GCC countries have recognized the importance of digital transformation, especially its role in optimizing efficiency and as an enabling source for future growth. Moreover, the challenges faced by the region arising from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic have only re-emphasized the importance of diversifying such largely hydrocarbon-dependent economies. This has prompted the leaders of the GCC nations to invest heavily in improving the technological landscape and digital literacy across the region. The synchronized push for such technological advancement and innovation has translated into a plethora of groundbreaking developments within technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, 5G, and cloud computing.
Such developments are transforming the region, resulting in the emergence of new and revolutionary products and solutions within healthcare, education, retail, logistics, financial services, and other economic sectors. Technological advancements are fueling growth on a global level as well, with statistics indicating that the global workforce is automating quicker than expected and that it would displace around 85 million jobs in the next five years; however, this robot revolution is poised to create around 97 million new ones. As regional leaders continue to take bold steps to leap from past limitations and pioneer in tech advancements, an entirely new tier of jobs is likely to emerge within technological domains including programming, automation, and coding. Moreover, the ongoing nature of advancement in technology also means that the jobs and requirements are likely to keep evolving for the foreseeable future which will bring about a new perspective to the region’s growth agenda.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, ushers in the new digital transformation era, the UAE is spearheading this shift within the Middle East. While major economies are still understanding the opportunities arising from technologies such as blockchain, the UAE has already integrated blockchain into its national policies and systems. The UAE has introduced two broad initiatives—Emirates Blockchain Strategy 2021, which aims to facilitate over 50% of government transactions via blockchain technology by 2021; and Dubai Blockchain Strategy, which is designed to help transform Dubai into the first city in the world that is entirely powered by blockchain.
The UAE has also established a Global Blockchain Council to explore new applications across economic sectors, while also working on a fully automated vehicle lifecycle management system via a blockchain framework. More stellar examples of this commitment include:
- Abu Dhabi Ports and Rafed’s joint launch of the UAE’s largest COVID vaccine cold storage facility powered by blockchain
- Khalifa University-affiliated researchers using blockchain tech to develop digital immunity passports
- The national carrier, Etihad Airways, exploring blockchain for direct-to-consumer products and services distribution
- Telecom provider, Etisalat’s newly-launched blockchain platform for conducting decentralized HR activities
- The launch of the UAE’s first Rewards Exchange program powered by blockchain
- Other blockchain products, including Shahada, a tamper-proof digital certificate ecosystem, and trade finance platform UAE Trade Connect
Other GCC countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have also embarked on major developments to embrace the digital transformation taking place elsewhere. The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) has been a regional pioneer in experimenting with blockchain technology for money transfers. As of June 2020, it used blockchain to disburse part of its SAR 50 billion liquidity package.
In November, a digital currency pilot (Aber) by Saudi and the UAE’s Central Banks was released to test the feasibility of a shared digital currency. It also showed how distributed ledger technology could enhance cross-border transactions and bolster digital financial privacy. Bahrain has also proactively developed its FinTech arena, and, in 2019, it introduced stringent rules related to crypto assets and activities.
The Gulf’s tech adoption does not stop here—Technologies such as 5G are growing in prominence, and during the pandemic, 5G has provided connectivity for remote working and dispersing education for many. This has led to three GCC countries—Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia—being among the top 10 globally in terms of 5G coverage and speed. The UAE has also responded to the global cryptocurrency phenomenon with a highly progressive approach. Its crypto industry has advanced at a rapid pace from an investment as well as regulatory stance. A few notable examples include the UAE government-owned entity KIKLABB’s first acceptance of crypto payments in February; Abu Dhabi’s ADGM laying the foundation for crypto usage and trade; and the first bitcoin ETF in Dubai (3iQ’s $1.45 billion fund) set for Nasdaq Dubai’s listing; all in its bid to boost investment, business, and the broader economy.
The impact of this synchronized government push towards adopting new technologies is also trickling down to the GCC’s private economy, which is reaping the benefits of the ICT strategy thrust by the government. Several regional firms are upgrading themselves with skills such as programming and coding in order to enhance their business models and make them more agile. In addition, the rising evolution of AI and 5G has buoyed automation on an expansive scale from the implementation of robots and automated logistical processes to UAE citizens even automating and modernizing their homes through such technologies. In the age of COVID-19, revolutionary tech like 3D printing is being used to produce medical equipment while big data tools are helping scientists monitor the spread of the virus. As a result, GCC countries are piloting a transformation as citizens aim to upskill and enter more technologically advanced fields. This drive towards technological literacy could birth an entirely new job market, reviving economies across nations like the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
The UAE is now increasingly becoming a hub of interest in terms of business propositions centered on technologies, such as blockchain. Institutional investors are showing a palpable growth in their appetite for opportunities within technology investment avenues including digital assets. Government tailwinds are also fueling the adoption and integration of new technologies across both startups and corporates, thereby presenting a conducive environment for rapid growth and development with limited regulatory oversight. The UAE’s policies towards honing, refining, and integrating new technologies will also have a magnetic pull effect on the number of tech entrepreneurs setting base within the nation, further enhancing job market prospects. Its tax-free climate, conducive regulatory framework, and expat-friendly policies (residency, etc.), are likely to fuel its efforts to attract both entrepreneurs and skilled professional expatriates. It can also aid in tapping into the expansive scope for IoT and blockchain adoption in the country and the broader GCC region.
In today’s world, jobs of the future cannot be predicted in advance. The importance of constantly upskilling, thinking outside the box, and taking bold steps to innovate, readjust, and grow has become even more pronounced. Evidently, blockchain, AI, IoT, 5G, and cloud computing are among the top technologies making humans smarter as a species, enabling more informed decisions, and are, thereby, shaping the future. While GCC nations have embraced tech adoption through their national ICT strategies, their desire for sustainable growth must prompt a shift in their role from adopting to creating new technologies. This transition can only be made possible through a multi-dimensional approach addressing gaps in workforce skills, education, investment, and policy reform to attract and create skilled workers to the region. Opportunities within robotics, automation, data security, data optimization, data-driven decision-making, and mass digital payments adoption in retail are likely to play a massive role in the future while creating new niche-specific jobs for coders, data architects, and cybersecurity specialists (a 2020 survey has shown that cybersecurity, organizational change management, and enterprise architecture are among the top three sought-after skills for tech leaders). Employers must develop these skills organically, while also accessing external talent through non-traditional hiring such as outsourcing, freelancing, task-automation (RBA), or partnerships with complementary firms. Such initiatives are likely to push the region’s outlook to one of the most reformists across the globe, thus paving the way for limitless growth opportunities spurred by technology in the future.