The ongoing dynamic transformation of the global economy under the impact of new innovative technologies is a process that has become known as the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The Arab British Chamber of Commerce hosted a high-powered one-day conference on Thursday 28th November 2019 in order to highlight the transformative impact of innovative technologies on ways of doing business with particular reference to Arab-British collaboration.
The event, titled 4IR – 4th Industrial Revolution: Charting New Systems for Arab-British Cooperation, brought together leading experts to address key issues facing business in Fin-Tech, Industry-Tech, Health-Tech and Agri-Tech.
Opening the event, Mr Abdeslam El-Idrissi, ABCC Deputy CEO & Secretary General, stated that the Middle East was seeing increased investment into its hi tech industries and the UK had a role to play in assisting the development of these new innovative sectors.
The changes in the wake of this “revolution” open up new opportunities for future partnership between Arab and British businesses and new avenues for Arab-British engagement.
Session One on Industry-Tech was chaired by Nick Jotischky, Fitch Solutions and on the panel were Professor Birgitte Andersen, Big Innovation Centre, Mike Rigby, Barclays Bank and Simon Nicholson, Oracle.
The implications of 4IR for business and society were extensive, Nick Jotischky said. It represented a complex web of applications whose implementation would forge new revenue streams. He explored the findings of a Fitch survey of business attitudes towards 4IR. He stressed that 4IR’s potential for future industry and delivery of services needed to be more widely recognised. Too many companies were still unclear about the benefits and implications of 4IR. The Fitch executive argued that lack of skills and funds were holding companies back in adopting 4IR technologies.
Professor Andersen said that the Big Innovation Centre (BIC) had received the accolade of “think tank of the year” and worked closely with major corporations and regulators to develop policy solutions and business strategies to develop 4IR. She stated that tech innovation was a key driver of growth and opened up many new business opportunities.
Different strategies were being adopted by the various regions to implement innovations, she stated, referring to the steps taken in the US, China, India, Asia and Europe. The UK approach was to build eco-systems that brought together various stakeholders to address the joint challenges of 4IR.
Prof Andersen mentioned the activities of BIC in Dubai and its recently opened new office in Riyadh.
Mike Rigby suggested that there had been a lack of understanding among UK business leaders about how 4IR could lead to a return on investment. The access to cheap labour had deterred businesses from adopting innovative solutions. Until recently, there were not enough technology experts advising company boards.
Rigby gave examples of how digital communications could improve the efficiency of sectors such as transport and the food and drink industry. British industry needed to move faster in adopting the latest IT, he concluded.
Simon Nicholson argued that innovation was a continuous process and the impact of digitalisation on current business models was going to be far reaching. In modern business, customer service was becoming as important as the actual product.
Issues such as counterfeiting posed important challenges because of the huge losses to industry. For example, Nicholson pointed out, an estimated $200 billion was lost to the pharmaceuticals industry through fake drugs.
The impact of 4IR extended to the entire supply chain from the manufacturing process through to transport and security. He urged companies to focus on the outcomes when implementing innovative technologies and said that proper monitoring of data was vital.
The second session on Health-Tech was chaired by Elaine Fryett, Associate Dean, Teesside University Business School, who introduced a panel consisting of Jerry Marshall, Transcend, Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram, Proximie, and Dr Saba Alzabin, Nabta Health.
Dr Hachach-Haram stated that the new technologies were of great benefit to the medical profession and provided patients with more access to expert care.
Innovative technology was able to facilitate remote surgical operations enabling experts to advise colleagues and guide their treatment of patients. This permitted healthcare professionals to share their expertise in ways not possible before the advent of these new technologies.
The uses of technology in medical procedures would also ensure safety and confidentiality.
Jerry Marshall explained that he was an entrepreneur active in health technology for many years.
He introduced the outsourcing services offered by his company, Transcend, which was based in Palestine. The use of IT in healthcare covered a vast range of services such as electronic medical records, assessing data and wearable medical devices. Mr Marshall said that AI had the potential to vastly improve the efficiency of healthcare services by harnessing data.
Elaine Fryett spoke about the student services provided by Teesside and how the UK education sector was a world leader with its education related exports valued at £20 billion.
Dr Saba Alzabin described how technology drives precision medical services that improve women’s health.
Smart technology can vastly help improve women’s health by personalising the service available.
Digital technologies enabled the greater empowerment of the patient by putting them in touch with medical experts and opening up access to care.
Issues raised during the discussion included how patients who are less literate can use technology to gain access to healthcare and the need to maintain data confidentiality.
In the third session devoted to Fin-Tech, it was argued that the impact of latest innovative technologies in financial services was such that new jobs were being created in areas that simply did not exist previously.
Technology was driving data collection, stated Antoun Massaad, CEO & Founder, Cedar Rose, who stressed that everyone was now using the latest technologies associated with AI through computers, the Internet and the search engines that we use online which memorise our shopping habits and preferences.
AI data was instant, accessible and flexible and offered advantages to business in terms of efficiency, speed and cost.
Carlos Adams, Manager, EY UK, spoke on behalf his own company and its client, SAGIA.
He explained that SAGIA through its Invest Saudi brand had been successful in attracting an increase in investor licenses from foreign companies.
A great number of opportunities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were coming available as the ICT sector grew. The Kingdom offered high potential for the growth of Fin-Tech and digital innovation. In addition, the determination of the country to improve its resilience to cyberattack meant new potential opportunities for companies with the relevant skills.
Adams concluded that Saudi Arabia was seeking to position itself as a regional Fin-Tech hub and SAGIA was able to assist any company seeking to become involved.
Dr Nils Behling, Co-Founder & CFO, Tradeteq, the final speaker in the session, spoke about the innovation and progress in the financial services industry.
He explained that Tradeteq had expertise in identifying the investment opportunities in trade finance and stressed that having the right technology was now a key factor in achieving successful investments.
After a break, the final session of the conference focused on the theme of Agri-Tech and was chaired by Parmjit Chima, of Harper Adams University, a former agricultural college that now describes itself as a university concentrating on the land-based sectors.
Mr Chima addressed the food scarcity challenge and how farming was currently undergoing a major digital revolution with AI replacing humans in such innovations as autonomous vehicles and the use of satellite and drone technology for essential data gathering.
He described a “hands-free” farming experiment whereby small field robots were being developed to plough and harvest crops more efficiently than human labour.
Dexter Thillien, Senior Analyst, Fitch Solutions, looked at the trends in Agri-tech and the Internet of Things (IOT) solutions.
Farmers were increasingly adopting precision agricultural technologies in the US and Europe, he stated, looking forward to future opportunities as the pace of technology adoption is stepped up.
Mr Maximilian Birle, Head of Product Management, CNH Industrial, discussed how Agri-Tech start-ups were revolutionising agriculture and the main challenges that the industry faced in the future.
Mr Birle looked at the lengthy process of getting a new product to market and focused on innovative solutions to monitoring soil quality.
The final speaker, Christina Kyriacou, Executive Manager, Symphony Environmental, discussed how innovative products can significantly enhance the quality of plastic products used in the agricultural sector.
In particular Ms Kyriacou spoke about the biodegradable plastic that the company had developed for use in drainpipes and containers, such as plastic bags.
Mr Bandar Reda, CEO & Secretary General of the ABCC and the Rt Hon Baroness Symons, Chairman of the ABCC, were present at the event. The conference was held at the ABCC premises in Upper Grosvenor Street.
The Union of Arab Chambers was the event partner while Arab News was its media partner. Meanwhile, the sponsors were Gio Tech, Fitch Solutions, CNH Industrial and Cedar Rose.
The event concluded with networking, B2B meetings and a display of a range of company products and services reflecting the theme of 4IR.