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SAP had a strong presence at Mobile World Congress this year, featuring a connected car demo, a connected stadium demo, and an announced collaboration with Apple to deliver the expanded SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS. In addition, SAP named its new Head of Telco for the MENA region, Mr. Bulent Unsal, who said the Middle East and North Africa is an important region for the company where it has formed partnerships with local telcos to implement smart city solutions.

Mr. Unsal now heads SAP's telecommunications industry for the Middle East and North Africa, covering the whole sales process for SAP solutions in the region. MENA is an emerging market where SAP has centered much of its focus, Mr. Unsal told Telecom Review at SAP's MWC booth, where it's putting in a lot of investment to see its smart city expectations for the region come to life. The new Head of Telco's goal and corporate objective is to achieve this.

"We are lucky, in terms of dynamics in the industry and dynamics of the territory, because this is a very fast moving industry, and in the MENA region we have advanced customers that are in some ways ahead of many other telecom operators - particularly with smart city initiatives," said Mr. Unsal. "We at SAP are enabling the governments in the region, with the telecom operators, to walk on the smart city and smart enterprise journey."

SAP's smart city contribution in the Middle East is evident by its growing partnership portfolio. In Saudi Arabia, together with leading telecom operators in the country, SAP is jointly providing smart city solutions to various industries.

"In the past, while some organizations have had difficulties in terms of hosting and maintaining typical software or IT solutions, now with our partnerships with telecom companies, we are helping them to reach solutions in a simple way; and from a financial perspective, in the future, they may achieve better cash management," Mr. Unsal explained.

The UAE is an area of particular interest for SAP, where it has formed an agreement with du (Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company) to achieve the "utilization of the city" and provide "solutions for the citizens and residents, for the government, and for the consumers too," said Mr. Unsal. "This changes the lifestyle of people who live in the city, plus the companies who are doing business there."

SAP became Expo 2020 Dubai's first international Premier Partner this year, to support the delivery of personalized experiences to the millions of expected visitors from around the world. As Expo 2020 Dubai's appointed Innovative Enterprise Software Partner, SAP will co-innovate on real-time technology platforms that enable organizers and exhibitors to instantaneously analyze data to identify visitor trends. These insights will be used to help tailor each visitor's experience to their preferences.

This could enable visitors arriving at Expo 2020 Dubai to be informed of the quickest route to their preferred pavilions with suggested stops on the way, or being directed to see the latest virtual reality advances.

To achieve this, SAP's real-time technology solutions have the potential to transform transactions and analytics leading up to Expo 2020 Dubai into insights that inform and inspire action. Such insights will not only help Expo 2020 Dubai to satisfy individual needs but also ensure a ‘made-for-you' experience across all parts of their Expo journey, including hospitality, transportation and telecommunications.

"From a solution perspective, we have a lot to offer in the smart city space - a huge portfolio," said Stephan Gatien, General Manager/Global Head of Telecommunications Industry, SAP Industries, speaking to Telecom Review at MWC. "We have a set of IoT solutions that we bundle in a portfolio under the brand name Leonardo that covers things like connected cars, transportation management, transportation safety, and elements of citizen security.

From an industry perspective, because SAP has a focus on 25 industries, the company also has a strong presence in smart city relevant themes like waste management and smart grid management that have great potential for initiatives like Smart Dubai. The utilities market is very much SAP-centric.

"There is a very large share of utility customers worldwide that have adopted SAP software," Mr. Gatien continued. "What we bring to the table is a large set of functionalities that cater to the production of energy and the distribution of consumers. As these industries evolve, for instance with smart grids, we extend those solutions and we leverage the strength that we've built throughout the years and augment it with those solutions - and that's how we have become relevant for initiatives like Smart Dubai."

SAP is specialized in enabling utility companies to manage their offerings to their customers, to understand the consumption through smart grids, and also manage the assets required to deliver the energy in a waste management fleet which handle and optimize waste management, Mr. Gatien explained.

The company also "enables utility companies to manage the different stake holders of the process which would include the customers or consumers, the service representatives, the field technicians, and the executive management." SAP focuses on a wide range including finance, HR, supply chain, logistics, asset management, etc - the classic suit of domains that the company has been known for throughout the years.

"SAP has a long track record of providing trusted, best-in-class enterprise solutions that are essential to the planning and operations of Expo 2020 Dubai," said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Expo 2020 Dubai Higher Committee, who indicated that the partnership with SAP would help deliver an exceptional experience for each visitor. The event is expected to run more than 20 real-time solutions on the SAP HANA in-memory platform and the SAP S/4HANA real-time business suite.

"We are building a tremendous base of technology enablers that collectively provide thoughtful, connected experiences," said Sheikh Ahmed. "SAP will help us be smarter, more innovative and more efficient in our approach to providing exceptional experiences along the journey to Expo as well as during the event."

Key innovation themes resonating in the Middle East, according to Mr. Gatien, include blockchain technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence - technologies that are driving where SAP wants to take its solutions. The first evidence of the company's activities in blockchain technologies, for instance, is in finance and trading.

"We publicly announced a pilot between a Canadian bank and a stock exchange where the traditional swift network was bypassed through blockchain which shaved off two days of the time it usually takes for money to be approved," Mr. Gatien said.

In the MENA region, SAP faces regulation challenges which change from one country to another, the executives said, but this is "not something that SAP can influence or change." Furthermore, SAP must adapt to the differing priorities of telcos, again based on regulations, such as tariffs, etc.

On a global scale, SAP's challenges reflect the challenges of the entire industry, which needs to "reinvent itself and move away from what made it successful in the first place [basic services]," said Mr. Gatien. "On one hand, we need to help companies maintain their core business and extract value as much as possible, and on the other hand, we need to help them accelerate modernization by creating new services in IoT and new business models."

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