Wikimania 2008: Content and the Internet in the (Globalized) Middle East

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Content and the Internet in the (Globalized) Middle East, Dr. Ahmed Tantawi, Technical Director, IBM Middle East and North Africa.  Another copy of my notes from Wikimania 2008 – this was the keynote speech on the second day of the conference.  He began by warning us that, “I’ve changed this presentation, and I’ll change it during.  That is open content, yes?”  Everyone laughed.

The changing world: Globalization is the opening of the world to become one large society.  You still have nations, people fighting, but at another level, at the economic level, the world is becoming more and more open.  This is obviously due to the Internet.  It is more and more possible for people to communicate and exchange ideas, businesses, values, and so forth.  This has created many opportunities, including in the Middle East.  The IT industry is saturated in terms of growth.  The traditional IT industry is now mature, and growth has slowed compared to 10 to 20 years ago.  The focus of the world is on the emerging developing markets, known as growth markets.  This affects products and the type of education available.Innovation is becoming a very important part of this.  Globalization is not entirely about moving production to cheaper places.  Number one is about the right skill markets for the right job.

Evolution: Moved from National to International to Multinational.  Now “Globally Integrated Enterprise.” From “complete” to “specialized” and “value-focused.” A person can be a corporation all by themselves.  Businesses are based on differentiating themselves from others.  From concepts to optimizations to integration to commoditization/standardization.  From hardware to software and now to services.  From theoretical to experimental. From components to systems to applications. From technology focus to application focus, invention to innovation.  We are moving towards standards.  Open technology standards, trade regulations.

What could you do with a million person product development lab, or a billion person workforce?  The worldwide demand for young professional engineers can be entirely filled right now with people from India, China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Brazil, and other Latin American Countries.   They have the suitable labor pool for this, and they are the cheapest.  What about all the other young professional engineers in the world?

There continues to be a vigorous societal debate over globalization.   Many critiques: winner-takes-all, externalities, offshoring, diminishing autonomy of the nation-states.  There is a fading concept of a national economy.  Does it exist anymore?  Every nation is made up of firms that get services from others and serve others.  Many components of an economy, but not all: no tax cuts, no gov’t spending, no interest rate regulation.  But there is: corruption, infrastructure development, education.  Does a student in Sweden need the same education as one in Egypt? Probably not.  The economy in Sweden is different than the economy in Egypt.  International standards for education are therefore not productive.

What is the impact on jobs and education?  It is the Me, Inc. concept: I can be a corporation.  There is a need for global delivery systems, on and offline.  You need a different culture for us as a global society to integrate systems together.  We still speak different languages – should everyone speak English?  Do we need more than translations of words – translations of meanings, of norms?

CEOs said they must achieve: revenue growth, cost reduction, asset utilization, risk management.  They think they need to innovate business models, operations, and products/services.    But even if you improve your products, you won’t be that different than your competitor.  Biggest innovation is in the business model, not in the product or service.  New ideas come from R&D, right? No, largest contributors are employees in general, not just R&D.  2nd is business partners.  3rd is your customers.  You have to be open. R&D no longer is the citadel of innovation.

IBM: The global innovation outlook.  We opened the process to our best partners and customers.  Asked them what they think the future looks like.  In 2004, Healthcare, Government, and Work/Life.  Resulting initiative: records, IP reform, global skills forecasting. 2005-6: developing markets, future of the enterprise, transportation, environment, and energy. 2007: media, security and society, and Africa. About to start the 2008 process.

  • Media and Content:  Is piracy good or bad? Very good question.  Rethinking content creation and distribution in the digital realm.  Ticket sales are not driving movie production revenues.  We don’t go out to watch movies anymore.  We watch it anywhere.  And what is a movie?  What is entertainment?  Is it two hours or thirty minutes?  Or can it be two minutes or thirty seconds?  Youtube proves it is changing: 100 million clips viewed daily.
  • Security and Society: Viruses cost $55 billion in 2003, in 2008 it is much more.  Mobile devices are becoming important.
  • Africa: Fastest population in the world.  1/3rd of all births are in Africa.  43% are under 15 years old.  Trade between Africa and China is growing at 40% per year.

The past: Innovation will dry up without patent protection.  IP should be private and secret.  Now: IP protection can kill innovation.  Some shared, some proprietary, and some public domain.  We can tap the larger pool of innovators that don’t work for you.

Service economy: 2/3rds of GDPs globally are from services.  How does that affect us?  We have people who specialize in: science/technology, people/culture, and business/economics.  You need interdisciplinary education for the service economy.  It is how much you know about other areas that help.

Middle East: Everyone knows it is a growth market.   The numbers are not phenomenal compared to U.S., Japan, etc, but it is growing.  It is a microcosm of the world.  You have wealthy and poor regions.  Some have more people, more skills than others.  The Middle East should help each other out through outsourcing.  Yet the Middle East can help out the world – global companies are opening up shop here, offshoring to the Middle East.  No one is going to do business in a place just because it is cheap.  You must find where your product can be made, then look at cost.  Is offshoring the key to national prosperity?  Not necessarily.  It will change a few, but not the whole country.  Need a holistic approach.

Case study: What is special here in the Middle East and Egypt? Culture and tradition.  Combining IT and culture is an interesting challenge.  Use new technologies to showcase Egyptian culture.  Use content of Egyptian culture as the core of the system.  Base the product around this.  Websites, digital guides for museums, courseware, kiosks, and mobile phone resources.  This called for a platform independent content management system. is the site.  It creates relationships between sites, people, objects, etc.  Museums can remember which items you visit and you can go on the website, kiosk, mobile phone again and get information.

What is IBM doing in Egypt?  From Egypt, serving customers in all continents.  Have over 500 multilingual software developers.  Research into language technologies.