Where do you anticipate the highest levels of growth will come in ICT in Dubai? Who are you targeting to bring into DIC?
MALEK: In the last 10 years we have been able to attract most of the big multinational players in ICT to locate and invest in DIC. The next wave of growth will be the small and medium enterprises that want to penetrate the Middle East and Africa. So in terms of companies, we are looking at SMEs. These companies are coming from the surrounding region, from Asia and from India in particular. We have been able to attract more than 150 ICT players into our cluster in 2010. We have continued to grow, even through the crisis. That shows that the ICT sector in this region and globally is growing. People have realized the efficiency benefits of ICT. Last year was very positive for us and we are anticipating an even better year in 2011.<
Experts at the Cloud Computing forum in Dubai predict fundamental changes in the UAE’s IT business models in the coming years. What will these changes be?
MALEK: When we talk about cloud computing and services we have to talk about the maturity of the ICT industry. We have come a long way to where we are today, particularly in Dubai. We have a very technically advanced infrastructure and a very mature market that enables us to tap into these new technologies. We have the legal framework and all the surrounding competencies to accept these technologies and be on par with global technological advancement. We as an organization today base most of our customer relationship management on cloud services and we have done this for over a year and it is working perfectly. This means that private enterprises and even the public sector is becoming aware of what cloud services can do for them. I have seen examples in Dubai, family businesses are moving their hosting services and emails to the cloud. I think these changes have been well accepted. We have seen the benefit of these types of advancements here. I see the cloud as a main driver for ICT development.
Research has indicated that the worldwide cloud services revenue has already touched the $68.3bn mark in 2010. Where is there business opportunity or investment opportunity in cloud services in the UAE today?
MALEK: In terms of investment, it will be a great platform for small and medium size enterprises to develop their businesses using cloud services. We host a great deal of events and create platforms for young entrepreneurs to come up with their own platform and application. Most of those people are using the cloud as a platform for their own development. So you see people developing applications based on Blackberry or Apple and many of them use an outsourcing model to extend certain services. In summary, the cloud offers a lot of opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the region. Going forward there are many opportunities that the cloud will provide young entrepreneurs looking at servicing regional markets and meeting regional requirements.
How would you describe regional data centre infrastructure? Where do you see further investment opportunity for ICT infrastructure such as data centres?
MALEK: I think Dubai and the UAE as a whole has one of the most advanced infrastructures, not only in the region, but compared with the developed world as well. Today we have two telecom operators and most of the sites are connected. We have sites like DIC that use very advanced technologies. Because of the high level of technical infrastructure we have here, it is a great place to house data centres that can serve the region and even the surrounding region.
What advantages are there for cluster based free zones such as DIC? How does the DIC help nations develop their knowledge-based economies? What initiatives are you currently involved in?
MALEK: We are not only thinking of attracting companies to come and operate in a subsidized, tax free environment. We developed these specialized economic free zones to develop the industry. Behind the buildings and the rest of the infrastructure is a planned ecosystem that we think will make everything work together. The government, the multinational companies, and the SMEs are all part of this ecosystem and there is synergy between all of the elements. The education component is also a big part of the ecosystem. What this means for a company that establishes in these special economic zones is that you become part of the industry and get the benefit of being part of that ecosystem as a whole.
In ICT and in media in particular, our focus has changed. Instead of attracting the multinationals to come and invest and have a presence, we are now focused on SMEs. The local service sector needs a lot of investment in this region. Right now we need to invest in an ICT business incubation program for young entrepreneurs and graduating students.
The cluster benefits are much more beneficial than the tax breaks and these types of incentives. Most of the companies in ICT contribute to each other so this one of the main advantages we offer is the association with those communities. We had to form a separate entity to address the requirements that came from different governments and different parts of the world that want to develop smart communities. We call this unit Smart City and we already have a project in Malta that is ready and we have already started attracting companies that have established themselves there. We have signed other agreements with other governments. We have recently signed an agreement for a development in Kochi. This is an on-going process and we receive regular delegations that want to learn from our experience. These types of developments allow countries to invest in something that will create jobs and build another sustainable economic sector. So we see this as very positive.
What elements of ICT are you focused on at present?
MALEK: I think there are a lot of activities that are happening in different industries. In ICT and in media in particular, our focus has changed. Instead of attracting the multinationals to come and invest and have a presence, we are now focused on SMEs. The local service sector needs a lot of investment in this region. Right now we need to invest in an ICT business incubation program for young entrepreneurs and graduating students. There are many other countries that have already started in thinking in this way as well.