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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.

Digital transformation is by no means a new concept, but it has gained greater traction than ever before, over the past 8 months or so.

The pandemic brought with it an immense disruption to virtually every aspect of our lives and Telcos were at the very heart of not only ensuring minimum disruption to our working and social lives but also in enabling digital transformation across the world.

The first part of the panel discussion focused primarily on how the pandemic highlighted the importance of digital transformation.

Srage, the moderator, proceeded to shift the discussion towards speculating the use of emerging technologies as a response to the crisis.

He began this part of the discussion by directing it towards EVOTEQ's Jihad Tayara, who has extensive experience within this industry, namely in terms of digital transformation.

"Digital transformation is not as much a technology story as it is a transformation story. Organizations and companies need to understand the challenges that lie ahead. They need to understand what is at stake and how to deal with their customers and their employees. They need to figure out what they are looking for," said Jihad Tayara.

He then proceeded to elaborate on having to readjust to the new normal and what it might entail.

"We need more than just the Teams and Zooms of this world. We need different types of capabilities. We need IoT devices, facial recognition cameras, thermal scanners, and sensors. We worked with a lot of organizations to provide these services."

"The most difficult part of this though is the long term adjustment to the new reality and this is where organizations have to think deeply into their business model, how rooted they are into their activities and how they are going to apply these changes to their business models."

He elaborated on this by stating that people now want to consume their services differently and that organizations want to also offer their services differently. According to Tayara, this is where the true challenge lies.

"The telecommunications market landscape in the MENA region is changing rapidly. We need to rethink their business models to pursue opportunities related to new technologies. From a technology point of view, there are certain key trends to consider, one of which is Cloud. I believe organizations should realize the importance of cloud. With AI as well you need to understand how to apply it," said Oracle's Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban.

"Many organizations realized the importance of cloud and benefits of TCO and the faster ROI they will become associated with. Embedded AI would be key but companies will have to understand how to apply it because having AI without the knowledge on how to apply it could have negative impacts."

Throughout the pandemic, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health developed a bot to respond to information seekers rapidly and with the utmost efficiency. This played a vital role, indeed.

"Whatever has been invested in the past is significantly paying off now," noted Al Thehaiban.

CSG's Richard Ullenius then proceeded to expand on the topic, by stating that: "One of the first immediate responses that we saw was companies taking action to help manage this major shift in how customers were engaging with them. Very early on in the pandemic, companies needed to find ways to respond quickly, and to do this they started to leverage technology to respond to them in real-time and much great volume than they were used to. That is difficult."

He added, "Airlines are hotel chains were flooded with customers wanting to talk to them for several reasons. They weren't staffed to meet these high volumes of necessary decision making at kind of the pace that was required and hence they turned to technology solutions. COVID put some major pressure on this shift from manual business operations to semi-manual business operations."

"Customer experience can be transformed through conversational AI solutions for example to meet this demand. As we continue to progress through this pandemic, I think this is going to be one of the key technologies that companies may look to deploy as it offsets a great deal of pressure on them," added Ullenius.

Riverbed's Charbel Khneisser went on to discuss automation and the growing need for cloud services.

"We have seen cloud services as offerings being provided by service providers in the region to host and offer services to organizations, all that will responsible to manage from operational and capital expenditure. All that comes with greater responsibility for the communities that we are serving, how to improve these services, and ensure customer experience is always highly maintained."

"The cloud importance is for the simple fact that people need data available and secure that will help them reduce the capacity they need to build their own data center. Access to the cloud is equally as important as moving to the cloud. Applications have become extremely developed in the last 10 years. We have invested more in data centers but we forgot about the access layer and how to make it more flexible and agile. SD-WAN is the new access layer to allow cloud adoption and this should be adopted by service providers," said Khneisser.

Building on this, Siddiqui added that cloud and network are no longer separable and that that will be

"The cloud network functions will become the most important function to orchestrate this new reality," he said. "If you can compare and contrast and show that value, there is no reason you can't pivot your business to do a revenue share agreement. But Telcos are stuck in this consumerist world, if we look for that enterprise opportunity, I believe the role of Telcos will be much more localized and those industries can really grow."

Following this, Etisalat's Abdulla Al Jaziri proceeded to talk about how a new normal was on the horizon and that the UAE has established the importance of digital tenacity, dating back to 2000 when the UAE set up the Internet City in Dubai, followed by the launch of e-government in 2001 and the mobile government in 2013.

Etisalat's vision to 'Drive the Digital Future to Empower Society' was put into action in the UAE throughout the pandemic.

"5G will also play a major role in the UAE's digital transformation. We believe that most of the use cases will be tackling enterprises and the government," added Al Jaziri.

Ghazi Atallah then stressed that the ability to plan and execute transformation is equally important. Understanding what needs to be transformed and why are essential in navigating a company's digital transformation journey.

"Digital technology is there to do one of two things: optimize what we are doing today or disrupt what we are doing today. We have the ability to collect more data than we have ever been able to do. We need to be looking at digital technology that provides data analytics; data that allows us to optimize or disrupt our business. We need to spend time with our customers and with governments to discuss what technology we need to use," he added.

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