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

  • 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. 


Iranian oil in perfect storm of storage shortage, low demand, sanctions

Updated 12 min 24 sec ago

Iranian oil in perfect storm of storage shortage, low demand, sanctions

  • Coronavirus, US economic action sees inventories reach bursting point

LONDON: Iranian oil production has reached its lowest point in almost four decades, according to industry experts, with the country’s storage facilities fast approaching full capacity.

The news comes amid a dip in Iran’s oil exports due to a crash in global demand, and in a period when its refineries have been hampered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

With over 11,000 confirmed fatalities, Iran has suffered the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, affecting all areas of industry. 

This has created a perfect storm for the country’s vital oil sector, with what little selling ability it has further disrupted by sanctions imposed by the US in 2018 following Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran’s total liquid production dropped from 3.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in March this year to 3 million bpd in June, according to FGE Energy, which predicts that the figure will drop by an additional 100,000 bpd in July.

Crude production was as low as 1.9 million bpd in June, the lowest since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1981.

Exports also fell, with estimates varying depending on source — 100,000 bpd in May according to market intelligence firm Kpler, and around 210,000 bpd according to FGE — well under 10 percent of the 2.5 million bpd Iran exported in April 2018.

Iran’s onshore crude stocks, meanwhile, hit 63 million barrels in June, having been just 15 million barrels in January, according to FGE.

Kpler said Iran averaged 66 million barrels in storage throughout June, meaning that around 85 percent of the country’s total onshore storage capacity was full.

“However, it will technically not be possible to fill tanks to 100 percent, given technical constraints at storage tanks and potential infrastructure bottlenecks,” Homayoun Falakshahi, a senior analyst at Kpler, told Reuters.

Offshore the story is much the same, with options running out fast. Iran has 54 crude oil tankers, according to valuations specialist VesselsValue, and is thought to be using around 30 ships, mainly supertankers with a maximum capacity of 2 million barrels of oil each, to store over 50 million barrels of crude and condensate.

“The exact number of Iranian vessels on floating storage is a bit of a black box as they have all turned off their AIS (tracking transponder) signals,” said a spokesman for shipping group NORDEN.

“Storage is expected to continue as we do not see these vessels being able to trade anytime soon.”

The Iranian-American Harvard analyst Dr. Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News: “Thanks to the re-imposition of sanctions against Tehran by the Trump administration, the regime seems to have suffered a significant loss of revenue.
“Iran’s oil revenues and exports have been steadily declining since President Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and adopted a policy of ‘maximum pressure.’

“Consequently, the flow of funds to the Iranian regime has been cut off, thwarting the Iranian leaders’ efforts to fund and sponsor Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and various terror groups.”