Bloovi, a platform for the digital industry, was eager to learn about the innovation culture in Dubai and how technology and digitisation are embraced by the government. I had an in-depth interview with their publisher and copywriter, Hannes Dedeurwaerder.
We spoke about the very strong ambitions, 5G and the eco-system, and made the comparison so that other governments in the world and companies can learn from it.
"Dubai has so much ambition and vision that it even dares to look at 2040, which few other cities imitate."
It seems as if Dubai was built not from stone but from ambitions: in 2020, the city is organising the largest world exhibition ever and wants to be officially known as 'the smartest and happiest city in the world'. And if that's not enough, the government will work completely paperless by 2021 and is currently developing an urban master plan for Dubai for 2040. What is in the air that can explain that drive and bold ambition? We contacted Evelyn Stremersch, a Belgian woman who has been established in Dubai with her HR company ‘este International’ since 2017 and has been familiar with the business climate in the Middle East for years.
Rik Vera, co-founder of Nexxworks, a digital agency that inspires companies to kickstart their innovation, recently summarised it as follows: “If you are thinking about new technology, San Francisco is of course wildly interesting. If you are thinking about new business models, China is incredibly inspiring. But if you want innovation that will make your company future-proof and creates value for everyone, you need to go to Dubai.”
An observation that Evelyn Stremersch only agrees with, although the Belgian is convinced that Dubai has an even wider perspective than people think. Her HR and outsourcing company este International, which connects top technical, digital and technological talents with the projects of ambitious companies, has been benefiting from this for several years now.
"Dubai is increasingly called the second Silicon Valley", she begins her story. "Probably because the government has dared to fully focus on technology, already since the late 90s. And when you see how fast things are going in that area today, that was the only right move.
"If we want to develop IoT projects as they should
and contribute to the development of smart cities,
5G is simply a necessity."
Take 5G: this network will be the first to be launched in the MENA region (the Middle East & North Africa; ed. ) in the United Arab Emirates, and currently, the first 5G-enabled smartphones are already available. As far as Belgium is concerned, at this stage, they are only talking about 5G. And in the Belgian and European governments, they are wasting their time discussing and conducting lengthy government negotiations on regulations that, by the way, block innovation and create confusion. As an outsider, you can only conclude that the ambition and vision are a lot less urgent.
This is especially disappointing for business leaders who do want to give priority to digitisation. If we want to develop IoT projects as they should and contribute to the development of smart cities, 5G is simply a necessity.”
The right mindset for start-ups
Evelyn believes that this commitment to technology and innovation drive can be explained by the interaction between the government that facilitates and invests a lot, and the many start-ups settling in Dubai. "The government makes lots of things possible - we even have a minister of Artificial Intelligence - and on top of that, the mindset is positive: organisations that come here to do business want to move forward, they want to make an impact. This creates an ecosystem in which everyone drives each other forward. All this will be reinforced by next year's world exhibition, which will attract a large number of new start-ups and talent. An impressive 25 million visitors are expected, so there are plenty of opportunities to present yourself.”
"Let's talk about the CES exhibition in Las Vegas where the latest technological developments are presented in January", Evelyn Stremersch continues. "We have already seen many of these features and innovations at the Gitex Technology Week, the largest technology exposition in the MENASA region (the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, ed.), which takes place a few months earlier in Dubai. Many western companies are expressing tremendous enthusiasm about what happens in Las Vegas, while it doesn't surprise us anymore, because for us it's no longer an innovation, we’re probably already using it. I believe we are not yet fully exploiting this technological lead, especially from an international point of view.”
One app designed for all smart services
We cannot overestimate the role of the government in particular. This is now also apparent from their ambition to not only become the smartest city by 2020 - by running completely on blockchain for example - but also to become the happiest city in the world. "The government therefore also thinks about its citizens, and how technology can make them happier. So it's not only about the technology itself," says Evelyn.
As an example she gives the ‘Dubai Now’ app, a smart app that integrates more than 55 smart services from more than 22 federal and local authorities, freeing you of queuing at the government's offices. "All you have to do is log in with your ID and create a PIN. Once that is done, you can manage and access everything via a single app: fines, invoices for gas, electricity, air conditioning, house rental, flight and taxi details, information about visas for employees, you name it. Previously these were all separate apps or they required a visit to a government authority, now they are concentrated in one tool.”
“Another example: as an employer, you get a notification on your smartphone from the Ministry of Human Resources when the temperature rises too high to allow employees to work. If you ignore this message, you will be fined - since you received a message on your smartphone, there is no reason to deny that you were unaware of it. So no more excuses. The entire ecosystem is also linked to your mobile number and license plate. If you don't pay certain invoices or traffic fines and you have your car inspected later that year, the system shows you what hasn't been paid. So you pay anyway or you don't get your car back.”
Overwhelming architecture and technology
As Rik Vera stated in his article, it’s possible to explain Dubai's success by the insight that oil is no longer the raw material by definition, but that it's data. A statement that could use a little more precision, adds Evelyn Stremersch.
“The United Arab Emirates, although an oil state - with Abu Dhabi at the forefront - realised early on that oil will not remain the main resource. That is why they quickly shifted their focus to technology, with the ambition to become a pioneer in it. After which they immediately translated their words into action,” says Evelyn Stremersch.
"Agreed, they are not yet number one in all domains, but they do have the ambition to become so and they define the necessary - realistic - strategies to do so. That's why it's such a rewarding region for our company to do business: we're building a pool of high-tech professionals, and they are obviously very attracted to what is happening in Dubai and seen in the region. Especially the niches we focus on: technical designers, architects and software developers. They can't be any better than with us... ( laughs ) .”
Go for partnerships with foreign parties
Starting her business este in 2017 wasn't really a problem for Evelyn Stremersch: she had a thorough knowledge of the Middle East through previous work experience. She admits that this is where her heart lies. Yet she still divides her time between Dubai and Belgium.
Aside from the lack of openness and positivism Belgium, the biggest cultural difference with the U.A.E. is that we Belgians dare to think too little internationally. "Too often Belgians seek advice and opportunities in their own country, even within their own network. You really can't grow this way. In contrast to Dubai, there is an international community culture, which allows you to move forward much faster. From this experience, I advise to look beyond national borders and to establish collaborations and partnerships with foreign parties. If only because we can learn so much from other cultures and mindsets.”
Thinking ten steps ahead
Another significant difference between Belgium and Dubai (and on a wider scale the United Arab Emirates) is that Belgians lack the ambition to look further.
“The U.A.E. government is of course also aiming for the short term - the largest world exhibition ever in 2020, completely paperless by 2021,... - but will also formulate growth ambitions with a vision for 2035 and even 2040. For that year they designed an urban master plan and also examined how to involve the citizens so that they too will benefit and become better and happier.
They always think ten steps ahead, and you really have to have the guts to do that. Not only other governments but also organisations can learn a lot from this.”
And vice versa? Are there some things in Belgium that they can learn from in Dubai? Something that we are ahead of them?
"There must be something, but I can't seem to think of anything", Evelyn laughs, after which a long silence is heard.
"No, nothing is coming. ( laughs ) Or wait, maybe yes: Belgium provides social security, something the United Arab Emirates don't have. But on the other hand, Belgians pay a lot of taxes in return. So no, let's just drop the subject.” ( laughs )
Originally written for Bloovi, read the original article on their website.
I want to thank Hannes Dedeurwaerder and Alexander Bouckaert for the Interview.
Thank you Bloovi for the opportunity.
Thank you, Rik Vera and Nexxworks
For more information about the Expo 2020: https://www.expo2020dubai.com/
For more information about the Dubai Government, their visions and initiatives: https://www.smartdubai.ae/
For more information about the 10X initiative and the disruptive innovations: https://dubai10x.ae/
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