parties allowing the artist to capitalize on their name recognition while they are on top of their game, while ideally constituting little risk for the music publishers, because they only choose musicians whose name recognition they expect to be of enduring quality.

The risk, which looks manageable, is taken by the publisher, which is different to the Bowie bonds of the late 1990s, which were self-liquidating debt instruments with a 10-year tenor that used future revenues of the recording asset as collateral.

In both cases the artist aimed to monetize future revenue streams rolling the risk of future performance onto an end-investor, which in the case of Bowie was the general public who decided to invest in the bonds and in the case of the recent transactions a music publisher taking on equity risk.

Hipgnosis, which has become a force to be reckoned with thanks to these transactions, has been doing something right for some time. It floated on the London stock exchange in 2018, immediately reaching a market cap of £1.25 billion ($1.71 billion). Its revenues for the first six months of 2020 reached £50 billion.

The deals constitute tremendous earnings power for the company — as long as the popularity of songs and artists remain, which is a portfolio risk because the company signed on several artists.

What does this new way of doing business mean for the music industry? It turns a few names into a sought-after bankable commodity, leaving the rest of the pack behind with no negating, and very little, earnings power.

This phenomenon always existed but was exacerbated when the importance of streaming services for distributing music rose, because Apple, Amazon, and Spotify markedly tilted the earnings power in favor of the publishers rather than the artists.

Taylor Swift fought against that trend in 2018, when her condition to sign on with UMG was that the publisher shared the proceeds of the sale of its Spotify stake with all the artists. This was remarkable, because Swift did not just optimize her own earnings but allowed the company’s whole stable of artists to share in the windfall.

For the smaller artists, earning money has not become any easier since then. It also had its pitfalls for the superstars. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with its restrictions on live performances, has taken a further toll on the industry.

In that sense the recent deals allow the artists to take their mind off new earnings structures, as the industry is dealing with the vagaries of a pandemic while new forms of disseminating music evolve. The superstars can now focus on their craft — or whatever else takes their fancy.

The question remains, what this means for the great masses of lesser-known or unknown artists and how they can earn a living? Most great names have started small. Will this new way of financing the top 1 percent help or hinder smaller artists to develop into the next Shakira or Neil Diamond while they struggle to keep body and soul together lacking any bargaining power?

The new deals are great for the top 1 percent of artists and for the publishers. These deals are a real win-win for stars and publishers. They are big business with a capital B.

  • Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources