Contributing writer

How CIOs in the UAE lead by example in agile transformation, with the skillset to prove it

Aug 22, 2022
Agile DevelopmentDigital Transformation

With support from the top of government, and by tapping into a deep reservoir of talent to swiftly implement innovations, CIOs in the UAE serve as a global model of success as digital transformation gains momentum across all business sectors.

digital transformation binary change agile growth
Credit: Thinkstock

According to Statista, the global digital transformation market is projected to be $1.8 trillion this year, while next year’s spending is forecast to be worth $2.3 trillion, and $2.8 trillion by 2025.

And with rapid digitalization of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, especially the Gulf countries, IT spend is expected to hit $169 billion this year, the latest forecast by Gartner shows.

Agile transformation, in particular, is gaining momentum across all business sectors in MENA and UAE regions, with enterprises and startups adopting methodologies to develop a continuous and incremental improvement plan that delivers benefits to organizations.

According to a study from Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government, the UAE government has identified 12 advanced skills as part of its strategic initiative to ensure any skills gap is addressed. The study entitled “Advanced National Skills for the User-Centric Agile Public Sector” measured these 12 skills in Dubai government as assessed by its employees, and it proposes a measurement framework that suggests the majority of public sector employees in Dubai possess a high level of advanced skills.

Ammar Alhafidhi, senior change manager at First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), says a lot of businesses working in an outmoded waterfall methodology are moving to an agile structure for more effective digital transformation. This is a big challenge since it needs people with strong experience to bring in new systems and platforms, as well as change old business models and habits.

Ammar Alhafidhi

Ammar Alhafidhi

“We’re delivering some solutions as part of the whole project to the business every two weeks, which we call One Sprint,” he says. “They see the product and give their feedback on the spot if they want any changes or improvement, which we can fix before the whole project is delivered.”

Data, after all, is new fuel, Alhafidhi says, and CEOs should encourage their IT teams to focus on it.

UAE sets the example

According to researchers from Gartner and McKinsey, more than 75% of digital transformation strategies fail, and by 2025, according to Wissam Mattout, SVP, operations, CRM at Damac Properties, almost 83% of digital transformation strategies will fail or be considered failures.

One of the reasons for this, he says, is that CEOs are dumping digital transformation on CIOs and CTOs without proper support from other teams within the organization. Another reason is transformation fatigue with continuous change. “CIOs should try to achieve smaller goals within longer plans,” he says. “That is what the agile methodology is based on: interactions and dividing a big issue into small portions.”  

But the approach in the UAE is different. It’s always been a global frontrunner to adopt and implement new technologies, and promote digital transformation because the government supports all IT innovations as well as skills.

According to the study, the UAE Government developed a National Program for Advanced Skills (NPAS) to ensure the national workforce is adequately trained to tackle future challenges.

This new strategy that represents the government’s constructive and agile vision is expected to improve future skills of the UAE workforce and position the country in a competitive footing among other advanced nations in future skills development.

The UAE is quick to take action and adopt innovations as well as accept risks, says Abdalla Al Ali, director of IT at DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre). “It became a role model in government services digitalization, and 10 years from now, it’ll become even more advanced.” 

At the moment, the UAE is already one of the role models in digital transformation, just like Singapore or European models, with both Abu Dhabi and Dubai transforming everything to digital, says Alhafidhi. Within the region, GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and others are following suit, he adds.

Close cooperation is the key to success

Dr Ebrahim Al Khajeh, director of human capital and member of the Strategic Transformation Committee at Abu Dhabi Customs, says businesses that drive the digital transformation are in close collaboration with CIOs and other IT leaders.

Dr Ebrahim Al Khajeh

Dr Ebrahim Al Khajeh

“My IT director is not a field operations specialist,” he says. “It will be strategy, HR, finance, and other executives who will come to him and suggest their initiatives. That’s where the CIO takes it, develops relevant solutions, and implements them,” he says.

IT leaders can also help guide business growth through data and analytics by integrating them into operations. “It is all about collaboration — the team and clients, about inspiring them, bringing together new technologies and intelligent processes, and having workshops to actually drive it all into business processes rather than sitting on your own in that technology bubble,” adds Christian Noll, GM of IBM Consulting, IBM Middle East and Africa.