The United Arab Emirates is a perfect example of what an economy unconstrained by legacy systems, with a gleaming vision can achieve with massive - almost unlimited - investment. And we ignore its success to our detriment
Having worked across numerous vertical industries in digital transformation roles, I believe I have seen the future. Most recently, it was when I was consulting at Abu Dhabi International Airport, reimagining the passenger experience. It is one that leverages smart technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics to achieve a seamless customer journey.
Think of the airports of today with their many touch points - including check-in, immigration, and constant security checks - requiring you to show your passport and boarding pass. The next evolution will dispense with all this, improving the experience and introducing new efficiencies and opportunities. Passengers will move through the airport unhindered, with checks taking place virtually and unobtrusively, freeing up time for shopping, business and leisure.
It is about using technology in a smart way - bringing together everything including big data and the Internet of Things, AI, augmented reality and robotics - to change the game. In Abu Dhabi, I was privileged enough to see behind the scenes of an airport, and understand its inner workings and the hurdles that can be overcome to achieve this incredible vision of the future.
But there are lessons we can all take from this. So much of what is coming to life in the Middle East is achievable elsewhere if we can just take our foot off the brakes and make those necessary leaps into the digital world.
Time to inspire
Many of the developments that can be seen in the UAE are lifestyle-driven - aimed at the country's growing and increasingly wealthy middle and upper class - with the customer placed front and centre. In addition to having access to the right data and analytics, it is a future that will be facilitated by the gig economy and infrastructure which has been designed to cope with the region's harsh climate.
The rate of growth in the UAE and other parts of the GCC over the past two decades has been astounding. From having the vision to build superfast rail links - to regional hub airports - with Terminal Three of Dubai International Airport completed as the newest addition.
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, you don't need to visit the petrol station. There are fuel delivery services, linked via apps on your phone, updating you on when to fill up, arranging delivery to your home and processing payments automatically. Wearable devices monitor your health and wellbeing, offering opportunities to innovative health insurers, and so much more.
Gone are the traditional, expensive ways of marketing and selling services and products. With digital technology, first movers can make rapid penetration into the market, with growth margins driven by clever use of social media, ensuring everything is tailored to the individual and easy accessibility.
The powers that be in the UAE have had plenty of foresight in terms of what they want to achieve and how they intend to set about achieving it. We have seen an influx of ex-pats into the region with digital skill-sets flooding into these aspiring and growing economies.
Undoubtedly there is also the lure of the tax-free scenarios, but this is far from the only draw. In an era of the 'Great Resignation', Digital CIOs feel a real sense of excitement working on projects in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and across the region's other major urban centres. This is because they have an opportunity to use the latest technologies and capabilities. To take great strides forward in digital innovation.
Elsewhere around the world, we have seen an acceleration of digitisation trends over the past two years - driven by lockdown necessity, the technology that is now at our disposal and competitive pressures. Our customers demand it - they have already experienced seamless journeys elsewhere in other industry verticals.
It is more difficult in established economies like the UK, Western Europe or the US to carve out a niche, but it is not impossible. The take-off of platforms such as Zoom and TikTok are just two examples of what can be achieved. And now that we are getting back to something that looks more like 'business as usual', it will open doors for other brands to seize the opportunity. Or not.
We are moving at breakneck speed towards a new technological future and those holding back will get left behind. After all, it is not just a battle for data, analytics, and digital capabilities but also for people. In the UAE steps are designed to attract talent, boost growth and to create a knowledge-based economy.
Taking inspiration from the Middle East, companies must look to the next phase of growth, play to their strengths and tap into a hunger for change that will deliver results as well as the right blend of skills and experience. If you want to hold onto your talent, you must move forward with conviction.