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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Intelligent cloud is so diverse, powerful that it comes with its own set of economies that deliver real benefits
Does anyone remember a time before the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Doesn't it seem like we have been talking forever about digital transformation? But we must always remember that the means to engage customers, empower employees, optimise operations and reinvent products and services is a journey. And all journeys have a first step.
That first step is cloud migration - a step that more and more Middle East organisations are taking, from the government agency trying to deliver more efficient e-services to the retailer focusing anew on customer experience. The intelligent cloud is so diverse, so powerful, so elastic, that it comes with its very own set of economies that deliver real benefits. Here are just a few.
The intelligent cloud is home to technologies that most smaller businesses would normally never dream of using because they are too expensive or cannot be properly tested. Tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, natural-language processing and the Internet of Things are brought within reach of everyone because of cloud economies.
The cloud is the perfect testing ground, offering safe, virtual environments for comprehensive proof-of-concept initiatives. "Try before you buy" is a concept made for the cloud, and innovators all over the region start their projects in precisely this way.
Job creation and skilling
Outside of the many benefits cloud computing brings to its adopters and users, it also serves the community at large, not only creating jobs directly with each new data centre, but allowing small businesses to thrive through cloud migration, and create jobs of their own.
And this effect snowballs. The World Bank has estimated that for each technology job created, around 4.3 others are generated across various industries and income groups. An IDC study shows that the cloud and Microsoft's ecosystem will create several jobs across the Middle East in the five years to 2022, with 55,500 of them coming to the UAE. However, it is also important to ensure that the workforce of today, and tomorrow - is skilled enough to fill those jobs.
Hence, initiatives like the One Million Arab Coders are equipped with intensive curriculums to make the youth future ready. And examples such as the AI academy launched by Etihad Airways are aiming to build existing workforce capacities by upskilling them in the cloud and AI.
Waiting for the next NotPetya, WannaCry or Bad Rabbit can be extremely nerve-wracking, especially if you are a business that could face desolation when downtime occurs. Not only does the cloud offer a better sanctuary than on-premises solutions, but it offers more cost-effective disaster-recovery and business-continuity options.
These advantages come from large service providers' ability to spend significant amounts on security R&D. Microsoft, for example, spends $1 billion a year and has crafted Azure from the ground up with some of the most advanced cybersecurity in the industry.
Migrate to upgrade
There are costs to running workloads on site that go beyond the financial. From administration to security, from the lack of agility and scalability to the carbon-footprint issues. Migrating some or all of an organisation's infrastructure to the cloud is simpler in so many ways. Important upgrades are automated, rollouts are streamlined, and compute burdens are alleviated.
In addition, the economies of the cloud allow for lower latency and therefore better performance, leading to greater customer engagement. In a world populated increasingly by digital natives, businesses need to ensure that everything works first time, every time. A slow-loading screen on a public website will be enough to send today's consumer to a competitor, whether they are a prospect or a long-standing customer.
A study last year showed that more than 94 per cent of UAE companies are small businesses, employing more than 86 per cent of the private-sector workforce and contributing around 60 per cent of current GDP, a share that is projected to rise to 70 per cent by 2021. This, then, is the beating heart of not only the UAE economy, but many across the Middle East. And we must preserve it. We must nurture it.
Small businesses face budgetary constraints that negate the possibility of massive expenditure on on-premises ICT infrastructure. But the economies of scale enjoyed by large service providers are passed on to such businesses, which pay for their digital assets through easy, predictable monthly subscriptions. As a result, they save significantly on costs by switching from an up-front capital-expenditure (Capex) model to an ongoing, operational-expenditure (Opex) model. In other words, they pay only for what they use.
Compliance and growth
Many of the region's governments and industry watchdogs have strict rules on data residency, privacy, security and other information-handling requirements that can be extremely difficult to adhere to, even for large enterprises with dedicated compliance teams.
The right cloud provider will be extremely well-versed in all these requirements, with compliance built into every layer of its platforms and applications. This empowers you to focus on growing your business while leaving these worries to the cloud provider.
The writer 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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