Big Data, The Cloud and The Middle East

There are some terms in technology that have become ubiquitous. Everyone has heard of them, and many people have even adopted them as part of their everyday vernacular. But while terms like cloud computing and big data seem obvious (‘data that is stored on the internet’ and ‘large amounts of ones and zeros’ respectively) the truth is far more complicated and complex.

Considering the global market for cloud computing stands at more than US$120 billion (with growth expected at a rate of 26.2 per cent per year, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets), it’s about time we truly explore the meaning behind both these concepts, and how they will impact business across the Middle East.

Big data, huge impact

According to research from IBM, online data is growing at an unprecedented rate. More than 90 per cent of all data in existence today – everything, from web pages to photos and video – was created in the last two years alone. To better explain the significance of this, the technology giant has separated big data into four categories; volume, variety, velocity and veracity.

The statistics are impressive, to say the least. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. 30 billion pieces of content are shared just on Facebook every month. The New York Stock Exchange stores over a terabyte of trading information after each session. But all that data is useless unless there’s some way to make sense of it all.

According to Andy Lawson, a managing director at, making sense of the data is key. “The thing that businesses must remember about the internet of things and the big data it creates, as a result, is that data can effectively power greater customer success,” he says. Lawson is keen to point out that due to the data that’s left behind after a social media update or browsing session, every person behind one of the world’s six billion smartphones is a potential customer.

Harnessing the power of the cloud

It’s easy to assume that the only ones capable of making sense of this vast amount of data are SiliconValley types, with acres of data centres and billions of dollars in research and development. But you’d be wrong. Government and private organisations around the Gulf are now harnessing the power of the cloud for their own gains. UAE retail giant Majid Al Futtaim Ventures uses elements of Microsoft Dynamics 365, in particular, its artificial intelligence machine learning analytics tools. “With our help, the company built an information ecosystem centred on a group-wide CRM platform. This not only optimised internal operations but gave Majid Al Futtaim a 360-degree view of their customers, allowing them to launch a multi-brand loyalty programme,” says Necip Ozyucel, Cloud and Enterprise Business Solutions Lead for Microsoft Gulf.

He adds: “We also work continuously with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, on projects that would not have been possible without the economies of cloud computing including the Rammas bot, an autonomous, multi-language customer service agent built on Microsoft’s Natural Language Processing platform.”

“It’s easy to assume that the only ones capable of making sense of this vast amount of data are Silicon Valley types, with acres of data centres and billions of dollars in research and development. But you’d be wrong”

Better understanding customers

Regardless of the market, those who embrace big data will be on average 26 per cent more profitable than their peers. That’s according to consulting giant Capgemini, whose whitepaper, entitled The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers In Every Industry, says the insurance industry should be leading this digital revolution. In fact it’s small companies that have the most to gain from cloud-based solutions. “Small and medium sized organisations are looking to use the cloud to gain the same level of business competitiveness as large enterprises,” says Ahmed Auda, Managing Director of Vmware Middle East and North Africa. “Smaller businesses have less complex technology infrastructure and visionary C-suite executives can use the cloud to drive new innovative business models. Smaller budgets demand cost-effective solutions, and that’s where cloud-based solutions really shine.”

While traditional data hasn’t really changed since the 1970s, the Facebook and Google revolutions have produced a lot more information, all of which is available on the preferences of individuals. And this goes far beyond what banner adverts a user clicks online. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, computers can now understand the context of conversations.

Through a mixture of psycholinguistics, natural language processing and probabilistic belief networks, companies now have access to all sorts of previously unheard of data, such as whether or not a client thinks favourably about their company, or even what mood they’re in when they make a purchase.

The next step

So what’s holding the region back from fully embracing the cloud? “There remains some understandable concerns among business leaders and government heads as to the nature of the cloud. Security is, of course, a prominent worry,” says Microsoft’s Ozyucel. But that shouldn’t stop regional organisations from adopting it. “Big data and the cloud will change the world for the better, and Vmware is committed to helping that happen,” says Auda. He adds: “Governments can analyse citizen trends to enhance traffic, garbage collection, and mega-event
safety. Banks can better target services to customers and enhance the security of transactions. Educators can share resources online and create virtual classrooms. Healthcare providers can predict how effective treatments will be for patients and predict and prevent disease outbreaks.”

In short, the sky really is the limit for cloud computing in the Middle East.


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