The Egyptian government has been very ambitious about its digital transformation, which makes IBM very excited about continuing to invest aggressively in the region, according to Senior Vice President of IBM, Michelle Peluso. Daily News Egypt interviewed Peluso during her three-day visit to Cairo for the first time.
She said that the most beautiful thing about Egypt is that the government has put the technology at the core to improve the economy and public services for citizens since last year. The government’s plan is all based on digital transformation and subsequently all resources are being applied to execute and implement this digital transformation agenda.
Peluso is visiting Egypt to announce the inauguration of two new IBM centres in Egypt, in addition to inking an agreement to establish the country’s first P-TECH School to address the digital skills shortage. Daily News Egypt sat with Peluso to learn more about the two new centres and the new deal with the ministry of education. The interview also touched upon the financial inclusion and Egypt’s digital transformation agenda, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Let’s talk about the purpose of this visit?
The visit has three main reasons, first to inaugurate two new centres for IBM in Egypt, bringing the total number of our centres in Egypt to eight. One of them is an innovation and industry centre which can really bring clients in and show them the new experience of IBM especially as they seek to integrate cloud technology, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and what they’re doing. But we’re also opening up a marketing services centre. And we have found just the given talent in Cairo, the idea is to bring really talented people into Cairo and have them execute digital marketing campaigns, not just in Egypt, but across the Middle East and Africa. So, Cairo will be a major hub for us for marketing in the broader region, which is exciting.
Secondly, we agreed with the ministry of education to launch the country’s first P-TECH School to address digital skills shortage, as this project will equip Egyptian students with vital skills in the era of digital technology. Thirdly, we announced the winner of the Hackaton, which is part of our Code and Response efforts. Notably, the Code and Response is an initiative that IBM is leading to make technology work to face natural disasters, and IBM Egypt having a hackathon here to look for solutions to solve water-related natural disasters. I want to mention that we have been doing this code and response programme now for over a year, we’ve had over 100,000 developers contributing great ideas to solving challenges experienced in the climate and the environment. So, it’s a $25m-four-year commitment for us to bring some of the best ideas from developers to fruition. Therefore, we’re happy to be here in Cairo amongst so much talent.
Why did IBM select Egypt to open its new centres? And why now?
IBM has selected Egypt as the location for its two strategic centres because of the country’s unique advantage as an innovation hub in the region with access to highly skilled talents. The centres will foster innovation by providing an enhanced customer experience, connecting clients with high level technical expertise. We think Egypt is a great place to serve on the marketing side, along with the rest of the region.
It’s been my goal as chief marketing officer of IBM to find places where we can work out of the centres, and where we can really employ large groups of people, talented people, as it gives them so much more opportunity to grow and enjoy career development.
So, we’ve done that in places like Bangalore, Bucharest, and now in Cairo. It’s exciting because you can bring together people, lots of different skill sets, in which then they have a lot of places to grow and evolve.
As we’re doing work for so many countries, there’s so many people and so many different disciplines that we can put together when we have a hub like this. So, it’s a strategy we’ve been thinking about and executing the past two years.
Concerning your question about why now, basically the Egyptian government has launched the digital transformation agenda and that’s why we thought that this is the right time to support this agenda by bringing to clients how technology can help them through this transformation, what does it really mean from a user’s experience, how can we use cloud? How can we leverage AI? How can we leverage blockchain to really help them transform their businesses, help them transform the services to citizens as well, and so on, and take it to the next level?
It’s a really exciting time for clients, because it’s not just about technology anymore. It’s about how do you apply it at scale? So, we see a lot of our clients moving from lots of experimentation and things like AI, to figuring out what does it take to really change a company or change the workplace.
In brief, these centres help us create a place to co-create with our clients how to go from maybe great experimentation to really changing the way companies work and how the world works.
You mentioned that these centres will make Egypt a hub for exporting digital solutions in the region, how this can be achieved?
IBM believes in a marketing perspective named agile marketing. This methodology has been applied for software development for many years, and in marketing the same principles could be applied, so instead of having big teams of creative data scientists and content marketers, we put small teams of 10 different technical experts to work together and we ask them to develop creative campaigns for the region they are serving. For instance, they might take a campaign on the ways AI is changing call centres and they will compile the assets to tell that story and the references to use across the region. They will work together from the idea, all the way till the training and marketing of the service. We have done these group models in many regions, including Bucharest and Bangalore, and we do believe that we will succeed based on the talented Egyptians that we will depend on.
How do you see Egypt currently in terms of the global digital transformation?
The Egyptian government has been very ambitious about digital transformation, which makes us very excited about continuing to invest aggressively in the region. Out of the 160 countries in which we operate, we chose only four places, including Egypt, to build our innovation and marketing services centres, so we believe that Egypt, compared to lots of other places, is a place of great talent, great transformation, and great opportunity. The beautiful thing in Egypt is that I realised that the government during the past year put technology at the core to improve the economy and services for citizens. The government’s plan is all based on digital transformation and subsequently all resources are being put forward to execute and implement this digital transformation agenda.
In your opinion, what are the challenges that still Egypt faces in its digital transformation journey?
In my opinion, the Egyptian government is on a good start and touching on different industries. I want to mention that digital transformation starts from the business then goes to building the overall services and experience for citizens. Talking about the challenges, I think the first challenge was to pick out where to start, however, I think the government overcame this obstacle by starting with areas like healthcare, and then the second challenge was where to start the pilot model, but I think we made the right choice through the selection of Port Said, which is a small city with suitable number of citizens. So, these are the set of challenges that they are going through, which will move them to financial inclusion. So, the financial industry is going to be also the next step, already working on it. So, going through the different stages is, I think the challenge that they are going through. However, I think they overcame these challenges in a very good manner.
How is IBM collaborating with the Egyptian market to assist in its digital transformation?
We are collaborating on different levels, we were involved in many national projects from a business perspective, for very long time, but especially during the digital transformation plan. We made these projects in collaboration with and through entities like ITIDA, ITI, and the ministry of information technology and telecommunications, and we are bringing all these technologies to the younger generations and to developed communities. Moreover, capacity building and skill training technologies are other areas in which we support digital transformation.
How would you learn, educate, and create a culture of trust to share data through the cloud?
IBM has strict rules about the data’s privacy, as we believe that every job will change due to Al. We have made substantial commitment programmes where we bring young people into technology in amazing ways.
One of the things that IBM is most passionate about, and did always ask for, is new technologies with a sense of trust and responsibility.
Financial inclusion has taken over the monetary world turning it into a cashless society. IBM has recently offered technological solutions for local businesses, what are Egypt’s opportunities in turning into or adapting a cashless society?
Building a cashless society and financial inclusion has so many areas to already access and to work on.
In Egypt, the potential is huge with a large population, however much of the population are not yet banked according to the statistics, so the opportunity is huge for the government and also for the nation
What are the procedures that the government must take in order to make people more aware about the importance of turning Egypt into a cashless society?
Communication is very important, we have all seen that, there were a lot of communication legislations, and adaptation. So, adapting the legislation and making sure that you explain to the people what needs to be done, is really important. However, I think it’s risky. Egypt should make sure that it has the right infrastructure from a technology perspective and bringing it into the whole ecosystem. The ecosystem here is so wide, including government agencies, financial institutions, and citizens. So, building this whole thing from a technology perspective, is something that is very important.
Could you elaborate about the deal signed with the ministry of education to launch the first P-TECH School?
We have announced in collaboration with the ministry of education the launch of the first P-TECH education model (Pathways in Technology Early College High-School) in Egypt. It aims to create technical and professional educational opportunities for Egyptian students to provide them with the skills and experience for tech-related ‘new collar’ jobs, which involve technologies such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and digital design, data analytics, and AI.
The first P-TECH School in Egypt will be operational at Al Shorouq Advanced Technical School, which falls under one of the ministry of education’s schools in Al Shorouq, beginning in September this year.
What are IBM’s future plans in Egypt?
Our future plans for the country are to keep on supporting Egypt’s digital transformation journey working side-by-side with the Egyptian government in most of the projects of national importance to help the economy and support the government’s national agenda. We are sustaining our major contributions to Egypt’s economy through skills development, job creation, and helping organisations explore the full potential of innovative technologies.