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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - The UAE is fertile ground for small businesses, with government at the federal and municipal level regularly stepping up investment in entrepreneurship.
Like many regional governments, the UAE sees fledgling businesses as a promising means to diversify an oil-rich economy and move away from petrochemical dependence.
In pursuit of a healthy private sector, government departments across the country tightly monitor progress. Dubai SME, a Department of Economic Development sub-entity tasked with invigorating the small business sector, released a study last year to serve as a progress report on the Dubai SME Development Plan (SMDP), which is part of Dubai Plan 2021. It showed what many expected - that SME contribution to the emirate's economy had continued to rise.
For Dubai, which saw a 40 per cent SME share in GDP in 2009, the contribution stood at 47 per cent in 2016. SMEs had also created 52.4 per cent of new jobs, up from 42 per cent in 2009. And all of this had happened during a period of slower-than-usual growth worldwide. Around half of all registered companies in Dubai are startups, the Smart SME report told us - significant encouragement for the emirate, as it seeks to become a global centre for entrepreneurship, knowledge transfer and innovation.
Innovate at scale
Technology is playing a huge role here in the UAE's burgeoning SME sector. Smaller companies can now innovate at scale through the power of the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge. They have access to platforms and tools that would have been out of reach financially and logistically just a few years previously.
The UAE, like other regional peers in the Gulf, is running a series of government programmes designed to promote digital transformation and the enhancement of e-service delivery across the public sector. At the same time, the federal government, just as Dubai has done, is reaching out to business founders with mentoring schemes, and easing regulatory frameworks to accelerate the growth of startups. Nationwide, more than 94 per cent of all companies are SMEs, employing 86 per cent of the private-sector workforce and contributing 60 per cent of national GDP. By 2021, that share is projected to be 70 per cent.
The private sector in the UAE is a whirlwind of innovation right now, as companies vie for a position racing to the top. This is where cloud computing comes into the mix. A smaller company's budget precludes banks of servers and huge capital outlays on expensive hardware. But the intelligent cloud has an array of operational and financial benefits to offer: Enterprise-grade security, and access to productivity apps, rich commerce platforms, collaboration suites and more.
All you can eat
Then consider the more advanced tools, only available to the largest enterprises a mere decade ago - artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, the Internet of Things, natural-language processing, computer vision and augmented reality. It's a long list; a menu that should have innovators salivating. And when you get the bill, you discover that you only pay for the food you've eaten. That's one of the biggest boons of the cloud for smaller businesses - not having to spend, spend, spend for a cutting-edge software suite when you'll only ever use 10 per cent of its functionality.
Use cases for the intelligent cloud are expanding yearly, and many are of great significance to the UAE and the wider GCC region. Digital oil fields are fast becoming the norm. Advanced sensors allow data capture at all points of process, culminating in rich information lakes that can be siphoned for insights in real time. But smaller businesses can also benefit from such Internet of Things solutions.
Think of the logistics company trying to track shipments and vehicles, or the events company trying to manage assets, or the retailer trying to optimise warehousing Microsoft has seen these use cases and many more at work in the UAE and beyond.
Friendly neighbourhood data centres
In response to the growing demand for its intelligent cloud, Microsoft established two UAE-based cloud data centres, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai, to serve the Middle East market.
SMEs will be among the greatest benefactors, especially those experiencing issues with data-storage capacities, cybersecurity or data residency.
If an SME in the region wants to take on clients in the FSI or government sectors, they often must show they can comply with a range of national and international regulations and demonstrate - and often certify - that customer data will never cross borders.
This is important for SMEs. And when you factor in the predictable costs, access to cutting-edge tech such as AI and IoT, and the security-at-scale offered by large providers, the cloud becomes the obvious route to success for SMEs. It is the perfect home and the ideal environment in which to achieve more.
- Necip Ozyucel is cloud and enterprise group lead at Microsoft UAE. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.
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