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Oracle has been at the very forefront of innovation for decades. Throughout the pandemic, the company was going above and beyond to ensure that businesses stayed afloat.

The shift to the ‘new normal’ has not been easy but Oracle has made it their utmost priority to help their customers, across the world and across several industries, navigate this shift.

Cloud became such an integral part of this shift as the need for companies to adopt business models peaked and only cloud could accommodate to the necessary agility, scalability and innovation that was required for this transition to take place properly.

Telecom Review had the pleasure of securing an exclusive interview with Oracle’s senior vice president of technology for the Middle East, Africa and Central Europe, Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban to talk about the company’s work in the cloud adoption space as well as their experience throughout the pandemic.

How did Oracle deal with the pandemic at the beginning of the outbreak?

For decades, Oracle has been doing the mission-critical work that keeps businesses and organizations around the world, and across industries, up and running. Ensuring business continuity for our customers is always a top priority for Oracle, and now more than ever, we focused on helping our customers quickly respond to the unique demands they were facing.

Oracle maintains a robust business continuity management program aligned with ISO 22301 and is reviewed on an annual basis. Individual lines of business across Oracle have specific plans based on the nature of impacts possible to our business operations.

Oracle takes an impact-based approach to business continuity management by designing preparedness and response plans that address the availability of our workforce, workplaces, technologies, and critical interdependencies.

Oracle’s employee population size and geographic diversification provide an inherent resiliency advantage. Finally, offices experiencing mandatory closures have maintained essential business processes and customer support, resulting in no disruptions to customer services.

Above everything else, we focus on being customer-first. We define our success by our customers’ success; whether it is responding to growing demands, business reinvention, or survival. From governments to top retailers, and from some of the world’s largest healthcare systems to major logistics companies, we are deeply committed to partnering with our customers to help them be successful.

Oracle’s leadership team is meeting continuously to assess and appropriately respond to the crisis as it evolves. Of course, everyone’s health and welfare are a priority, as most Oracle employees are working from home. We have extensive online collaboration capabilities to help ensure business continuity and we’re working tirelessly to help everyone stay safe while at the same time continuing to serve our customers.

Just how integral has data become to our daily lives? And what role did it play during the pandemic?

When mathematician Clive Humby stated in 2006 that “data is the new oil” – citing how refining it transforms data into a fuel for profitable activity – it was well agreed upon at the time. Since then, and even considering that many of the largest and profitable companies of the digital era (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, etc.) deal primarily in data, the analogy hasn’t remained so precise. WIRED, for example, argues that unlike oil, most data is only valuable to the company that owns it, and it cannot be as easily traded without giving up competitive advantage.

Maybe we need a new analogy? Personally, I think the best way to see data in the modern context aligns with MIT and their whitepaper, The Rise of Data Capital.

Here, MIT sets out that unlike oil, data is not a resource. It is not “rivalrous” (a single piece of data can be used by multiple people simultaneously for a variety of applications). Nor is it “fungible” (one piece of data cannot be substituted for another). Instead of a commodity, data needs to be seen as capital, as a strategic asset – a tool, a method and continuously evolving channel of value.

Data is seen like this, even more fundamental than oil.

I’d also add that, unlike oil, data doesn’t reduce when we consume it. Instead, it increases in utility and proliferates. Using data, unlike any natural resource, creates more data.

One example I have seen demonstrated is the IoT fridge. A traditional refrigerator is passive – it keeps your food and drink cold, and that’s about it. A ‘smart’ fridge, however, keeps food cool but also, through its ability to collect and share data, can monitor what you eat and when, track your favourite brands, reorder food when it runs out. The data production from the fridge is a form of capital, and that generates future value. Data makes more data, which makes more money.

Data, oil and the Middle East

This leads on to why I am still talking about ‘data as the new oil’, because, for the Middle East, this phrase has become especially pertinent, and has taken on a new meaning.

For a long time, oil has played a central role in the region’s economy. In 2009, more than 85% of the UAE’s economy was based on oil exports. In more recent years, the region has been undertaking a transformation to a non-oil, knowledge-based economy, with the private sector playing an increasingly important role in achieving that. Data really has to be the new oil.

And I’m pleased to share that things are heading in the right direction. By 2021, the aim is for contributions from the private sector to GDP to reach 37% by 2021.

This shift in the Emirates has been driven by a number of initiatives, many of which fall under the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 strategic and cultural policies. This plan for diversification features several economic priorities, but the first - building an open, efficient, effective and globally integrated business environment – ties directly to the ability to collect, manage, store and analyze data for decision making, and using it as an asset.

At Oracle, we’ve always believed in the power of data, and its position as the fundamental, key capability and platform of any digital business. When it is correctly governed, secured, shared, analysed and leveraged it is the strategic tool to shape not just the destiny of the enterprise, but the whole region.

Over the course of the pandemic, we saw a huge surge in cloud adoption. Why do you think this has happened and why do we need it more than ever at the moment? What are some emerging tech use cases we can expect to see grow within the next few months as a direct result of the pandemic?

Cloud led digital technologies have played a vital role to sustaining business continuity around the world. From enabling remote working to effectively managing crucial supply chains and from ensuring the availability of vital citizen services to even helping with critical medical research, Cloud technologies have been at the forefront of steering us through the new normal.

It is hence no surprise that digital transformation is accelerating at a rapid pace. PwC, in one of its recent COVID-19 Pulse Survey, interviewed 867 chief financial officers in 24 countries and territories to gauge their sentiments on how they will manage business during the “new normal”.

Of those surveyed, 75 per cent reported feeling very confident about meeting customers’ safety expectations, and 70 per cent say they are very confident about the ability to provide a safe working environment. Interestingly, while all CFOs interviewed understand they will suffer a significant revenue decline and will have to adjust spending accordingly, only 16 per cent believe they will need to cut or defer spending on their digital transformation.

CFOs and finance leaders understand what the pandemic has illustrated is the need to hasten digital transformation programs to not only cope but to flourish in the new normal.

This sentiment is further reflected by IDC analysis, wherein it expects spending on public cloud to increase from $ 2.6 Bn in 2020 to $6 Bn by 2024 at a CAGR of 23% across Middle East, Turkey and Africa. 

Some of the key emerging trends that we are witnessing include:

  1. Cloud led transformation will only accelerate
  2. Embedded artificial intelligence will be key – but only if companies understand how to apply it within the confines of their business. We expect a lot more companies to look for practical ways to bring AI into the business; and a key path will be through having AI embedded into their applications.
  3. Supply chain applications will increasingly depend on augmented reality, virtual reality, Blockchain, Machine Learning and IoT.
  4. Data science will be increasingly automated and embedded into analytics and data management systems.

Moving forward, what do you think the 'new normal' will look like in the business world? What about the telecoms sector? What role will Oracle play in that?

The market landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is changing rapidly for telecommunication companies. If they wish to stay competitive in this evolving market, telcos need to rethink their business models and pursue the opportunities presented by emerging technology.

Telcos have already learned that they cannot drag their feet when new digital ecosystems emerge. Over-the-top video competitors, such as Netflix, have eroded telco revenue in recent years. These bandwidth-heavy services are a major drain on telco infrastructure, without directly contributing to revenue. Rather than allow history to repeat itself, telcos need to look to the future. With the arrival of 5G networks, the telecommunications industry stands on the threshold of another major transformative change. But how will they respond? 

This technology is a major opportunity for telcos. The rise of Edge computing, AI, VR, IoT, 5G, and blockchain directly overlap with key telco use cases. PwC has already identified the potential of blockchain for telecom operators. Telcos can be fundamental to the success of these emerging technologies, play a role in multiple stages of the value chain, or even deliver end-to-end integrated propositions. In blockchain, for example, telcos could utilize their existing infrastructure to host blockchains for external clients or use their cloud infrastructure to manage blockchain software. The speed at which these technologies are emerging demands decisive action.

In terms of growth, the MENA region has the lowest per-capita consumption of video of any region globally. Yet GSMA predicts that over the next five years, smartphone adoption will reach 74% within the region. As 5G gains traction, there will be a surge in demand for video content. Meanwhile, telcos already have the base, budget, distribution, and capabilities to offer their own OTT video services. The region is a major growth market and gives telcos the chance to regain control from their OTT competitors.

To support this effort and attract a younger audience, telcos must keep an eye on emerging trends. The world of gaming and Esports will help telcos tap into a young, engaged demographic with a very specific need: a low-latency, high-quality experience. Partnerships with developers and the Esports community through the Twitch platform will support wider brand positioning and attract this younger customer base. Telcos take note: the gaming market is worth more than cinema, music, and sports combined.

Similarly, the rollout of 5G gives telcos the potential to take advantage of network slicing. Network slicing means delivering multiple standalone virtual networks on a single physical infrastructure. This means telcos can tailor their services to the specific needs of users at any given time. They can give users only the appropriate ‘slice’ of bandwidth they need and ensure the best possible network experience, but also enable (and charge for) high bandwidth use when needed.

As I have discussed in the past, edge computing is another major strategic opportunity for telcos. This demand for ultra-low-latency data, driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), has a considerable range of applications in the immediate future. From drones and logistics to smart security and buildings—even digital health and public services. Each one of these use cases presents a growing demand for data that telcos can provide.

Telcos have reached a pivotal moment. The market is transforming, providing them with a chance to regain control of their industry, and develop new revenue sources. They can embrace this exciting new technology—or allow their rivals to once again take the lead.

The opportunity is there for the taking. But for how much longer?

COVID-19 exposed the gap existing at the level of access to digital technologies. How do you explain this point and what needs to be done to achieve the goal of digitalization for everyone?

I think with the current situation, organizations have fully realized that ‘Cloud’ allows them to move quickly and adjust to evolving economic situations. Some organizations were prepared to quickly switch to a remote working environment, or start offering online services across banking, consumer goods, healthcare consultations etc.; while some struggled, because their legacy systems just weren’t geared to adapt to a new operational reality.

For years, finance leaders have been seeking ways to leverage technology to make their organizations future ready. The current pandemic exposed the shortcomings of outdated platforms and accelerated the pace of innovation, even as some organizations battle for their very lives.

A research conducted by McKinsey & Co. on the financial performance of 1,500 companies following the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, helps us understand how the top 25% companies in terms of total returns to shareholders, were able to outperform their competitors after the downturn. 

These “Resilients,” the research found, shared key characteristics, including an aggressive approach to reallocating resources and investing in productivity initiatives within the organization.

Bold move #1: Adopt a transformation mindset when reallocating resources.

The upside to any economic crisis is that it presents a logical and necessary opportunity to rethink every aspect of the business. Contrary to what one might think, now is not the time to invest resources in small, incremental adjustments; rather, it’s the time to focus on bold, transformational moves that can deliver outsize productivity gains and returns on investment.   

Getting on the cloud today also provides access to continuous innovations being architected now into the software’s roadmap, from digital assistants and chatbots to AI-driven predictive and prescriptive analytics.   

Bold move #2: Pursue pragmatic M&A and divestitures to improve the company’s portfolio

Based on McKinsey’s research of the past and assessment of current conditions, the current economic downturn is an ideal opportunity to embark on a programmatic approach to mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures that can increase your business’s competitive advantage.  Organizations using outdated technologies will be challenged to gain visibility into the profitability of their current business models, assess the potential of new M&A activities or spin-offs, and operationally support the choices they make.

Bold move #3 – Boost productivity through digitization

Innovation in finance has been a priority for years but is now become urgent as a result of the pandemic. More digitization and automation of finance processes has long been on the to-do list of finance leaders.

According to the McKinsey report “Get in front of digital finance,” more than 75 percent of tasks can be automated in areas such as cash disbursement, revenue management, and general accounting operations.

In fact, at Oracle, we were able to increase productivity during the pandemic, shortening the monthly close by an additional 20% while working from home. Oracle is reaping the benefits of its own cloud solutions across hundreds of processes, every day.

Have you reassessed your business model in the region post-pandemic? Also, how have you seen your customers adjust to the situation?

COVID-19 won’t be the last of the disruptions businesses must contend with. It’s important for them to re-evaluate and rebuild their business models to be more resilient. Yet resilience is no longer about having the cash reserves and resources to weather disruption right now – it’s about building an infrastructure that is flexible, cloud-based and automated to deal with constant, unrelenting change.

Enterprise resilience comes in two parts. It’s about having the foresight to identify areas of risk and causes of disruption. But it’s also about having the agility to quickly transform operations to adapt to what’s coming down the track. The mantra is expect the unexpected, respond and adapt. 

The paradox of a resilient organisation is that it needs to be both flexible and firm under pressure. That’s at all levels – including the people and systems that make up the company. To accomplish this, companies need an empowered workforce supported by a flexible and integrated infrastructure – leveraging the Cloud, big data, automation, AI and machine learning.

As a leading provider of cloud solutions, Oracle has long supported the cloud led digital transformation efforts of the public sector, large private corporations and mid-sized businesses. There are several examples of Oracle Cloud helping businesses and government organisations drive business continuity, deliver vital citizen services and even accelerate growth.

Zoom

During the pandemic, when millions of people around the world started working from home, global video communications company, Zoom deployed Oracle Cloud within hours enabling Zoom to manage a sudden spike of up to 300 million daily meeting participants.

Zoom selected Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for its advantages in performance, scalability, reliability and superior cloud security. Within hours of deployment, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure supported hundreds of thousands of concurrent Zoom meeting participants.

After achieving full production, Zoom is now enabling millions of simultaneous meeting participants on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. Oracle’s second-generation cloud infrastructure is helping Zoom scale to continue to deliver flawless service to its customer base, adapt to changing demands, and lead the video communications industry.

Ministry of Health (MoH) Saudi Arabia created a chatbot to respond to all Covid 19 queries, and enhance the citizen experience. The Chatbot was hosted on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure providing an automated chat service on MoH website & social media channels (Twitter & Facebook). The monthly usage for MoH bot is more than a million hits a month

Taibah University is one of the largest educational institutions in Saudi Arabia. Soon after the lockdown was introduced in Saudi Arabia, Taibah University was immediately able to offer an online learning platform to more than 70,000 students, and ensured that education continuity was maintained so students don’t suffer. Taibah University runs on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

Egypt’s Commercial International Bank, the biggest component on the country’s stock exchange, was poised for a flood of inquiries after the Central Bank of Egypt on March 29 introduced overnight rules changes in response to the crisis.

Among the more than 70 changes introduced by the central bank were the elimination of bank fees on electronic transfers and payments, the suspension of fines for late credit payments, and limits on daily cash withdrawals.

Anticipating a flood of questions for its call center personnel, IT staff at Commercial International Bank decided to train its three-month-old Oracle chatbot, dubbed Zaki (which means “intelligent” in Arabic), to respond to queries related to the central bank’s new regulations.

Using Oracle Digital Assistant technology, bank staff worked late into the evening alongside employees of Oracle to incorporate, in both English and Arabic, the new information into Zaki. They did it in under five hours,

The chatbot lets CIB’s customers use Facebook Messenger and TK SECOND MESSAGE SYSTEM to get instant answers to questions as an alternative to talking to service agents over the phone. The chatbot first went live in December 2019. However, call volumes spiked about tenfold after the rules changes compared with levels in December and January.

Zaki fielded about a quarter of inquiries received by the bank.

Oracle is betting big on cloud in the region - you will soon have four cloud data centres in the region. What led to these investments? And do you see the move paying off?

Organisations in the UAE and wider Middle East have prioritized cloud led digital transformation to achieve higher growth, drive innovation, reduce costs, and now to even navigate the crisis and thrive during the recovery phase.

In an IDC survey of UAE CIOs from mid and large organizations conducted in the 2nd quarter of this year, 57% of the respondents said they were accelerating digital transformation in response to new customer and operational needs. Cloud is increasingly being viewed as the technology platform that can provide the agility, capacity and innovation capability that is required to accelerate digital transformation.

On the back of this trend, IDC expects spending on public cloud in the UAE to surpass $430 M this year and $1B by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 25% over the 5-year period from 2019-2024.

Our planned cloud infrastructure footprint for the region; two cloud regions in the UAE, and two in Saudi Arabia is a direct response to the rapid adoption of Oracle Cloud in the region. 

Based on our deep knowledge of the market and backed up with our historical presence in the region, it gives us great confidence in the investments we have made in the region. We will see existing Oracle customers move their workloads on to the cloud and out of that, partly will be hybrid cloud, cloud at customer and dedicated cloud at region, and new workloads coming on to the cloud.

The planned availability of four, second-generation cloud regions in the Middle East, is part of Oracle’s plan to launch a total of 36 Oracle Cloud infrastructure regions globally.

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