February 4, 2019,   10:29 AM

Middle East CEOs Must Invest In People To Harness Technology

Hani Ashkar


ai people

Image source: Shutterstock

It’s a tough time for today's CEOs. They are expected to cater to the average consumer looking for more value, higher quality and a tech enabled-experience; all at a lower cost. And they are expected to do this, all while simultaneously transforming themselves and their businesses to be more digital, upskilling their people to be ready for the change. With all these expectations, 79% of Middle East CEOs consider changing consumer behavior as the number one business threat this year.

Successful CEOs will be those that can drive efficiencies to get fit for the lower revenue growth realities of our region and free the required investment to transform their business ahead of the fast-paced disruption.

To do this, they need to change and evolve for the future. CEOs will have to embrace the speed of technological change, despite 75% seeing it as a threat, and catch up by growing their digital infrastructure to drive operational efficiencies and minimize cost.

Although 91% recognize that AI will play a significant role in the growth and development of corporations, regionally only 23% have implemented AI within their business. This is less than half than our global counterparts and we need to catch up, fast.

Middle East companies can count on the support of regional governments, who have already ramped up investments in AI. Smart Dubai has recently announced guidelines on the ethical use of AI within organizations and our CEOs seem to welcome this government backing.

Looking around, however, many CEOs seem to be struggling to extract value from their data and find the right talent. CEOs stand to miss out on major opportunities from emerging technologies if these gaps are not closed quickly.

It isn’t enough to embed the necessary technology to respond to consumer expectations. It’s about taking the time to upskill people to be ready to innovate from within and give meaning to the data and technology. As leaders, we have a shared responsibility that’s bigger than the work we do every day.

We need to work to bridge the gaps in our own capabilities. Bringing in people from other countries will not fill our considerable digital skills gap, because there is a shortage of skilled talent to clean, integrate and extract value from big data. The gap between the information our C-suite needs, and what they get has not closed in the past ten years.

You could argue that expectations have risen as technology has advanced, which is why the information gap is not closing, but CEOs do not take the easy way out. They recognize that they simply don’t have the capability to use the data they have to make optimized decisions. It’s not a lack of data—the volume of data has expanded exponentially—or the inability to secure and protect it. It’s the availability of the right skills.

Unfortunately, though, there are no quick fixes when it comes to closing the skills gap. CEOs will struggle to digitize their organizations with the best technology because they can’t put technology to work without people who know how to use the tools. People are the main success factor in digital transformation projects, and they need digital skills training to prepare for the future.

Once people are upskilled, they will be able to build on and add value to the technologies that organizations will bring in. It’s a commitment to our people. We’re all driven by the desire to be successful. By combining technology with an enablement strategy and the support of governments, CEOs will be more inclined to meet the needs of the marketplace.

Technology isn’t inherently bad or good, but the advances in technology are powerful and need to be harnessed correctly to address challenges in meeting consumer expectations. This isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s a must have and an opportunity to invest in people and the future of the region.

Hani Ashkar is a Middle East Senior Partner at PwC.

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