Throughout the pandemic, there was a drastic increase in the deployment of smart city technologies, namely in GCC countries. Weathering the storm of the pandemic was no easy feat but the GCC countries harnessed their advanced infrastructure to the maximum in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. From contact tracing technologies to apps, the GCC did a great deal. However, with new technology, comes new challenges. What does the deployment of these new technologies mean for corporate governance?

A journalist from the team managed to secure an exclusive interview with Hazem Galal, Partner of Global Leader for Cities & Local Government at PwC Middle East, who gave us some insight into these topics.

What effect has the pandemic had on smart city developments in the MENA region? And since we are talking about one of the most socio-economically diverse regions in the world, what about the countries with a less mature tech or telecoms ecosystem? How have they been impacted by covid-19?

I would say that the region, as a whole, reacted reasonably well to the COVID-19 outbreak. Several countries have used technology and analytics in a very positive way to not only deploy contact tracing technologies, but to also use predictive analytics as well, in an effort to better manage the spread of the pandemic.

Having said that, we know that the region is undoubtedly on different speeds and I can classify it in 3 main groups. Firstly, you have the GCC countries which have invested a lot in their technology infrastructure and have fared reasonably well in terms of how they dealt with the pandemic. They managed to use analytics and contact tracing very well. We have seen the launch of several apps to contain the spread of the virus such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to help travelers register themselves, book appointments for covid tests and isolate themselves for 48 hours as well as contact tracing bracelets in the UAE to ensure compliance to the 48 hour self-isolation period after traveling.

The second group of countries would be the Levant and some countries in North Africa which don’t have such an advanced level of technology infrastructure but they have done their best to actually do what they can with their existing infrastructure.

The third group are unfortunately those countries that are either in post-conflict or are still grappling with conflicts such as the likes of Libya, Yemen, and to some extent, Syria and others. These countries are not really well prepared to use technology in a strategic way to manage the pandemic; they have to revert to more mechanical and manual methods.

In your opinion, when it comes to technology, what more can be done to strengthen overall corporate governance in the GCC region?

Technology allows you to be very transparent and if you are using technology not only to monitor how different government entities are doing, it would be very helpful if government entities published their KPIs and KPTs to better understand how they are progressing towards achieving their goals. Many counties in the region currently have strategic visions such as Saudi Vision 2030, Kuwait Vision 2035, among others, so this is one way that technology could be used objectively to communicate transparency.

Also, when it comes to deploying technology to manage procurement in a transparent way and to manage payments, among many others, have led to increased transparency and competition which is also very positive.

Last but not least, a lot of countries in the region have started to actually put regulations in place about data privacy which is also very important for citizens to know how their data is being used, be it by the government or the private sector.

What do you think of the Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit this year?

This year’s summit has been an interesting experience. I was very glad that it actually happened in this new hybrid model of physical/virtual. At first, I was tempted to attend the event virtually but then I thought that it would be better to attend in person to actually see and interact with people physically. Hopefully moving forward we are going to be attending more physical events and who knows how summits will be contracted in the future?

Well done to Telecom Review and I wish you the best of luck.