Part 2: Is There Anyone Talking About Technology in the Middle East?

On October 9th, Contributor Technology Consultant, Ramy Ghaly, provided an overview of the technology system in the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA). In his second part, he will elaborate on the prevalent uses with key statistics. PITAPOLICY invites readers to comment and submit a response and/or perspective that relates to the technology ecosystem. Perhaps there are innovations that were missed in the first or second parts. PITA-CONSUMERS: Please review and participate!

By: Ramy Ghaly
Edited by Mehrunisa Qayyum

Intelligence
Intelligence is another area where ICT becomes even more intelligent. People’s behavior, individual preferences, and object interactions among other elements will be more easily stored, analyzed, and used to provide intelligent insights for action. The business intelligence global market is estimated to be $11 billion industry having text analytics (10% market share of BI) a major player growing on an average 15 to 25 percent year-on-year to continue till 2013. There are few IT vendors in MENA Region that specialize in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language technology (NLP); however, this technology is still new not only to MENA region, but to the world’s market as well due to its complexity and very few specialists that specializes in computational linguistics technology.

Eric Schmidt recently stated, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” How can one understand it, measure it, and generate insight from it? 

List of High-Tech Vendors in MENA Region
~Sakhr: Is an exception because it is a US company located outside the region that specializes in “Arabic Natural Language Processing”.

Sakhr

~Kngine: Is a semantic search engine with Q&A application that was launched from Egypt, aiming to provide more meaningful search results to users.

Kngine

~Pragmatech: Unlike traditional IT companies in the MENA region, which for the most part are companies that deliver customized enterprise IT solutions, Pragmatech was established with the vision of building an IT company that conducts applied research to develop state-of-the-art solutions and technologies – technologies that would have an impact on a global scale. To see this vision through, Pragmatech has assembled a Research and Development (R&D) team which is a blend of technical expertise, experience, talent and an unparalleled passion for making a difference. A wholly owned subsidiary of the United Development Company (UDC), Pramatech is based in Doha, Qatar. Also a development branch operates in Jounieh, Lebanon–just outside the capital, Beirut. 

Pragmatech

Mobiles and Smartphones ring for attention. In particular, their calls have been answered in the Arab world. The wide adoption of the mobile phone has already brought ICT to the masses. Advances in hardware (the look and feel of the revolutionary iPhone) to software (e.g., natural language interfaces), and communications (e.g., broadband wireless) will continue to make computing more mobile and more accessible.

In MENA, people are infatuated with their mobile devices and Smartphones to the extent that almost 34 percent claim to own more than one Smartphone, thereby making MENA a hub for mobile applications. According to a study compiled by Real Opinions entitled: “Apps Arabia Mobile Report MENA”, here are some major highlights:
• The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Region has the highest incidence of multiple Smartphone usage with 41% of users (34% with 2 and 7% with 3 or more).
• Smartphones have a short shelf life. 70% of Smartphone users are likely to upgrade within the next 12 months.
• The industry is undergoing rapid growth in the region. Of those who do not own a Smartphone, 54 percent claim they will get one within 12 months.
• Nokia is the clear leader now, but faces fierce competition in the GCC nations from Apple and BlackBerry. 54 percent claim to use Nokia Smartphones, 45 percent consider their mobiles as their main phone for apps. Finally, only 22 percent would consider Nokia as their next Smartphone.

Application Category Highlights:

Top 15 Applications Used in MENA

• While ‘Communication’ apps are of most interest, in GCC ‘Social Networking’, Maps & Navigation’, ‘Business’, ‘Banking & Finance’ and ‘Travel are particularly appealing. In North Africa, ‘Music’, ‘Video’, and ‘Religion’ are particularly popular.
• Interest in apps isn’t being reflected in their regular use, issuing a challenge for developers to pick up the test.
• The top 5 gaps between interested in and use: ‘Maps & Navigation’, ‘Books’, ‘News & Information’, ‘Video’ & ‘Photography’.
• Convenience apps dominate the paid apps market in the Middle East, with ‘Banking/Finance’ (35%), ‘Travel’ (34%) & ‘Communication’ (33%) leading the paid categories.

Woopra

In my final thoughts, asking the question on how the MENA Region can produce innovative products that will impact not only the Middle East, but the global market scale as well. Woopra is one company from the region that illustrates this category and warrants examination. Founded by Elie Khoury, 25, Woopra is a Lebanese website analytics start-up and began as a college project at the Lebanese American University.

Four years later, Woopra has an office in Silicon Valley where they are positioning themselves to compete with global players such as Google;
From those humble origins, Woopra is now one of the few Lebanese startups to be competing on the global stage.

“We got really negative feedback from one professor saying that the project was nice but we should be looking for a job instead of wasting our time on projects,” recalls Jad Younan, Khoury’s former classmate and current business partner.

“A few months after that, the computer science professors were citing Woopra as a success story for the students to urge them take the programming courses more seriously,” emphasizes Younan.

At the time, one of the founder’s IT professors, Haidar Harmanani, chairman of LAU’s Computer Science department at the Byblos campus, recounts that, “They [Younan and Khoury] would sometimes show up late or be sleepy in class. I later found out they were up late working on their project.” Soon after, Harmanani went on to help the two students secure funding to travel to Morocco for a regional competition.

With such determination, I can only say that Woopra is a true, innovative tech start-up that the region should consider. Woopra encapsulates an experience that innovates next generation products that competitively place MENA in the global technology market place.

About the Author
Ramy Ghaly is a Marketing Strategist with more than ten years in international markets experience. He held professional and managerial positions in various global markets in industries ranging from retail, wholesale, consumer goods, to technology product management with concentration in channel development. He holds a degree in International Marketing Management with a minor in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies from Daytona State College. He is interested in social media developments, next generation search technologies, semantic search engines, and text analytics. Needless to say, strategies in geopolitics, Middle Eastern Studies, and Environmental factors that affect global business growth are general interests that keen to always monitor and encourage writing about. He can be reached at ramy.ghaly@pragma-tech.com. Follow Ramy on Twitter @ConsultRamy

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