AWS in the Middle East: A success story

Cloud titan recently announced the launch of AWS Middle East Region

Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, AWS.
Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, AWS.

Networkmiddleeast.com: Amazon Web Services recently announced the launch of AWS Middle East data centres in Bahrain. Why did you choose to launch data centres in the region now?

Teresa Carlson: As we continue expanding our global infrastructure, we saw that the Middle East is an underserved area where cloud computing can be a key enabler: economies that today are diversifying, a large, digitally native and predominantly young population; a budding startup community; and a number of industries that are looking to digitally transform. With the launch of the AWS Middle East Region in Bahrain, we are bringing advanced and secure technology infrastructure that matches the scale of our other AWS Regions around the world, offering unprecedented opportunities for innovation across industries and organisations of all sizes to support the region’s drive for digital transformation. AWS now spans 69 Availability Zones within 22 geographic regions around the world. The new AWS Middle East Region offers three Availability Zones at launch. AWS Regions are composed of Availability Zones, which each comprise at least one data centre and are located in separate and distinct geographic locations with enough distance to significantly reduce the risk of a single event impacting business continuity, yet near enough to provide low latency for high availability applications.

We are very excited to see the results of bringing the most advanced cloud technologies closer to our customers, helping organisations of all sizes throughout the region speed up their digital transformation initiatives and innovate more rapidly. 

NME.com: What is the demand that you see from the Middle East? What type of companies and sectors benefit from cloud computing?

Carlson: We are seeing strong demand for AWS cloud services across various sectors including financial services, hospitality, media and entertainment, oil and gas, retail, governments and others. Customers in the Middle East are leveraging a wide range of the 165 AWS services, such as machine learning, database, analytics, security and so much more, which are being applied for a variety of use cases.

Customers in the Middle East are leveraging a wide range of the 165 AWS services

A sector where we see increasing growth, and a lot of potential, is within government. Government entities in the Middle East are embracing innovation and developing new ways for engaging and serving citizens, as well as looking at rolling out smart city initiatives that require a robust cloud backend. Cloud adoption allows governments to drive down costs, streamline services, and better serve citizens.  Faced with the pressure to produce world-class products whilst having to meet aggressive timelines, government agencies from transportation to education are actively moving to the cloud to transform the way they deliver services and interact with citizens. An example of a government entity that turned to the agility and speed of AWS is Bahrain’s National Bureau of Revenue (NBR), who needed to quickly and efficiently launch the country’s Value Added Tax (VAT) system. By launching SAP S/4 Hana on AWS, the NBR was able to go to market in just under two months while lowering costs by 40%. Eliminating the need to manage IT infrastructure allowed them to focus on successfully reaching an important milestone in Bahrain’s economic development.

Another segment where we are seeing cloud adoption growth is enterprises. Large enterprises and family businesses have historically been key drivers of the economy in the Middle East and lately, given the increased competition from startups that are disrupting traditional areas of business, transformation for them is no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ IDC's latest Middle East CIO survey found that 73% of organisations across the region are currently undergoing digital transformation efforts in 2019. Regional enterprises are leveraging AWS to focus on the development of their products and services and empowering them to innovate faster. For example, leading provider of logistics and transportation solutions, Aramex, is today solving longstanding logistics challenges in the region, such as the lack of proper physical addresses, by utilizing sophisticated data analytics and machine learning services to improve delivery accuracy and better serve customers. Another example is MBC Group that has been using AWS to speed up innovation and rapidly expand into a wider range of scalable and reliable digital services including SHAHID.net, MBC.net, and GOBOZ, MBC’s Video on Demand service for kids. In financial services, Emirates NBD is utilising AWS’s artificial intelligence and machine learning services, data analytics, and natural language processing technologies to better engage with customers and simplify banking.

For entrepreneurs and startups, cloud technology gives the ability to build a business very quickly with much lower technology costs, allowing them to experiment and fail fast as they pioneer new products and services. We are energised by the vibrant startup scene that is growing in the Middle East and see 2019 as a year of further innovation and growth. Some of the region’s most disruptive startups, such as Anghami, Careem, Fetchr, Mrsool, Haraj, and many more, are building their businesses on top of AWS in order to innovate and provide solutions that meet specific regional needs, while scaling rapidly and expanding geographic reach.

Startups in the Middle East are already taking advantage of the cloud to deliver viable businesses models.

NME.com: Startups are an important focus for the region in light of the fact that the region has a very young population. How can cloud computing support startups in the Middle East?

Carlson: All over the world, cloud technology is levelling the playing field, with companies no longer competing on the IT level, but competing on delighting customers and delivering the best product. Cloud computing has completely democratized technology and anyone with some basic knowledge of IT, an idea and a credit card can access the same, world-class technology services on demand. This gives smaller companies the ability to compete in ways that were very expensive and impossible in the past. For the Middle East’s young population, this creates limitless opportunities for innovation and the ability to build businesses that contribute to economic growth. As regional governments look to build a digitized future, startups, and the entrepreneurs that are building them, will play a key role in closing the gap for the region’s digital needs.

Startups in the Middle East are already taking advantage of the cloud to deliver viable businesses that bring regional solutions. Careem for example started working with AWS in 2012 to help it scale fast and wide across 14 countries in under seven years. Today, Careem hosts some 33 million customers and one million drivers on its platform, and has expanded its services to offer on demand deliveries as well its original core business, ride hailing. Startups are innovating on AWS in every imaginable way – be it to deliver music streaming services like Anghami, or healthcare services like Vezeeta, or investment advisory services like Sarwa. They are also implementing technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning - something that was previously cost prohibitive but is now available at a click of a button from the cloud. Classera has relied on AWS since 2010 to grow into a trusted education platform that is currently used by over 2 million people in more than 10 countries. As it revolutionizes the e-learning ecosystem, Classera is developing smart solutions that leverage AWS data analytics and machine learning services to bring personalized and highly engaging learning experiences to students that thousands of schools and organisations across the Middle East rely on. 

To help grow the next generation of businesses in the Middle East, AWS is supporting startups across the region through the AWS Activate Program. Working with accelerators, angel investors, incubators, government organisations, and Venture Capital firms, AWS Activate provides resources to help startups launch their businesses on AWS and go global in minutes. Across the Middle East, AWS has been working with organisations such as 500 startups, Area 2071 in Abu Dhabi, BADIR in Saudi Arabia, BECO Capital, EDB in Bahrain, MEVP, Oasis500, and many more, providing startups with AWS credits, in-person technical support, AWS trainings, and go-to-market help.

NME.com: Digital transformation needs people with the right technical skills. What needs to be done to address the skills gap?  

Carlson: The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Jobs report says that, by 2020, 21% of core skills in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will be different compared to the skills that were needed in 2015. As the region looks to become digitised, governments, private enterprises, and educational and nonprofit organisations all have a role to play in bridging the skills gap. Without addressing the skills gap, it will be difficult for countries to reap the benefits of technology and the impact of digital transformation.

To support the growth in cloud adoption across the region, AWS is making significant investments in education, training, and certification programs to help those interested in the latest cloud computing technologies, best practices, and architectures, to advance their technical skills and further support Middle East organisations in their digital transformation.

For students and educators, the AWS Educate and AWS Academy programs are providing free resources to education institutions to accelerate cloud-related learning and preparing today’s students in the Middle East for the jobs of the future. Member institutions across the Middle East include King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, the Higher Colleges of Technology in the UAE, Bahrain Polytechnic, University of Bahrain, as well as Oman College of Management and Technology, the Jordan University of Science and Technology, and many others across the region.

NME.com: Security is a big concern when it comes to data and new technologies. What is AWS doing with regards to security?

Carlson: Security at AWS is our top priority. Our customers trust us to operate a secure cloud computing environment and innovative security services, no matter the location. This includes governments and large enterprises, who are migrating mission critical applications to AWS. Our customers benefit from a data centre and network architecture built to meet the requirements of the most security-sensitive organisations, no matter their size or location. AWS is always vigilant about our customers’ privacy and security. AWS is committed to providing our customers with industry-leading privacy and security protections when using our products and services, including providing our customers the most extensive set of security services and encryption to help ensure complete customer control of their data.

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