Milken Abu Dhabi forum hears why big data is a big deal

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Hussain Sajwani
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Jonathan Goldstein, CEO of Cain International said: “What we are finding across our business is that by using data sensibly, we are able to understand want our customers want, what they look for.”
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Updated 13 February 2020

Milken Abu Dhabi forum hears why big data is a big deal

  • Damac’s founder says new technologies being used by firm for customer relations and sales
  • CEO of Cain International says firms must reflect mindset of millennial customer base

ABU DHABI: Property companies should use technology to stay in touch with a fast-changing market or risk being left behind, an Abu Dhabi forum heard.
“The ability to access data is essential,” Jonathan Goldstein, CEO of Cain International, a private real-estate investment firm, told the first day of the Milken Institute’s 2020 Middle East and Africa summit.
Speaking in a session titled “Being the disruptor, not the disrupted: Innovators shaping real estate,” Goldstein said: “What we are finding across our business is that by using data sensibly, we are able to understand what our customers want, what they look for.”
He said that millennials, who make up a quarter of the global population, “look at the world differently.”
“We need to reflect that mindset,” he said.
Referring to the role of data and modern technologies in the real-estate industry, Goldstein said the more a company knows its customers, the better its chances of success. 
Hussain Sajwani, founder and chairman of Dubai-listed Damac Properties, told the forum that the company has been aggressive in incorporating technology in its operations.




Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak, group CEO and managing director of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. (Milken Institute)


“We have been going digital. We are moving very fast in adopting new technologies for customer relations and for sales,” he said.
Sajwani said that technology has given Damac a greater understanding of its clients, allowing it to focus its spending strategy on customer acquisition and retention.
Only 1 percent of spending last year went on TV ads, while 90 percent went toward digital expenses, he said.
“A lot of companies are going through disruptions. The risk is very high,” Sajwani said, adding that some retailers have gone bankrupt because of their inability to compete with the technology-driven rise of e-commerce.
While physical assets are still important, their value can be enhanced through the application of technology for sales and customer relations, Sajwani said.
“It is amazing how big Damac’s data is for us to be able to monetize it in the interest of the company and customers ... but not to sell to third parties,” he said.
Sajwani’s comments came as Damac reported its first full-year loss in almost a decade and a 28 percent drop in revenue.
Full-year revenue fell to $1.2 billion, Damac said, as it “selectively launched fewer projects in softer market conditions to avoid adding new commitments and focus on selling complete and near completion inventory.”
Banks in the UAE are bracing for more write-downs from the real-estate sector amid a downturn, especially in the Dubai property market.
Fitch Ratings recently said that a weakening property market is likely to put more pressure on the asset quality of the UAE banking sector.
 


Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

Updated 22 October 2020

Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

  • The problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year in Morocco

RABAT: Two years of drought have drained reservoirs in southern Morocco, threatening crops the region relies on and leading to nightly cuts in tap water for an area that is home to a million people.

In a country that relies on farming for two jobs in five and 14 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year.

In the rich citrus plantations of El-Guerdan, stretching eastward from the southern city of Agadir, more than half of farmers rely on two dams in the mountains of Aoulouz, 126 km away, to irrigate their trees.

However, that water has been diverted to the tourist hub of Agadir, where mains water has been cut to residential areas every night since Oct. 3 to ensure taps in households did not run entirely dry.

“The priority should go to drinking water,” Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said in parliament last week.

In El-Guerdan, Youssef Jebha’s crop of clementine oranges has been compromised by reduced water supply, he said, which affects both the quality of fruit and the size of the harvest.

“The available ground water is barely enough to keep the trees alive,” said Jebha, who is head of a regional farmers’ association.

“Saving Agadir should not be at the expense of El-Guerdan farmers,” he added, speaking by phone.

‘We hope for rain’

El-Guerdan is not alone in facing drought. Morocco’s harvest of cereals this year was less than half that of 2019, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars of extra import costs.

Despite lower production, Moroccan exports of fresh produce have risen this year by 8 percent. 

Critics of the government’s agricultural policy say such sales are tantamount to exporting water itself, given the crops use up so many resources.

A report by Morocco’s social and environmental council, an official advisory body, warned that four-fifths of the country’s water resources could vanish over the next 25 years.

It also warned of the risks to social peace due to water scarcity. In 2017, 23 people were arrested after protests over water shortages in the southeastern city of Zagora.

In January the government said it would spend $12 billion on boosting water supply over the next seven years by building new dams and desalination plants.

One $480 million plant, with a daily capacity of 400,000 cubic meters, is expected to start pumping in March, with the water divided between residential areas and farms.

Until then, “We hope for rain,” the agriculture minister said in parliament.

In El-Guerdan, the farmers are digging for water. A new well costs $20,000-30,000. However, “there is no guarantee water can be found due to the depletion of ground reserves,” said Ahmed Bounaama, another farmer.