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Big Data business 'next natural resource'

Posted On October 28, 2013

Oil has traditionally been the Middle East’s most lucrative natural resource. Data — vast, untapped quantities of it — could be its next.

Big Data can offer not only solutions to current market challenges, but an increasingly prized asset to be managed on behalf of almost every industry in the Middle East.

Interest in harnessing Big Data’s insights is growing across industries ranging from aviation to health care and even the dominant oil and gas sector.

The Middle East’s telco providers are uniquely positioned to not only counsel to a broad range of industries, but also the fundamental infrastructure for capturing and transmitting all types of data.

But to ensure their ongoing market share, telecommunications leaders must take decisive action now to secure new skills and technologies necessary for Big Data’s “refinement.”

Tapping data at the source

Telecommunications providers in the Middle East have reached an inflection point in their success.
Most incumbent providers, particularly in highly-regulated environments, face relatively little competition and have benefited greatly from some of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world — up to 96 percent according to some estimates.

However, with the rapid change in consumer behavior and the huge potential in tapping the vast amounts of data, Middle East’s telecommunications sector needs to find a new source of competitive advantage.

Already some telecommunications companies are investing aggressively in expanding data services for their consumer base — but the industry can extend this approach even further.

The unique market situation of Middle East telecommunications lends itself to harnessing Big Data.

Pervasive mobile uptake means that telecommunications providers can not only access a significant pool of data relevant to numerous industries, but also provide a ubiquitous platform for services that use and benefit from the analysis of Big Data.

These providers also control the network infrastructure necessary for transmitting the vast quantities and types of data — everything from sensor-generated reports from oil rigs to unstructured social media content — between organizations and industries.

In short, Middle East telecommunications companies are already in a strong position to harness Big Data in their operations.

Some leading telecommunications providers have already begun applying Big Data insights to tackle challenges faced across the industry.

In the Middle East, IBM is working with a major telecommunications provider to predict customer churn based on its historical user data.

The solution is already helping the company to identify “at-risk” customers and take appropriate steps ahead of time to prevent losing them to competitors.

But it also alludes to the new skills and technologies — particularly those which analyze and “refine” Big Data — which telecommunications providers need to incorporate not only to improve their businesses, but also establish themselves as the trusted source of Big Data counsel and infrastructure for industries across the region.

Extracting Big Data’s value

Big Data’s value stems from the insights, which it informs and supports. While the Middle East’s telecommunications players may have control over the infrastructure and device platforms that carry data, they must partner with technology leaders, which have the analytics and systems expertise necessary to refine Big Data into actionable business recommendations. By doing so, both parties can deliver the Big Data applications, which are increasingly sought after by industries throughout the Middle East — a significant source of growth potential for any telecommunications provider.

The diversity of these applications requires telecommunications leaders to cultivate a new range of skills within their businesses. Machine-generated data, derived from existing sensor networks across critical infrastructure, is being approached as a means to automate and forecast critical outcomes in public-sector areas like traffic management as well as the infrastructure-reliant oil and gas industry.

If the Middle East’s telecommunications industry is to become the go-to source for Big Data solutions, it must ensure its personnel have sufficient expertise to apply its resources to a wide variety of business problems and data types.

It must also apply the deep analytics capabilities, which parse all available data to deliver insights informed by each industry’s unique situation and goals; as well as next-generation technologies, which can directly communicate with customers and clients to provide insights personalized to the individual level.

For instance, the UAE has one of the most engaged Twitter audiences in the world. How can the country’s telcos leverage the huge volume of daily tweets and turn it into improved product sentiment analysis?

Analytics and “intelligent” solutions like IBM’s Watson, which uses Big Data to not only respond to queries but improve the accuracy of its recommendations, may not currently be the telecommunications industry’s core area of expertise.

By partnering with leading technology providers, they can gain these capabilities and extend them across their own assets — such as omnipresent mobile platforms — to deliver Big Data solutions that are not only practical but profitable to any number of industries.

Big Data has the potential to transform both the Middle East’s business landscape and the very quality of life that its citizens enjoy.

The region’s telecommunications players will need to similarly transform if they wish to capitalize on the data resources that they already control — namely the “wells” and “pipes,” which underpin the flow of data in all its forms.

By calibrating these resources to deliver Big Data capabilities, and gaining new skills and analytics technologies through partnerships with their technology counterparts, the telecommunications industry stands to underpin the future growth prospects of almost every industry in the Middle East, thus enabling business to overcome current challenges while creating a new source of competitive advantage in the process.


— Mohamed Abdelhak is country general manager at IBM Saudi Arabia

Source: Arab News

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