#UAE as a platform for innovation?

Infrastructure and foundations are being build-up

A very strong point for UAE, Qatar and some other gulf countries to become strong innovation hubs is the investments these countries have made and are still making in connectivity and communication. With much of today’s business and value chains having turned digital, a good broadband connectivity is essential for any business to grow or even to get started. UAE and Qatar have both heavily invested in fiber deployment over the last couple of years and are now rapidly deploying LTE as well. The connectivity quality has rapidly increased and this facilitates communication and also secures a quality access to the cloud where many of the enterprise resources are located. Similarly regional airlines have also transformed the gulf states into major hubs between east and west cutting distances and facilitating business.

In addition education is on top of the agenda for all gulf states. This means also that local talent is fostered and developed.  Major Business schools have established in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. So there is a good availability of business people, the shortage today would probably more reside in areas like software development, but these needs could possibly be off-shored to nearby india or some of the arabic countries like Egypt.

Incubators and accelerators are emerging

A number of incubators and accelerators are appearing in UAE and these are great places to launch your company if you have already a ready product and you only need the right coaching and relationships to get your business on orbit. I recently attended the innovathon in Dubai organized by DP World and Turn8, it is great to see this type of event appearing. For the selected teams, the promise is to help them to take their products from concept to launch in 120 days. Similar proposition is offered by In5, an incubator located in Dubai Internet city. Seed funding, coaching, office spaces, go-to-market support is part of the package. The incubators expect in return a certain equity in your company. In order to leverage these emerging infrastructures for accelerating your business the important thing is to be well prepared and almost ready to launch.

Status of the startup scene… something is still missing…

What seems to be still missing is an environment where people get support to develop early ideas and develop their business plans or even get together to share ideas and provide their skills to other entrepreneurs.

Having spent much of my life in Sweden, I want to compare this to the experience I had in Sweden. I exposed one of my ideas to the Stockholm innovation and growth initiative (STING) program in 2006. After the initial pitching and selection based on project description and one-on-one interviews, our team was selected to join the program. That program was setup a bit differently where we got 4 months of training with no equity required. The focus was entirely on business planning and value creation. In addition the program was setup so that it would also suit people that currently have a job or are studying (which is probably applicable to many potential entrepreneurs in UAE). We had 4-6 hours coaching a week, plus equal amount of homework for the next session. Program ended with a monetary prize for the winner and investor pitching for all the participants.

Beside this early support where you are still in exploration mode, I am also missing the networking platforms to explore ideas and meetup with like-minded people. I haven’t seen much meet-ups or google hang-outs. The business groups are often more focusing on networking for immediate business opportunities.

When it comes to software development and innovation, I think the appearance of hackathons and the platforms supporting these hackathons is also missing in UAE today.

Cost of living is still exhorbitant

On the downside, one of the main issues to setup a start-up here is the actual cost of living. If you want to start you business and cannot rely on somebody to fund you, then it will be difficult to get started.  With low-end housing in UAE today at 100-150K AED per year and equal amount needed to cover all your cost of living, it means that you need to have a minimum yearly budget 0f 200-300KAED (60-90k USD). Of course that is not the case if you have another family member covering for you or if you are student or if you are willing to compromise quality of leaving.  But you need you will have to get this budget somehow, since these costs are normally not covered by the incubator.

New platforms and models for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and UAE?

So here I want to throw out some ideas on what could help UAE to accelerate its innovation capabilities and i would love to get your feedback on these:

  • Develop short coaching programs to help entrepreneurs develop solid business plans for their ideas. Probe them well enough and develop ideas to create enough value
  • Develop partnerships between accelerators and major companies present in UAE to fully sponsor project teams, i.e. to also cover cost of living in exchange for higher equity.
  • Find a number of sponsors to setup regular Hackathons to stimulate the startup scene
  • Why not exploring complete new approaches like crowdsourcing? For instance develop a similar platform as kickstarter but based on Islamic funding only.
  • Virtual spaces to hang-out, offer your skills to other entrepreneurs, expose your ideas, build-up your team.

Probably my view is a bit biased since it is mainly looking at software innovation, but I would love to hear your opinion. What do you say? Do you want any of these ideas implemented in UAE?

Paper.li – More than just trend monitoring, it is a great #BI tool!



If I would ask any of us where you get updated about trends, competitors and technology, I bet the majority of you would say through digital media.

The problem is how much time are we spending each and every day going through online magazines, blogs, tweets, links just to stay on top of our game? It usually ends-up with many, many hours a week.

I have tried out paper.li for a few weeks now and I must say this tool is amazing. The daily editions I have created for my own use have become my default portals for BI information. I have created one edition to follow M2M developments and another one to share a vision on how to shape the connecting society (Shaping the Connected Society & The #M2M Startup Zone). These have become my default news and BI pages.

For the #M2M Startup Zone , I have selected RSS feeds from Blogs, Twitter keywords and a clever selection of filters to make sure I get the latest updates from market shapers and shakers, from partners and competitors. My primary sources here where Telefonica M2M, DT, AT&T, Vodafone, Jasper Wireless, DeviceHive, Arduino, Gemalto and Ericsson Labs to name only a few.

The flexibility here comes really from the filtering capabilities and the variety of feeds you can use. You need to play a bit with the sources to make sure you get fresh daily content. Some companies are not very active while others have to much content. Filtering allows you to get a good balance of information between various sources.

Paper.li is marketed as an online newspaper publishing and trend monitoring platform but it is so much more when used in a business context. Tech Magazines tend to target a wide audience and often contain a lot of content that is not relevant to me and specialized magazines are often difficult to find. The curated content provided with paper.li provides exactly what I am looking for.

Of course none of this will replace ground work done by journalists or analysts, but these have, for me at least, become a secondary source of information. Once I want to dig into further details, I might get that expensive analyst report.

Shaping-connected society

For the first daily paper I created, “Shaping the Connected Society” I have been using twitter feeds mainly, but for some of them like Mashable, the sheer volume of information will fill your paper with only that source. So filtering on keywords was key here as well to get a good balance on the content. I have some of the other tech sources like Techcrunch, Quartz included as sources to this paper and I am quite happy with the result although I feel that the results when focusing an specialized area like M2M tend to be better since the filtering is sharper.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this paper.li to anybody that is looking for a good and free tool to get good Business Intelligence platform on almost any topic. Try paper.li and make you own magazine matching you interest and needs, being it technology, sports, food or education, you will easily find your way around this amazing tool.

M2M & BigData giving life to the Connected Society – Part 3(5) – Retail


When it comes to bigdata, retail is an industry which is quite mature compared to the ones mentioned in my previous articles, especially if you start looking at companies like Wallmart. The subject of bigdata is already well covered but I hope I can give an additional twist on the current developments by taking M2M into the picture.

Wallmart has leveraged bigdata and analytics for a number of years now. The amount of data they collect is already at the level of petabytes and they save information about all of their customer transactions, more than 1 million per hour, and it is mainly related to receipts and purchases.  Even with a single source of data, it already provides a lot of insights when properly stored and analyzed. Today, the average retailer in the US has about 700 Terabytes of stored data. This is huge already. Processing this data requires often big investments especially if you want to process the data in real time.  But bigdata is not only for big enterprises it can also be offered as a service and a number of service providers are moving into analytics as a service, this will revolutionize the way retailers do business.

Connecting the right type of data sources could provide value even for the smallest companies. Most retailers own information collected at the point of sale in terms of receipts, purchases done, but that is not the only valuable source. Using video surveillance cameras to analyze customer behavior or combining information from mobile devices or social media could be other valuable sources. Much of this information comes today from mobile and M2M devices, but that data is often stored in silos and it can be difficult to get actionable insights from this data.  I think the key for smaller sized retailers will be to expose their own data assets, get that data enriched and get analytics as a service from specialized service providers. The question is now, how can these insights be used and monetized?

Productivity improvements and cost savings

A first application of properly processing retail data is to achieve cost savings. Knowing which items are in demand ahead of time and knowing what will sell can help to optimize inventory and supply chains. Utilizing big data could increase retailers’ operating margins by up to 60%, this could include savings in marketing, merchandising as well as supply chain.

Looking ahead, I could easily imagine in a not so far future, that bigdata and analytics could also become a means to improve in store customer service. Imagine a clerk in a fashion store that would know as you enter his store what you like in terms of clothes, what you sizes are, what colors you prefer and understands your purchasing behavior, he could serve you faster and better. This would result in more customers served and a better sales ratio.

Generate revenues from customer Insights, sentiment and behavior analysis

Another application of bigdata is to improve customer loyalty and reduce churn. To continue with the Wallmart reference, they have developed a product that allows them to reach customers, or friends of customers, who have mentioned something online to inform them about that exact product and include a discount. Using social media and combining that with purchasing data and contact information it allows them to implement pro-active measures and hence avoid churn or even attract new customers. This creates loyalty and strenghtens the brand image.

Retaining customers has also to do with the experience they get when interacting with the retailer, this is in part achieved by delivering relevant ads, offers, and promotions. Personalizing offers means making offers more revelant to a customer by having specific knowledge of that customer’s profile.

Securing increased sales is also related to the ability to rapidly adjust to the competitive environment. Most of us are sensitve to pricing and customers will often look for peer reviews to find the best place and time to buy an item. Being able to quickly adjust to this competitive environment will be key for increasing sales and sometimes even for survival.

M2M and mobile devices will play an increasing role in customer profiling.

There are today many data sources that are already in digital format and could be used in a big data context. From a retailer context we have customer information, this is often tied to the purchases done in that store through an opt-in loyalty program. Then there are the product catalogues and the actual status of the inventory.

The next step in personalization is coming from Mobile Devices, through applications which will let customers specify preferences, provide navigation capabilities to be guided to the right store, get relevant advertising and also get recommendations from other customers on the items they are interested in.

I think though that the biggest disruption might come from a smart usage of video cameras (e.g. surveillance camera) and other M2M sensors. Images from cameras in a store could help identifying who you are and support retailers to pul up a full profile of your customer preferences. Most of us tend to trade in privacy for convenience, so I have not doubt that every individual will sooner or later have pictures of himself tagged somewhere on the net and that could be the starting point to pull more information about you as a customer. But there are other mechanisms to identify you as a person as for instance foursquare check-ins or the social media profile you are using when logging to wifi.

Location information is going to be quite important to target shoppers. This could be obtained from mobile systems, wifi or tracking from video cameras. Video cameras could also be used to analyze how customers are focusing on different items in the store. This could help understand interest for certain items and maybe also decide when and what to discount. Another application of video camera is for instance to get the right sizes of the customers when entering a fashion store.

Digital signage in shopping malls and retail store can also be used to provide tailored messages and personalized ads to shoppers in or outside the store. A few seconds is probably enough to reach out to a shopper with the right message and the impact of the advertisement can probably be measured if the sale is done within the next  hour. Digital signage could also be used with cameras to analyze shopping carts and make a last second recommendation on something you might have forgotten to buy.

Other smart devices collecting data about users could be smart mirrors,  that record reactions when trying out clothes or screens that provide a personalized greeting when entering a store.

The future of retail – Smart Shopping malls

If I picture the future of retail I would imagine a smart shopping mall where customer experience is at the heart of this business. I would enter the mall and get greeted with a personalized message, the map of the mall would be downloaded to my mobile and I would get a recommendations on a few stores to visit. I would get discounts for the items I been looking for, especially the I have been reading recommendations about on the internet. This would be part of the profile information the mall is pulling up for me. As I walk and watch the digital signs I see more information about the products I am interested in. I enter a shop. The clerk again greets me and guides me directly to the item I am looking for and provides also alternative color options based on my preferences. Not much to ask me since he has all this information on a tablet.  As the clerk knows I am price sensitive he gives me an extra discount. If I picture the future of retail I would imagine a smart shopping mall where customer experience is at the heart of this business and where bigdata and analytics provide value at every step .