Posted on December 08, 2016

The global flow of data is rapidly becoming as important to economic development as the flow of oil, goods and services between nations, according to national and international experts speaking at The Euromoney Qatar Conference, which concludes today.

For nations and companies looking to grow in the digital era, an in-depth understanding of customer behaviour, adaptive and dynamic security policies, and an integrated strategy for linking SME growth and technological development will be critical success factors. More than 600 international and national delegates attended The Euromoney Qatar Conference in 2016, and there was strong interest in the on-stage discussions on Day Two, which focused on the role of technology, innovation and the measures in place to support small and medium businesses. 

Qatar is making important progress in these areas. In a keynote interview, Khalid Al-Hashmi, Assistant Undersecretary, Cyber Security, Q-CERT (Qatar Computer Emergency Response Team) outlined the work his organisation is undertaking to ensure Qatar continues to enjoy the highest level of information security.

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“The threat landscape is growing as the level of digitisation increases across society,” explained Al-Hashmi. “We’re seeing that companies are now facing a higher level of risk across their supply chain, as they look to outsource more processes and move more operations into the Cloud. Q-CERT is working in alliance with regional and international bodies to exchange information about online risks and ensure the highest level of protection for Qatar.”

Al-Hashmi also focused on the importance of training and education, detailing Q-CERT’s work to “train the trainers” in the private sector and build security championships in small businesses and start-ups, to create a robust cybersecurity framework that will enable companies to innovate and digitalise their assets safely. The work of Q-CERT was cited as one of the key stabilising factors in the panel discussion on “Digitising Qatar,” which looked at Qatar’s strategic priorities in the digitalisation process.

Sara Alkhelaifi, Computer Engineer, Financial Stability and Cyber Security, Qatar Central Bank was one of the panellists. She said: “Like many developed nations, Qatar is still realising its digital potential, working hard to promote programmes that enable citizens to access services and realise their ambitions through digital channels.” Laurence Leyden, General Manager, Financial Services EMEA, SAP, provided an international perspective of the opportunities. “Digitisation is effectively putting power in the hands of the customers, enabling them to execute processes and access the services they want digitally. This requires companies and organisations to rethink their systems and build a neural approach around customer behaviour.”

Their comments were echoed by representatives from Vodafone Qatar and PayFort Qatar, who both spoke about the major opportunities that digitalisation offers companies in the MENA region, as more behaviour moves online and people look to shop, interact and access education through social media and their smart devices. Qatar’s integrated strategy for growth in this area provides the country with a competitive advantage, according to speakers.

In the final session of Day Two, leaders and rising business stars met to discuss Qatar’s evolving ecosystem for small and medium businesses, and the nation’s success in nurturing innovation at all levels.

Khalid Abdulla Al-Mana, Executive Director of Business Finance at Qatar Development Bank, provided a historical perspective on Qatar’s recent development. “Qatar is blessed with strong hydrocarbon assets and we are now focusing on diversification in order to ensure sustainable growth beyond oil and gas. Over the past five years, I’ve seen the same level of focus shown in terms of developing the SME and start-up sector as our nation showed in developing its Liquid Natural Gas industry, which bodes very well for the future.”

His comments were echoed by Aysha Al Mudahka, CEO of Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC), who noted her organisation’s success in incubating 61 businesses and becoming the leading mixed incubator in the region. “We see that innovation and entrepreneurialism can be taught and nurtured and that a flourishing ecosystem can make an important contribution to national growth and development.”

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The success of Qatar in supporting SMEs was validated by a number of innovators who spoke about their experiences at The Euromoney Qatar Conference. Marouf Mahmoud, Founder and CEO of Tasama Sports Development discussed the impact that access to finance and a strong mobile network had on his growing specialist sports agency. Mohammed Al-Muhanadi, CEO of Social Media Solutions, and Mohanad Akilla, General Manager, Inspection Technology, also discussed their business journeys and the support Qatar had provided along the way.  

Earlier in the day in the breakfast workshop, asset managers and investment advisors spoke about the new opportunities being created by technology and innovation in the investment sector. Meshal Jaber Al Faras, Head of Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, Janus Capital Group, spoke about the rising interest in his company’s innovation-led products, such as its Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), which – although only a small proportion of its overall trade portfolio – was rapidly growing as investors seek new ways to achieve value. His comments were echoed by representatives of AES International and Amwal LLC. 

Victoria Behn, Director of Middle East and Africa at Euromoney Conferences, said: “This year’s Euromoney Qatar Conference has seen the highest level of contributions from speakers and delegates in our five-year history and we have received excellent feedback for all our stakeholders. We look forward to returning to Doha for another insightful discussion next year.” 

The Euromoney Qatar Conference is set to return to Doha in 2017. 

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