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Every digital transformation process is accompanied by challenges throughout each one of its phases, said Khaled Charif, Director of Technology and Innovation, NXN while tackling the challenges that businesses face when trying to digitize their activities. In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Charif highlighted key technology trends that will mark the industry in 2018 and shed light on the importance of integrating advanced technologies into one digital platform.

Looking ahead to 2018, what are the key technology trends that will emerge and how will they affect businesses and societies?
Over the past decade, we have experienced broadband & ubiquitous connectivity, cloud computing, smartphones & smart wearable devices that allowed people to seamlessly interact with technology, big data analytics, and IOT - while the full potential of these technologies has yet to be realized. The coming wave of emerging tech brings increasingly sophisticated Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence into the mix, as well as completely new underlying frameworks and architectures such as Blockchain and Quantum Computing. Additionally, we are going to see much more from both Virtual and Augmented Reality in terms of changing the way we interact with applications and consume content, not to forget the continued advances in Robotics that weave a new level of software awareness and autonomy into our physical world.

What is unique about this landscape is not the number of new technologies that are coming into our lives, but the really strong synergy in terms of how they all fit together and how they are all digitally connected and inter-related - basically, the "digital mesh" of these emerging technologies is even more promising than any of them taken in isolation.

Now, the various applications and use-cases that this mix of technologies enables are too broad to list, as they touch on every dimension of Smart Communities, Cities, and Nations - from smart safety & security to smart economy, smart healthcare, and smart living, to name a few; and the potential impact, within each of these dimensions, is nothing short of transformational - even disruptive.

In your opinion, what challenges will businesses face in their attempt to digitize their activities? And how can they overcome them?
Whenever we think about impactful transformation, there are always challenges to overcome throughout the entire journey; from conceptualization & strategic direction, all the way to execution & end-user adoption. A common challenge within the digitization journey is the broad aspect of the exercise, as it needs to cover the technical aspect, as well as skill-sets, processes, governance and policy, among others; synergizing all these different aspects is not an easy task.

We have always believed in a technology-centric, but holistic approach when it comes to master planning for our government, real estate, and enterprise customers - and digital transformation is no different, throughout both strategy and execution phases.

How important is it to integrate all of the advanced technologies into one digital platform? And how does it improve the efficiency of the services you offer?
We believe that a digital platform is the best way to effectively harness the benefits that many emerging technologies promise to deliver on - the resulting landscape is a perfect example where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Artificial Intelligence applications, for example, can only strive when they feed on large and heterogeneous data sets; an underlying big data platform brings those data sets into the picture and facilitates their consumption, while enablers such as M2M and IOT facilitate the process of connecting and tapping into relevant data sources. This is a good example where we can think of these technologies as individual "building blocks" that form part of a common digital platform.

Pursuing multiple platforms for each emerging technology might seem to be a faster and more direct approach at first, but it brings the risk of falling back into a silo-ed, fragmented services landscape; a landscape that makes it very difficult to build and run smart services that seamlessly orchestrate, integrate, and weave multiple functions across a variety of systems.

Of course, there is also the benefit of addressing technology gaps and introducing new & relevant technologies while avoiding replication and overlap, which is an important aspect when it comes to both cost-consolidation and operational-efficiency.

In your opinion, which sectors can benefit mostly from such a platform?
It is an integrated platform which is applicable to various industries. There are of course, government entities who wish to launch new services and initiatives into the market that can hugely benefit from the platform. The real estate sector has also embraced the platform because it contributes to the smart cities initiatives by helping to integrate various city systems. The platform also applies to telecom in terms of monetizing data. Also, the healthcare and education verticals look very promising.

What were the achievements that marked NXN's success in 2017?
NXN has continued its journey in 2017 as one of the thought leaders within the Smart Nation, smart City/District, and Smart government advisory landscape, with both regional and global exposure.

We have also established our in-country digital transformation platform DNX bringing digital technology solutions as a service to governments, real estate developers, and enterprise customers across the region. 2017 was a year for us to actually establish ourselves strongly in the market as digital services provider, and we are looking ahead to 2018!

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