Aurora Magazine

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Getting Ready for the Next Digital Wave

Published in Nov-Dec 2022

Khurram Mahboob discusses the technology trends that are fast-forwarding brands into the digital future.

Technology continues to be a primary catalyst for change. Advances in technology give businesses, governments and private and public sectors the opportunity to lift productivity, stimulate the local economy and trigger innovation and value creation for the overall well-being of society.

Tech fairs are great future-facing platforms that provide an early pulse on emerging technology trends. The Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), is a technology trade show and conference that takes place annually in Dubai.

A local idea conceived in 1981, GITEX has gone global this year, attracting more than 5,000 exhibitors from over 90 countries and showcasing cutting-edge technologies and attracting 138,000+ visitors. It is a great platform to decipher global, regional and local insights, highlighting where digitisation is heading and the power of innovation across global products and solutions, and how digital technologies can be applied across industries.

Among the participating nations, it was good to see Pakistan’s hard-to-miss presence, led by Pakistan’s IT & Telecom Ministry, the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) and Ignite (a national technology fund aimed at supporting the innovation value chain in Pakistan by funding the local start-ups).

Last year, Pakistan was represented by only nine companies and four startups. This year, there were 30 companies and 10 start-ups. The tech solutions varied, ranging from e-commerce, the metaverse, blockchain and digital identity, fintech, data analytics and smart cities. Each one brought a unique business advantage, intelligence layer and UI/UX. Start-ups from different verticals showcased their entrepreneurial potential, including Brayt (e-commerce), MyTM (fintech), XpertFlow (AI), Mapalytics (AR/VR), Empowering People and Organisations (e-solutions), Asani.IO (CleanTech), InstaCare (HealthTech), WonderTree (AR/VR) Orbit (EdTech) and Edversity (EdTech).

Three Pakistani start-ups qualified for the Supernova pitch at GITEX to compete with other 600 start-ups from over 41 countries. This was a great opportunity for them to connect with industry and thought leaders and explore business opportunities with potential partners, as well as exchange ideas with top technical experts. Most important was the global level exposure they gained and experienced new ICT innovations. Desolenator, a Dutch start-up that develops solar-powered water purification technology, was the winner of the Supernova Challenge.

Taking a step back, it’s worth identifying some of the most significant global trends unfolding across media, IT and digital technologies; policymakers contributing to Pakistan’s IT and tech ecosystem agree that harnessing these new technologies holds out the promise of accelerating Pakistan’s development index. Needless to say that technological change is now occurring at a faster pace and the solutions these new frontier technologies offer are better, cheaper and more scalable than what was available in the past. For example, digital technologies, including the IoT, data-sharing technologies and mobile money platforms are propelled by the rapidly falling price of internet connectivity. Globally, exponential advances in renewable energy technologies, including mini-grid solar and wind energy, offer small-scale solutions for the electricity needs of rural areas without access to the national grid. There is a need to study these new technologies, given how crucial they are for Pakistan’s future. Investments in sustainable technology have the potential to create greater operational resiliency and financial performance while providing new avenues of growth. AI and machine learning offer opportunities for improvements in private-sector productivity and public-sector efficiencies, including healthcare and transport. Their use in manufacturing for predictive maintenance or quality control can deliver substantial gains in terms of productivity and quality.

Advanced Connectivity: Network (data) connectivity is the lifeline of today’s world. We cannot reimagine a better, improved, intelligent ‘smart’ world without richer data throughput, higher spectrum efficiency, wider geographic coverage, less latency to improve user experience, increased productivity and transformation of industries, like mobility, healthcare, travel and logistics, media and entertainment, electronics, oil and gas, electricity and utilities. 5G alone enables three main types of connected services, including enhanced mobile broadband, and mission-critical communications. A defining capability of 5G is the fact that it is designed for forward compatibility and which is why 70+ countries have at least one mobile network operator with a commercial 5G launch.

Applied AI: AI comprises seven technologies: machine learning, data science, conversational platforms, computer vision, AI chips, smart robots and contextaware computing. Eventually, every business will face disruption from some or all of these technologies. However, implementation rates vary. Globally, leading adopters are in the banking, healthcare and technology sectors. After years of AI-related hype, we are now in the era of practical AI. It will be integrated into the software and will play its role through autonomous behaviour and feedback cycles. Data and computing power are essential to the development of AI. Beyond the hype, there will be actual deployments, especially in welfare payments, mortgage approvals and medical diagnoses. Cybersecurity concerns, notably those related to data risks and vulnerabilities, could slow the uptake of AI.

Metaverse Disruption or Another Fad: There is already plenty of evidence to demonstrate the appeal of virtual worlds. Distinctively, the gaming industry is driving the virtual world. Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft have a combined audience of more than 640 million players. ARrelated technologies such as simultaneous localisation and mapping, facial recognition, and motion tracking will be vital for developing metaverse-based use cases.

Cybersecurity: Most companies understand that security is an integral part of the entire business infrastructure and are turning to multiple vendors to provide security services. Interoperability will become increasingly important. Governments continue to experience ‘grey zone’ cyber threats and will turn to businesses for holistic security and data protection solutions. IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022 quotes the average total cost of a data breach to be $4.5 million. Demand will increase for solutions that integrate security into wide area networks and cloud services. Companies that do not adopt a zero-trust approach will be more likely to experience a cyberattack.

Cloud Computing: The cloud services market continues to grow as businesses benefit from offloading even more responsibility to third-party providers. The global cloud computing market will be worth $616 billion by the end of 2022, up 13% from the previous year. The appeal of cloud, IT and managed services businesses post-pandemic does not seem to have been hit in the same ways as software because of the subsector’s more defensive position within the wider tech segment and the opportunity cost of not being part of a digitisation process that continues to accelerate at speed. It will be an essential utility for businesses intending to reduce latency and facilitate emerging technologies. One such innovation is edge computing, which although still in the early stages of development, is expected to reach a market value of $17.8 billion by the end of 2025. Edge computing involves the deployment and use of computer processing, data storage, and analytics capabilities close to where data is collected. This will have an impact on applications requiring high-performance levels and low latency, including robotics, autonomous vehicles, gaming, and virtual, augmented and mixed-reality applications.

Khurram Mahboob has been contributing to the GCC region’s tech, media and technology sector for the last 17 years and is currently based in the UAE.