IBM aims to contribute to achieving the “Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt’s Vision 2030” through expanding in their service export centers and training human resources to use IT solutions in all sectors
Amr Talaat, the general manager of IBM in Egypt, told Daily News Egypt in an interview that the company is working on supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through its cloud computing and data analytics solutions, in addition to being the technology partner in the first incubator for entrepreneurs at Cairo University in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics and Political Science. The company is consulting with the administrators of the New Administrative Capital to take advantage of the company’s solutions in establishing the capital to become the first smart city in Egypt.
How do you see the investment climate after the recent reform measures taken by the state?
The decisions taken last November are transformative decisions and the whole world testifies for them. Egypt is one of the very few countries that is pursuing economic reform with bold and steady measures. The reforms currently being implemented by the state are known, but few countries have been bold enough to take such steps. Of those few countries, only a handful have been successful. For instance, Nigeria has taken steps in economic reform to float its currency but had to drop the reforms again, which led to the emergence of a black market again.
In Egypt, there is a clear, transparent plan to implement economic reform. This corresponds to the positive outlook of the international community and foreign investment, including IBM, which sees the seriousness of Egypt in implementing the economic reform program.
As for the implications of these reform measures, it shows positive signs at the sector level. A lot of IBM’s local activity is based on exporting services abroad from Egypt, which is linked to the ability of the unit here to compete with other IBM units in other countries.
The flotation of the pound contributed to increase the competitiveness of the company’s branch in Egypt. Floating the pound reduced the cost of services and the implementation of projects exported abroad. This contributed to the expansion of businesses and to the increase of projects that can be implemented, hence the potential increase in the number of workers and jobs.
Egypt’s ability to implement economic reforms despite its severity is impressive, especially as many countries have failed in what we do now, such as Greece and Nigeria. This makes foreign investment look positively at Egypt.
Did the flotation contribute to increasing the company’s jobs?
Of course, it did, but I don’t have a specific number. However, we are now expanding our operations and services through increasing the number of employees or boosting the number of services that we export from here.
The flotation of the pound has increased Egypt’s potential in the IT sector to be competitive against other strong countries, such as India, the Philippines, Poland, Vietnam, and Romania.
What are the most prominent investment opportunities that you see in the Egyptian market? How does the company see these opportunities?
We have great confidence in the Egyptian market due to its large size and diversity, which make it full of investment opportunities, regardless of any circumstance surrounding it temporarily. There are more than 90 million people living here in need for all services.
The Egyptian market is very promising and can grow despite the difficulties. The sectors of health, education, energy, and security, both personal and cybersecurity, are among the most promising with opportunities for growth based on information technology. There is also an opportunity for growth in services sectors. The government is now seeking to improve the services provided using information technology and communication services, which increases the efficiency of services and reduces their cost. In addition, the state is also working to increase the competitiveness of the industry to support exports and agriculture, which can be based on information technology to boost productivity and improve quality.
After the flotation, there has been a decline in the purchasing power of the Egyptian market. Is this a challenge?
Throughout our long presence in the Egyptian market, we have been able to understand the requirements of the Egyptian market. When the purchasing power declines, there is no interruption in spending, but priorities are rearranged. This is what our customers do. We understand this well because of our experience in the Egyptian market. Therefore, we work to supply the products and solutions that fit the market at this stage, focusing mainly on cloud, analytics, and blockchain solutions.
What are your plans for Egypt?
We saw many circumstances and changes in the Egyptian market, and we are working to expand further. The mother company believes in the Egyptian market and plans to expand in it.
Our plans in the next phase are based on several axes. We plan on supporting our clients in their economic situation based on modern technology solutions such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. These new technologies will change the form of the banking sector and trade cooperation.
In general, blockchain technology eliminates brokerage in the financial system. It is a technological solution that consolidates the financial record of all parties. This allows for the ability to trade and organize payments more easily, faster, and with less costs. We are currently consulting on using this technological solution with banking entities in the Egyptian market.
Blockchain is a novel distributed database technology that is enabling a new generation of transactional applications to establish trust, accountability, and transparency and streamline business processes. Today, it is being looked at by corporations around the globe to settle transactions that involve everything from mortgages to shipping container contents to cross-border payments.
What are the technological solutions nominated to see more demand in the Egyptian market?
There are many important solutions, such as cloud computing, that give its users great advantages, especially for SMEs and non-IT companies. Through cloud, companies can manage and organize their work based on information technology.
In addition, cybersecurity is another growth-oriented solution that should be implemented with cloud solution in any organization. With the increasing importance of data, cybersecurity has emerged to ensure data is safe and secure.
Artificial intelligence is also a candidate for growth. Modern technology allows machines to gain experience like humans in cognitive computing. The Internet of Things (IoT) is also linked to cognitive computing. All devices can now store data, which increases the demand for data analysis solutions.
At the local level, how can we benefit from these solutions?
These services can be utilized in several areas, such as raising the efficiency of the service and improving it for the citizen, whether health or education services, as well as combating corruption, which can be done through separating the service provider from the recipient based on information technology. The list also includes rationalizing the use of the state resources and improving their management, in addition to personal and cybersecurity.
For example, it is possible to improve the services provided to citizens by linking the government agencies through creating a so-called digital identity for each citizen, which makes it easier for the state to develop its support plans and identify the number of citizens eligible for support. The larger the amount of data, the more the ability to analyze and benefit from them.
Security solutions can play a big role. The government and the private sector are currently using security surveillance cameras, but there is a problem that statistics show. Camera human monitors are less focused on tracking cameras after 22 minutes, dropping to 85%. Here comes the role of the technological solution we offer. Analysis of video data in the so-called dark data where the solution can detect any strange movements through the analysis of video and surveillance cameras, which is a solution that can be used in all axes, such as airports, train stations, football stadiums, and others. We are already negotiating with several related agencies in Egypt to benefit from the dark data analytics solutions.
Is there cooperation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in your solutions?
We cooperate with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to automate and modernize work in many governmental authorities through several technological solutions, the most important of which are data analytics.
What programs and solutions do you offer to SMEs and entrepreneurship?
Personally, I have a conviction that any economic development is based on two types of projects: the first type are huge ones, such as the New Administrative Capital and the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and while the other type is SMEs. The latter are characterized by their ability to create large and rapid employment opportunities and to create a strong and focused economic structure that can withstand the economic emergency. And the success of SMEs will not happen without relying on information technology, such as cloud computing solutions and cognitive computing. Therefore, IBM is interested in supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs.
In support of this sector, we signed an agreement with Cairo University, represented by the Faculty Political Science in cooperation with a bank and a civil society organization to launch the first incubator for entrepreneurs at Cairo University. Through the agreement, we will train entrepreneurs on the latest technologies and teach them how to use their technology in their projects, as well as their role in reducing cost and managing resources more efficiently. We are also supporting them with access to our Cloud platform Bluemix. The training of the first batch is set to begin in September.
We also signed a year ago an agreement with the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) to host small and medium IT companies on IBM cloud though our Bluemix platform to encourage the companies to continue building and improving applications based on IBM solutions. We support these companies with technologies worth $120,000 per year for each company.
What role can the company play in the New Administrative Capital project, especially as the city is set to be a smart one?
We hope that the New Administrative Capital will be the first smart city in Egypt. It will depend on technology. All the city’s facilities are supposed to be managed through technological solutions. This will contribute to the rationalization of resource consumption and the improvement of services. The current economic challenges mean that this type of cities will have be later implemented across all state departments and private sector.
I know that there are plans in this regard by the state to make the new capital the first smart city in Egypt, and we have continued to communicate with the authorities responsible for the implementation of the project to offer our solutions of technology and expertise.
What are the most prominent solutions that you are currently supplying the government with?
Data analytics solutions are the ones we are focus on during the current period of cooperation with the Egyptian government in various areas. They can be well employed in rationalizing the resources of the state, combating tax evasion, providing support to those who need it, and learning about the market needs.
The state has an interest in the health and education sectors. What solutions can you offer these sectors?
Data analytics technology can be well employed for the health sector as well as for the education sector. This technology produces indicators that assist the decision maker. Other solutions for the education sector are also available, such as distance learning, social networks specializing in education, and intelligent learning solutions that rely on tablets instead of books. We are in contact with the Ministry of Education, universities, and private schools to benefit from our solutions.
Egypt has a vision for sustainable development 2030. How can IBM contribute to this vision?
We are trying to contribute to realizing this vision via several axes through our centers in Egypt and expanding them to help create job opportunities, increase Egypt’s ability to export services and especially creative services. Our centers in Egypt provide services to the Arab region, Africa, some European markets, and North America.
We also work to develop human experts that contribute to the sustainable development of Egypt, and we have done lots of work with academia to train Egyptians. In this regard, we signed an agreement with the Supreme Council of Universities last year to reach to more than 30 universities. To date, we trained more than 5,000 students on using technology in their fields of study.