Investment activity in AI gains traction in UAE

The hype and excitement around AI are ubiquitous and executives in the UAE clearly see the transformational potential it will have on their organizations in the next three to five years.

With a significant number of companies still in the planning phase, it is companies that have been able to educate and expose their leadership to AI technology that have moved quickly to the front. These companies are also the ones to develop methodologies and associated dependencies related to AI.

Samer Abu-Ltaif, president of Microsoft Middle East and Africa, said that AI is fueling digital transformation across the Middle East and Africa, and, it has the power to amplify human ingenuity as well as extend our capabilities, empowering us to achieve more.

AI skills shortage

AI is finding early traction around the customer agenda, although CFO’s are not being silent and are pushing AI solutions into the core operations to reduce costs and drive up productivity.

According to a survey commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by consulting firm EY across 112 companies and 7 sectors in 5 countries in the MEA region, 80% responded that AI is considered an important topic on the executive management level while 89% expect AI to generate business benefits by optimizing their companies’ operations in the future.

Most AI projects (predominantly machine learning, smart robotics and chatbots) are being executed by specialist digital and IT teams as these top-end skills are not freely available.

“AI is already improving our lives today and promises to change the world in ways unimaginable to us now. The AI maturity assessment study highlights the strategies adopted at different layers of an organization today and helps us understand their readiness in AI adoption, rate of impact and benefits from its implementations, as well as how AI is being approached on a practical level,” Abu-Ltaif said.

The UAE leads the region with AI

In the UAE, AI agenda is driven by direct support from the government with national strategies and programs focused on skills development and capability creation to create the required impetus.

“The UAE is already taking strides to succeed in this journey by achieving remarkable milestones – all the way from appointing the world’s first AI minister, to embracing AI across every sector. We have an ambitious goal to make AI accessible and valuable to every individual and organization,” Sayed Hashish, regional general manager at Microsoft Gulf, said.

Companies in the UAE ranked machine learning and smart robotics as the most useful, followed by text analysis, virtual agents and natural language processing.

According to the report, the greatest amount of investment activity over the past 10 years is seen in Turkey, UAE and South Africa. The number of transactions in Turkey stood at 252 out of the total of 929 transactions in the region, and it is also the leader in terms of the amount invested, being $3.4b, followed by the UAE with $2.15b (160 deals) and South Africa with $1.66b (134 deals).

However, Saudi Arabia made a strong come back in 2018, and Jordan, although behind others in the region, is positioning itself to capitalize on opportunities in the immediate future. Interestingly, the two early starters in 2008 were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but they remained relatively quiet since with the exception of one large deal for Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Where is AI growing?

Among the sectors, social media attracted the investment most at 60% while social media amounted to only 36% and the balance is shared by cybersecurity and smart mobile beginning to gain some real momentum.

“The airline industry has the broadest AI application, especially in the customer space, even though they started very recently. Banks and Telecommunications companies were the early starters, and continue to move forward at a steady pace as data foundations improve and learnings are extracted from early projects,” the report showed.

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