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Vinod Krishnan, the Head of the Middle East and North Africa for Amazon Web Services (AWS), speaks about 2021 opportunities
How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
Over the last months, so much has changed. Old ways of living, working, meeting, greeting, and communicating have changed. Private and public sector organizations had to find solutions for their business continuity, implement remote solutions, review their architectures to support the peaks of traffic, and adapt to so much more.
We have seen organizations and industries around the world adopt the cloud to respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Take the retail industry as an example. Retail today is navigating a “new normal” where we are seeing different sub-industries within the retail deal with their own unique challenges. While fashion brands are determining how to move stale merchandise and get back to seasonal assortments, grocers are working to reinvent their supply chains for better demand forecasting and allocation.
Both are looking to diversify to avoid dependence on a single source, and all retailers with physical stores are focused on making shoppers feel safe coming back to stores. As retailers work to recover revenue and attract new shoppers, they need to quickly drive costs out of the business. Cloud technologies will be the key enabler for companies here, whether that’s to reinvent legacy applications for new value, drive efficiencies into the supply chain, or enable differentiated customer experiences regardless of channel.
In education, technology has been instrumental for students to continue learning. During this unprecedented time of temporary and sustained school closings, virtual classrooms have become a necessity to ensure that teachers and students stay connected, and students continue their education. From quickly scaling learning management systems and launching virtual classrooms to upskilling educators and setting up remote help-desks, AWS and education technology companies are providing mission-essential infrastructure that is enabling our customers to continue delivering against their missions, safely and efficiently.
Before March of this year, Thinqi was an online learning management system platform used by the Egyptian education system to support year 10 and 11 students in some aspects of their studies. When learning shifted remotely, the government of Egypt tasked Thinqi developer CDSM with massively scaling its operations – to enable continued education for the country’s 22 million students, in 50,000 schools. Working with Amazon Web Services (AWS), CDSM met the challenge at short notice.
Within 5 hours of the site going live, it hit 7.3 million page views with 574,000 individual users engaging in digital learning. Around the same time in the United Arab Emirates, Alef Education was quickly expanding free access to its learning platforms to more than 100,000 students with support from AWS and in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK). In Jordan, through a multi-faceted collaboration led by Mawdoo3.com, the Darsak.gov.jo e-learning platform was built in just one week to help provide remote education to students and saw more than 35 million views of classes.
In Bahrain, leveraging on the country’s existing cloud-based remote learning solution, the Ministry of Education and the Information & eGovernment Authority partnered with AWS to re-platform and redesign the application hosting the EduNet portal, which was done in just one week to deliver the scalability that was required to absorb the nation-wide adoption of remote learning for all the public schools. The enhanced hosting design was launched on March 9th, 2020 and by April saw an exponential increase with over 600% more visits.
In this crisis, cloud technology has also been key for governments to innovate solutions to protect citizens. Kuwait’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) innovated a solution at speed to ensure social distancing is maintained during the pandemic. In just one week, its team launched an online portal built on AWS, called ‘moci.shop’, to manage the flow of customers into the country’s 400 cooperative society markets and food supply stores. The portal enables Kuwait’s citizens and residents to book appointments to visit their closest market based on their home address. Eight weeks after moci.shop launched, people had made more than 3.5 million appointments, making it one of the most visited portals in Kuwait.
Cloud technology has also helped accelerate research and development. Public health organizations, universities, governments, and companies of every size are using the cloud to predict and monitor the effects of the pandemic, measure the effectiveness of preventive actions, and develop novel tests and treatments. The World Health Organization (WHO) is using AWS to build large-scale data lakes, aggregate epidemiological country data, and help healthcare workers treat patients more effectively. As a company, we launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative—a program to support customers working to bring better, more accurate diagnostics solutions to market faster and promote collaboration across organizations that are working on similar problems. As part of this, we are committing an initial investment of $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed our collective understanding and detection of COVID-19.
What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along? Did you face any challenges in 2020? What were your key achievements in 2020?
Following the launch of the first AWS Middle East Region in Bahrain last year, which brought the most advanced cloud technologies closer to our customers in the region, we continue to see great adoption of AWS cloud services across multiple sectors including financial services, hospitality, media and entertainment, oil and gas, retail, government, and many more. We also see strong demand in the Middle East for AWS technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, data analytics, IoT, and much more.
Earlier in 2020, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) successfully completed the full migration of its systems and applications from its on-premises data centers to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The move provides immediate benefits to HBMSU such as cost savings, flexibility, and security, and opens up new horizons for innovation, research, and global expansion. Also recently, the University of Bahrain announced that it is going all-in on AWS.
By migrating to AWS, UoB is experiencing many benefits including cost savings, increased security, and the agility to launch new projects and bring new ideas to life at speed. On AWS, core applications are optimized, resulting in performance improvement of more than 40 percent. The migration also resulted in over 50 percent performance improvement to the university homepage, which is the landing page that links to all of its subdomains and student services.
Startups in the Middle East also continue to benefit from AWS to help them innovate and grow and to cope with the current climate. talabat, the region’s leading food, and grocery delivery application, relies on AWS to innovate and respond to increased consumer demand, particularly in recent months. Today, Talabat uses Amazon EKS to manage more than 600 containers in production, across its entire application ecosystem, including the payment gateway, restaurant platform, driver app, and the customer-facing app.
This has reduced deployment time for new services such as Talabat mart from fifteen days to just two. To meet the surge in demand for its services, Talabat relies on another AWS managed service, Amazon Aurora, to auto-scale and process millions of transactions per day while maintaining application high availability and reliability.
A key part in supporting cloud adoption in the Middle East is our partners. AWS has a vibrant and growing partner network in the Middle East and Africa, offering customers cloud expertise, and business and technical support. Our consulting partners have in-depth experience working with both public and private sector organizations, and our technology partners cover a variety of solutions, including security, ERP, Databases, and Business Intelligence, and SaaS applications.
Our Systems Integrators partners include global companies such as Accenture, Crayon, Deloitte, and Wipro, as well as regional partners in the Middle East such as Almoayyed Computers Middle East, Batelco, Computer World, Integra Technologies, Kuwaitnet, and Thinglogix. To further enable our partner community in the Middle East, in 2020, we launched the AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange in the UAE and Bahrain. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), data providers, and consulting partners based in the UAE and Bahrain can now transact in AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange, empowering them to access and market to AWS’s millions of customers around the world.
This expansion also means that AWS’s global customers can purchase directly from UAE and Bahrain-based software and data providers through AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange, selecting from over 7,000 software listings and data products from more than 1,500 sellers. In 2020, we continued to make investments in education, training, and certification programs. Amazon recently announced that it will help 29 million people around the world grow their technical skills with free cloud computing skills training by 2025.
We are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to provide free cloud computing skills training to people from all walks of life and all levels of knowledge, in more than 200 countries and territories. We will provide training opportunities through existing AWS-designed programs, as well as develop new courses to meet a wide variety of schedules and learning goals. The training ranges from self-paced online courses—designed to help individuals update their technical skills—to intensive upskilling programs that can lead to new jobs in the technology industry.
We also continue to be focused on supporting entrepreneurship in the region with AWS Activate, which provides resources to help startups launch their businesses on AWS to innovate and grow. The AWS Activate program was also extended to support startups in Beirut in light of the recent crisis. AWS supported the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) on its #UnitedForBeirut initiative, to enable high-impact Lebanese startups to bounce back after suffering huge losses in the aftermath of the tragedy that shook Beirut in August 2020.
According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021? What promises does 2021 bring along?
2020 was a year unlike any other. Companies and businesses of all sizes and governments had to change across all facets, and technology helped manage these changes. Rather than slow us down, 2020 accelerated our shift to a digital world. Thanks to this acceleration, 2021 will be a launchpad for all kinds of change:
Cloud will be everywhere
The days of cloud capabilities being centralized in data centers are fast fading. Access to the cloud’s compute and storage is also reaching farther—from rural communities and remote wildernesses to near-earth orbit. Practically speaking, the cloud is accessible nearly everywhere—and it’s not just reached that matters, it’s the speed of the connections. For example, 5G extends to the edge of the networks and enables real computational work to be done.
The internet of machine learning
We generate more data in one hour than was created in the entirety of 2000—and more data will be created in the next three years than was created over the past 30. The only realistic way to handle all the information is to use tools tied to machine learning (ML) models, to help make sense of it. In 2021 therefore, we’ll see accelerated adoption of ML models across industries and government.
In 2021, pictures, video, and audio will speak more than words
In the past year—as we all entered the depths of lockdown—we increasingly communicated via audio, video, and images. As a result, the amount of text we consume on our screens is being reduced as we make more use of multimedia to communicate. Companies that want to remain relevant to their customers need to be keenly aware of these changing habits—rather than expecting customers to interact with their products and services through a keyboard, mouse, or other mechanical ways.
Technology will transform our physical worlds as much as our digital worlds
In 2020 we were introduced to social distancing. With the help of advanced data analytics, we’ll start to figure out how to design our cities with the advantages of social distancing without the sense of being apart. Our planning will consider how we make our communities healthier and safer, rather than merely denser and more efficient. It’s the true convergence of the digital and the physical.
Remote learning earns its place in education
Technology, and access to it, has played a huge role in children’s education during this pandemic. In 2021, we’ll prove that remote learning can work—and maybe a better option for some—and can have a positive and more persistent role in education. Having remote schooling options widely available at any time means that kids can stay home when they’re sick without falling behind. Or what if there’s no physical school to go to at all? If there’s an internet connection, there’s the possibility for some type of education.
Small businesses will race to the cloud, and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will lead the way
In a massive shift, small businesses will begin to make use of advanced cloud technology to reach their customers. We’ll see an explosion of higher-level technologies and service providers that cater to these small businesses. In turn, this will help small business do everything—from spinning up a chatbot to help answer frequently asked questions, to getting a customer relationship management system in place and running within minutes. As this trend expands globally, we should look to nations in Southeast Asia—like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Africa, like Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa—to lead the way.
Quantum computing starts to bloom
We’ve seen time and again, if you can democratize the most advanced, complex technology and make it affordable, available, and understandable to as many people as possible, great things happen. We’ve seen this with Amazon Braket, our fully managed quantum computing service that supports researchers and developers to accelerate their work, which we opened up to the public in 2020. We are confident that as organizations begin to experiment with quantum for the first time—and as that expertise starts to move beyond the academic world—we’ll see business plans and the early seeds of products and services that center around a quantum future.
The final frontier
For technology to help everyone around the world live a better life, we shouldn’t go out and around the world as much as we should go up and above it. In 2019, we launched a service called AWS Ground Station. It enables the ability to control satellite communications, process data, and scale operations without having to worry about building or managing a ground station infrastructure. By making access to space affordable and accessible to every developer, we’ll start seeing innovations that come back down to Earth and help us grow and prosper.
What will be your key focus areas for 2021? 
Cloud is the new normal. Every organization in the world has to keep transforming its business and the end-user experience to remain competitive. Customers from every sector are quickly turning to AWS and cloud technology as a catalyst for digital transformation. While having a lower cost infrastructure is an enabler for transformation, it is typically not the main driver.  The main drivers are agility and innovation, and the cloud enables these in a very significant way. We will remain focused on helping our customers in the Middle East in their cloud journeys and will continue to innovate on their behalf so that they are able to deliver on their missions in delighting their customers and better serving citizens.

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