Building Blocks for UAE Data Economy Set Out by Technology Think Tank

A data industry think tank has called for a UAE national programme to develop the key skills required to help the country achieve its ambitions of becoming one of the world’s leading economies by 2030.

The action is one of 10 recommendations contained in an industry white paper entitled ‘Building a Data Economy’ published by Mashreq Bank, and MEED (Middle East Economic Digest) as part of its second UAE Technology Think Tank.

The report examined the best ways for the UAE to achieve its data economy ambitions – a key aspect of the country’s ambition to accelerate digital transformation, build its knowledge economy and become a global tech hub.

Significantly, the report has highlighted how as the use of comprehensive data continues to be an integral piece of economic innovation, businesses and government bodies alike face numerous challenges surrounding data quality and vulnerabilities in the overall digital ecosystem.

As day-to-day business becomes increasingly digital, one of the key challenges for firms is finding skilled workers that can succeed in the data economy. This issue is particularly prevalent amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who lack the capital resources to upskill or reskill. There also are rising concerns around data privacy and cybersecurity.

Hind Eisa Salim, Executive Vice-President and Head of Services and Manufacturing, Mashreq BankHind Eisa Salim, Executive Vice-President and Head of Services and Manufacturing, Mashreq Bank
Hind Eisa Salim, Executive Vice-President and Head of Services and Manufacturing, Mashreq Bank

Hind Eisa Salim, Executive Vice-President and Head of Services and Manufacturing at Mashreq Bank, said: “Transformative change was already underway in the UAE’s journey before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with milestones ranging from the launch of data centres by the likes of Microsoft, AWS and Oracle to commercial-scale rollout of 5G networks and blockchain-enabled public services. These investments in digital capabilities paid huge dividends amid the pandemic when the UAE’s digital prowess was tested like never before. ICT has proven itself to be a key enabler of post-pandemic economic recovery and a key determinant of how fast markets bounce back.”

She added, “As we look to the future, however, increasingly vast amounts of data will continue to be generated. With the increased reliance on digital tools, greater focus is needed to ensure trust in the digital environment.  The key to resolving all these challenges is a holistic policy framework that supports greater investment in technology innovation and deployment. Our report finds that through close collaboration, the government, private sector and educational sector will be able to develop data laws that enhance the data economy, build an agile and capable data environment, safeguard data and privacy as well as improve data democratisation.”

The recommendations identified by the report centre around the various stages of a “virtuous cycle” of data sharing, including greater confidence in the data economy, more data generated and captured, increased transparency and democratisation, and sharing insightful data within a company and between industries and government.

Among the opportunities for improvement in the report are:

  • Governance and Guidelines: As connectivity grows, so do the issues around security and transparency. Agile governance needs to underpin all aspects of the data economy, to make sure the most effective guidelines and standards are in place. The aim of such regulations should be to ensure data availability for all, maintain optimal data quality and safeguard the rights and privacy involved in the ecosystem.

    Among the recommendations highlighted in the report are the establishment of national standards, to ensure clarity on why and what data is gathered, the creation of a regulatory environment that encourages greater investment in digital infrastructure, and the establishment of a GCC-wide data protection agreement similar to the EU’s GDPR.

  • Building a Data Environment: To effectively and safely gather and utilise consumer data, the UAE needs to construct a capable data environment. To make this a reality, the country should aim to create optimal conditions to encourage investments in data infrastructure, not just in the physical sense, but also in terms of ease of conducting business. The report recommends a number of steps to address these challenges, including offering connectivity subsidies to data centres, reducing the cost of last-mile internet connectivity, as well as sustainable power subsidies to data centres and the use of IT and IoT sensors to improve energy usage by these systems.

    Additionally, local talent should be built by identifying missing skillsets, upskilling existing workers and creating centres of excellence with government, industry and academia to train workers.

  • Security and Privacy: Every day, enormous quantities of data linking to a user’s tastes, activities, location and decisions are being captured by a plethora of entities, sometimes even without the permission of users. At the same time, technology platforms are competing against one another to harvest, refine and analyse data to develop actionable insights that can be sold to other firms for targeted reach.

    This raises concerns surrounding the security of those that host the data and the privacy of those that provide this information. The report notes that the UAE would be well advised to build systems that prioritise data protection measures, the inclusion of strong data privacy as a key pillar of digital strategies, and a customer option to be able to opt-out of information sharing if needed.

  • Democratisation and Value: One of the biggest challenges in digital transformation is overcoming unequal access to data, within a group of individuals, an organisation or between nations. It is important to build a culture of trust, where the purpose and ownership of data is clearly defined beyond fine print at the bottom of a website.

    The report notes that doing so will require companies and governments to implement data democratisation goals, the allocation of funds to train employees, assess and upgrade existing systems, and investments in no-code tools and self-service analytics.

  • Tyler is a Fintech Junior Journalist with specific interests in Online Banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.