Orange Business Services and the UAE: Big, bold and smart
The Middle East is the most exciting region in the world for smart city uptake. Whether it be renovating existing infrastructure or building entire new districts, new projects are popping up at a serious pace. We speak to Orange Business Services, a key player in many of these developments.
The Middle East isn’t doing smart cities by half. More so than any other region in the world, the GCC countries in particular have recognised the need to join up public and private services with technology.
From Doha and Dubai to Al Irfan and Yanbu Industrial City, urban centres across the Gulf nations are making serious investment, drawing in expertise and resource from public and private sectors.
Enter Orange Business Services (OBS). A B2B branch of the Orange Group operating across the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT), the 2,000-strong team is implementing smart solutions in six key territories - Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco – while working alongside Orange affiliates in Egypt and Jordan. Working with clients at an enterprise, city and country level, the business division is bringing together key stakeholders in regional developments, whether this be through consulting services or design and deployment of its solutions.
Though the concept may appear to be a fairly recent phenomenon, OBS began its smart cities operations more than a decade ago, making it one of the first global operators, large system integrators and digital services businesses to enter what is now known as the smart cities market. With a huge amount of consultation work already complete, the focus is very much now on delivery of big, bold and smart.
In charge of driving the development of smart city projects is Mohammed Adnane Retmi, OBS Head of Orange Applications for Business in the IMEAR Region (Indirects, Middle East, Africa and Russia). Indeed, smart cities represents a major growth area for Orange Business Services, not just in the Middle East but also at a global level.
“A key challenge for cities is to provide citizens with digital services to simplify their day-to-day lives and enhance their economic and tourism attractiveness,” Retmi explains, pointing to the huge potential in the Gulf region. The area holds an enormous advantage over the likes Europe when it comes to urban development – the ability to build from scratch.
“The Middle East, and especially the ambitious, large scale smart city programmes in the GCC – with a focus on Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar – are a strategic focus of this global programme due to the unique greenfield opportunities of the GCC.
“The example of the Middle East is revealing. Those countries actively developing smart cities or smart components of urban areas enjoy significant advantages and benefits, from clear and visionary leadership, well organised and very committed approach to projects and the resources to deliver fast results. They are also hungry for innovation and with the benefits of greenfield sites and few legacy constraints, real innovation is a possibility.”
Asked about the common difficulties faced by city planners aiming to turn smart, Retmi highlights three particular challenges. The first of these is a seemingly simple definition exercise, a critical foundation of understanding if any meaningful progress is to be made.
“What exactly do we mean by ‘smart city’?” Retmi asks. “These terms are commonly used but inconsistently understood, so a common lexicon or vocabulary is crucial. For example, a smart city is not an end product or single project but an evolving long term programme or journey, so organising, leading and managing an undertaking of this scale is also a major human challenge.”
Second, and where OBS earns its crust in unifying the interests of stakeholders, is determining a clear vision of the end result of a smart city programme. “It is said that most large projects fail at the beginning not at the end, and usually because of poor planning, including lack of shared vision,” Retmi observes, adding that OBS is uniquely positioned as an operator and integrator, able to deliver a fully-functioning solution to what can be a fragmented ecosystem of technology and services. “Coordination is vital between the various stakeholders on smart city projects. City planners need a partner to help in assessing, designing, building and running smart cities, and play the role of master systems integrator in these very complex smart city ecosystems.”
The third, and perhaps most obvious challenge revolves around financing and ownership. Despite the Middle East being home to world’s most valuable natural resource wealth, smart city developments carry enormous budget requirements, making collaboration with the private sector in models such as PPP and revenue sharing a desirable option.
Yanbu Industrial City
Despite these significant hurdles, Retmi has already pointed to the Middle East countries’ commitment to thorough organisation and project management. Yanbu Industrial City in Saudi Arabia is a perfect case in point.
Though Retmi has expressed the massive scope for smart cities to be built from scratch, Yanbu is demonstration of what can be achieved on brownfield sites in the region.
“The Royal Commission for Yanbu had a vision for the city which was focused on gaining greater control of information and systems and creating easier operations,” he adds. “It wasn’t any one particular thing like M2M or connected cars powering the plans forward, so Orange distilled that vision down, established what services would bring the right value and ensured that it was scalable.”
New smart services powered by technology will integrate with conventional services like water, electricity, gas, public transport and traffic management to transform daily living and working habits. The open access network, built on fibre infrastructure, will enable delivery of services from multiple providers, with consumers staying informed via multichannel communication comprising voice, online, IPTV and VPN.
Working closely with key partners such as Mobily, Orange Business Services is delivering infrastructure that combines the latest technology with bespoke design. Key elements of the deployment include:
- Community portal – the online gateway for all Yanbu residents and businesses to access city services including public information, community management and subscription to services to receive updates and all latest data
- Smart home solution – the next generation of urban living. Feature-enabled smart homes connect to the internet and make life easier for residents. In Yanbu, the solution is based on a control box and sensors plus seamless integration of the service into the web portal
- Command centre - one of the key elements of the Yanbu project, all smart city services are managed from a single, central point, delivering great efficiencies and benefits to Yanbu.
Thanks to these developments, Yanbu is now perfectly placed to be a model of evolved technological architecture and services in the MEA region, bringing connected living to citizens, business and municipalities.
Retmi adds: “Smart cities projects in the Middle East are not just about brand new cities but also brownfield sites such as Yanbu, Riyadh, which aim to become 'smarter' cities, while greenfield developments include new districts in Dubai, Doha, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. Greenfield sites provide the opportunity to interconnect the different services right from the beginning, which is something you cannot do in an existing city.
“To achieve all of this requires the financial and political will that is present in the Middle East. There is also a big difference in scale between Middle East and European smart city projects. The city of Nice for example has put in some smart city components with very focused services. Projects are simply much bigger and more all-encompassing in the Middle East.”
Retmi mentions several other smart city projects in which OBS is playing a vital role, including a partnership with Al Ra’idah Investment Company to develop Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Financial District. An investment of more than $70 billion, this is the country’s largest smart city programme covering transport, energy supply and other vital services for citizens and businesses.
The sheer size of the task ahead here and at other smart city sites, both brownfield and greenfield, adds to the challenges outlined by Retmi earlier. “Nowhere in the world have there been smart city projects launched on this scale and with this amount of energy and drive behind them. The big vision, the leadership and the resources are all in place but these are new models and so require new thinking; it is not a question of importing a model from elsewhere.”
Indeed, the willingness to face up to these challenges of scale, ownership and finance has resulted in the Middle East becoming the global smart city forerunner. Authorities and enterprises have realised that facing up to these challenges of implementation will solve far greater, more fundamental pressures facing their countries and economies caused by urbanisation.
According to UN figures, 85 percent of the UAE’s population live in urban areas, a figure set to hit 91 percent by 2050. The Middle East, it is fair to say, is a highly urbanised part of the world.
Retmi concludes: “City-dwellers consume over three quarters of all the world’s energy production and are responsible for 80 percent of CO2 emissions. To help manage energy and other resources in these urban environments, governments in the Middle East are looking towards smart city technology.
“Rapidly increasing urban populations are straining existing infrastructure even while governments look to attract new businesses and industries to support their economies beyond oil. The pressure is on for smart cities to provide the answer.”
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”