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Telecom Review, the world’s leading telecoms news platform, held a virtual panel, entitled ‘Digital transformation: A necessity brought forward by COVID-19’ on September 22nd. 

The panel was attended by around 300 participants and featured some of the industry’s most esteemed professionals from across the world. 

Telecom Review’s CEO and founder, Toni Eid, gave the opening speech, and the panel was moderated by Centrigent’s CEO, Jay Srage. 

The panelists included: Abdulla Al Jaziri, VP Corporate Strategy at Etisalat Group; Haithem Alfaraj, Senior VP of Technology and Operations Unit, stc; Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban, Senior VP of Oracle MEA and CEE; Ghazi Atallah, CEO of NXN; Jihad Tayara, CEO of EVOTEQ; Fuad Siddiqui, Executive Partner and VP of Nokia Bell Labs; Richard Ulenius, VP Global Managed Services, CSG; and Charbel Khneisser, Regional Director of Technical Sales at Riverbed.

Haithem Alfaraj spoke about the role of regulators in Saudi Arabia amid the pandemic, specifically in its cooperation with the private sector and stc as an operator. 

“Throughout the pandemic, the Kingdom experienced lots of cooperation and support between the private sector and the government. This was particularly apparent concerning our regulators, CITC and MCIT. Some actions were taken, especially at the beginning of the outbreak when people were in lockdown, such as giving temporary spectrum that could boost the performance of the existing systems and networks. 

“Back in 2017, as part of Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom put in place a digital transformation plan which was worth around 10 billion in investment. This was given to telecom providers to ensure the rollout of fixed private networks and that more than 2 million households would be connected. This required a lot of cooperation between the government and Telcos,” noted Alfaraj.

“The Kingdom has actually become one of the top countries in terms of mobile penetration. In terms of speed, there has been a lot of regulation that has been facilitated to deal with the lockdown and we have seen the results. These initiatives and the support we have seen from the government to ensure powerful telecom infrastructure diminished the impact of COVID. This was evident through services and usability across the different businesses,” he continued.

Following this, Nokia Bell Labs’ Fuad Siddiqui, shed some light on how the necessity of digital transformation came about during this time. 

“The need for digital transformation has become quite apparent for all of us. Some trends had already been set in place and the inefficiencies and inequalities that our global world order was and still is grappling with at the moment,” said Siddiqui. “Pre-pandemic, Bell Labs has been articulating this notion of value paradox and what it means is that there is this interesting dichotomy that exists between digital industries and physical industries.”

EVOTEQ’s Jihad Tayara then went on to mention that deploying and implementing technologies to serve these existing gaps, was the easiest part of the journey. 

He continued, “It is all about defining what you want to achieve, how you are going to achieve it, and where you want to go,” he said. “I believe that regulators have a big role to play in the current environment.”

In the UAE, for instance, the TRA previously did not allow VoIP communication and once it was made available before the pandemic, it was limited to just one app with a paid monthly subscription. However, the availability of VoIP was instrumental in helping companies navigate the new normal since the COVID outbreak. 

“I was positively and pleasantly surprised during the pandemic when we were in lockdown, we had the most aggressive discussions with our partner from the Ministry of Health where we were discussing the traceability project. We just launched the Tatmeen project. We are proud to have worked with the Ministry of Health on this track and trace project that will be tracking all the medicine that will be coming into the UAE. EVOTEQ will be building the platform to allow the traceability and management of supplies from manufacturing across the entire supply chain, all the way to the end-user,” added Tayara. 

With the shift to the new normal, it is also becoming increasingly challenging to manage the hybrid model of having people work both remotely and physically within offices. 

“Having people in the virtual space is easy to manage, but how do you manage the experience of visitors of an expo when you have people visiting physically and some in the virtual space? This is something that we, as an industry, need to address,” noted Tayara.

CSG’s Richard Ullenius then spoke about how to execute continuous transformation in this case. 

“The way I think of it is that transformation of the digital age is technology-driven in some way but it is really about people-power and this is something that companies need to master,” he said. “To execute continuous transformation, it's important to think about who you're going to work with. No one can predict the future or what's coming around the next corner. Having dynamism is important for companies when working with their partners to adapt. Companies should focus on how to transform and who they're going to partner with.”

Following this, Oracle’s Abdul Rahman Thehaiban said, “I believe technology is a key enabler to drive things but cloud becomes the ultimate or even the only way for organizations to continue serving and innovating. I think we are working much more than we were used to in the past because of less disruption in terms of traffic and other aspects which technology has made easier for us. This has created a momentum or a mindset to let us know that we need to change the way we live, work, and operate.”

NXN’s Ghazi Atallah, said, “Digital technology enables us to do two things: optimize what we are doing today or disrupt what will be doing tomorrow. We can utilize digital technology to impact current services while doing so digital technology also enable us to manage data in a way than we have ever been able to do.  

He added, “We must leverage this data to further optimize or prepare new models to disrupt our business. At NXN, this our mantra as we work with our customers on their digital transformation.”

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