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Gulf Business 07
The Brief An insight into the news and trends shaping the region with perceptive commentary and analysis
Special Report: Cybersecurity As we enter the next phase of an interconnected, digitised economy, are we as secure as we need to be?
Cover Story: The coronavirus crisis We are in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight. But looking for a silver lining and remaining resilient is crucial for the future
4 April 2020
CONTENTS / APRIL 2020
28 Mission control The UAE is blazing ahead with its space plans
32 Combating climate change Sustainability is high on regional agendas. Is it enough?
“This is the defining global health crisis of our time” -WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Covid-19: Luxury impact p.60
Flexing muscles p.62
Editor-in-chief Obaid Humaid Al Tayer Managing partner and group editor Ian Fairservice Group director Andrew Wingrove firstname.lastname@example.org Acting editor Aarti Nagraj email@example.com aartinagraj Deputy editor Varun Godinho firstname.lastname@example.org varungodinh Senior art director Olga Petroff email@example.com Art director Ángel Monroy firstname.lastname@example.org angel__monroy Photographers Syed Masam Ali, Mustufa Abidi, Jitendra Jangir Cover and artwork: Ángel Monroy. Photos: Getty Images
Amman’s allure p.72
General manager – production S Sunil Kumar Assistant production manager Binu Purandaran Production supervisor Venita Pinto Chief commercial officer Anthony Milne email@example.com Publishing director Carlos Pedroza firstname.lastname@example.org Senior sales manager Manish Chopra email@example.com Senior advertising manager Ravi Dutt firstname.lastname@example.org Group marketing manager Anusha Azees email@example.com Vol. 24. Issue 12. April 2020 Printed by Emirates Printing Press, Dubai
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April 2020 5
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As oil slumps to record lows, safe-haven assets such as gold have risen $1,668.6
Economy Retail Energy Future Social
8 10 11 14 17
*At the time of going to press
Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, the Covid-19 outbreak has left the world reeling. How are businesses and individuals coping? gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 7
The Brief / Economy “Remote mode” on
A survey shows that in GCC countries, 35 per cent of the firms are planning remote work
54% No plan yet
11% Definitely will not 12% Considering 12% Already had
5% Starting soon
6% Just started SOURCE: GULFTALENT
A N A LY S I S
Is remote working set to become the new normal? The coronavirus infection that has left the world reeling, is also changing how businesses operate
eleworking has garnered increasingly positive reviews in recent years. While a dissenting camp may regard it as a social isolator of sorts, many advocate for it, given the flexibility and work/life balance it brings. However, the coronavirus Covid-19 infection, which emanated in China late last year and has spread to over 186 countries, areas or territories since, has prompted businesses, regionally and globally, to consider remote working as a valid option. While the GCC has crossed 1,700 coronavirus cases (at the time of going to press), the impact has been far deeper and widespread with ongoing travel bans, shelved or postponed events, educational institutions closed, and public gatherings shunned. 8 April 2020
As a result, rather than shutting shop, employees are encouraged to work from home. One-third of Gulf-based companies are planning to have their people work remotely, of which 6 per cent launched their remote working plans after the Covid19 outbreak, a survey by recruitment consultancy Gulf Talent has revealed. The survey, which polled 1,600 company executives, managers and HR professionals across GCC countries, further revealed that of the 35 per cent firms planning remote work, 5 per cent confirmed that the system was being rolled out soon, 12 per cent were still reviewing the concept while a further 12 per cent had in place remote work arrangements prior to the outbreak.
Regionally, Bahraini firms reported the highest rate of remote work plans at 38 per cent, followed by Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE at 37 per cent each. Saudi Arabia followed with 30 per cent of their firms geared up for home working, while Oman trailed its GCC peers with just 18 per cent. Looking ahead, the survey also found that many businesses may retain elements of remote work arrangements even after the current urgency has abated. “During the outbreak, many companies are having the majority of their staff work remotely. Once the outbreak is over, the scale of remote work will certainly go down, but we are unlikely to ever return to the pre-outbreak era. Many businesses who never embraced remote work before will probably retain some form of it going forward, given its benefits in attracting and retaining talent, potential cost savings and sometimes also greater operating efficiency,” a Gulf Talent spokesperson told Gulf Business. Technology and the integration of devices in recent years has taken connectivity to a new level, so remote working may just be an organic step towards a more unified business approach. That said, will remote working arrangements warrant the need to draw up new HR and legal policies to regularise the concept? “Many companies in the region will need adjustments to their policies and processes to accommodate remote work as a new way of working,” the spokesperson noted. gulfbusiness.com
The Brief / Startups A N A LY S I S
Revolutionising healthcare As technology drives the future of all industries, will healthcare startups help shape the future of medicine too, asks Zainab Mansoor?
mbedded in research and science, and mostly regulated by the state, healthcare is a challenging space. But it presents a myriad of opportunities too. As the regional startup ecosystem and innovative technologies continue to evolve, new models of primary care are emerging, pushing digital health towards greater heights. The broad spectrum of digital health, simply defined as using technology to help improve people’s health, entails various tools – from medical apps and software that aid practitioners in better clinical decisions – to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine tools that help diagnose and treat illnesses better. The consumer side of digital health has also scaled considerably due to the growth of wearables and health apps. Holistically, digital health tools facilitate wellness
$223.7bn The worth of the digital health market by 2023 globally, as forecast by Prescient & Strategic (P&S) Intelligence
through early diagnosis and disease prevention, improved disease management and a healthier lifestyle. While globally, several digital healthcare startups have emerged in recent years, the regional sector is also gaining ground. The year 2020 started on a high note for the regional healthcare startup space as Okadoc, the appointment booking platform in the UAE, garnered $10m in funding, securing the largest healthtech Series A round in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The platform intends to use the funds to launch telemedicine, enabling medical practitioners to offer virtual consultations. Offering added value, UAE’s Health at Hand startup offers customers video consultations with regional doctors, and claims to be the first healthcare provider to be licenced by the Dubai Health Authority to provide telehealth services. Similarly, UAE-based healthcare engagement platform Healthigo connects careseekers to over 5,000 healthcare providers, with more than 18,500 doctors and over 100 insurance providers in the UAE. DIGITAL HEALTHCARE ECOSYSTEM
The emergence of healthcare startups will foster a digital health ecosystem in the region which should help in more ways than one, offering smartphone users enough tools for effective lifestyle and medical management. Besides serving altruistic purposes, such digital tools will also help cut hospital visits and possible admissions, as well as reduce and streamline physician appointments. Curating a repository of data on healthcare providers around the globe for potential cross-border alliances could be another added benefit. WHAT COMES NEXT?
Digital health benefits the entire value chain – from careseekers to providers, which could potentially help alter the medical landscape. Globally, the digital health market is expected to be worth $223.7bn by 2023, market intelligence firm Prescient & Strategic (P&S) Intelligence suggests. Meanwhile, the GCC healthcare market is expected to reach $70bn this year, of which digital health strives to account for a sizeable chunk. gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 9
The Brief / Retail COMMENT
Alexis Marcoux-Varvatsoulis Food Consulting lead at JLL MENA
It’s ‘dinnertainment’ time
Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing food and beverages market offers promising returns to operators
he food and beverages (F&B) industry in Saudi Arabia is growing, evolving rapidly, and has become one of the leading sectors in the kingdom. Today, F&B is at the forefront of how people spend their disposable income and leisure time. It is also one of the main deciding factors for travellers – millennials in particular spend the highest proportion of their income eating out. The fact that they will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025 suggests that this industry will only keep growing in importance for the foreseeable future.
Saudis at the Riyadh Winter Wonderland park in January
Globally, retail used to be the main reason to visit a development, but this trend is currently being redefined. Over the past 10 to 15 years, retail has gradually been replaced by F&B options as a result of the growing popularity of e-commerce. F&B, in shopping centres specifically, has moved from between 5 per cent to 8 per cent of total gross leasable area (GLA) to between 10 per cent to 12 per cent of GLA. In addition, JLL’s database, which looks at over 7,500 units globally, shows that entertainment options – such as cinemas – in a shopping centre increase the need for foodservice. According to our research, developments with a cinema can support from 2 per cent to 7 per cent more F&B than centres with less leisure in relation to the total GLA. The retail and foodservice industries complement each other, and both answer basic psychological needs. Today, with the younger generations valuing experiences much more than purchases, there is a strong need for traditional centres and dining outlets to adapt and transform their product-based offer to one based on experience. 10 April 2020
OPPORTUNITIES IN SAUDI ARABIA
$365bn The value that food delivery business will reach by 2030, according to UBS
Previously, restaurants and family entertainment centres used to be the only form of leisure in the kingdom. Now, with the wave of transformation we are witnessing, as well as changing regulations such as the end of restaurant segregation between men and women (families), more entertainment-led experiences are being introduced in the country. For increased revenue generation, developers are combining F&B and entertainment in order to create ‘dinnertainment’ concepts. The entertainment aspect of these units drives footfall, while F&B successfully increases the average spend, making the units more profitable at a per square metre basis. For years, our team used to say “you cannot eat gulfbusiness.com
The Brief / Energy COMMENT
online”, but today a growing food delivery business, estimated by UBS to grow to $365bn by 2030, has a similar effect on F&B as e-commerce had on traditional retail. There is only one significant difference – a meal is a much more social experience than shopping and, therefore, more sought after. What we are looking at is a shift in the landscape, whereby the kingdom is looking to attract international tourists. To promote this, a lot of investment needs to go into supporting the infrastructure, whether it’s an upgrade in the quality of hotels or an expansion of the F&B and entertainment offerings. We strongly support this shift and expect to see more international retail/ fashion experience led concepts and brands to set up shop in the kingdom.
Saudi’s retail boom
The GCC’s largest retail market saw sales grow at a CAGR of 7.5% between 2012-2016
Food retail sales Non-food retail sales
SOURCE: ALPEN CAPITAL (EIU, AT KEARNEY, IMF – OCT 2018)
A N A LY S I S
When will the oil war end? While global policymakers take steps to shore up their economies from the fallout of Covid-19, the meltdown in oil demand and oversupply continue to pull crude prices lower
ow long can the vicious oilprice war between Saudi Arabia and Russia last? If history is any guide, the battle will be a long one. Riyadh has waged four price wars, including the current one, over the last 35 years. All of them lasted at least a year, and prices plunged at least 50 per cent. This time may be different, of course – there’s never been a demand shock so great at the same time as the supply shock. But the last wars are at least a guide to the pain thresholds of policymakers.
Here’s how they played out: • Price War I: 13 months. In June 1985, at a meeting in Taif, Saudi Arabia, King Fahd warned OPEC countries that his country would no longer carry the burden of production cuts alone. In November, Riyadh moved to flood the market. Oil plunged from $31 a barrel to $9.75 a barrel in six months. The peace didn’t come until December 1986. • Price War II: 17 months. It started in November 1997 at a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. Saudi Arabia boosted
We’re also looking at the potential for the growth of ‘dinnertainment’ as an industry of its own where people don’t just go to a place to eat, but to engage in entertaining experiences. On a bigger picture, development wide, we expect shopping centres to become experience centres serving as destinations to socialise and gather experiences with friends and family. Currently, there are limited examples of these concepts in the kingdom as most units and centres are still under development. Given the pace at which Saudi Arabia is looking to attract tourists, and the keenness with which Saudis are seeking out entertainment, there is no doubt that we will continue to see an increasing number of innovative customer-led concepts being introduced in the months to come.
production to fight Venezuela, which was quickly grabbing market share in the lucrative US market. What Riyadh hadn’t anticipated was that demand would collapse amid the emergingmarkets crisis and a warm winter. Oil fell from about $20 a barrel to less than $10, and yet the peace didn’t arrive until April 1999. • Price War III: 22 months. It started in November 2014 with a meeting in Vienna. Tired of non-OPEC countries freeloading on the cartel’s production cuts, and worried about the impact of the US shale revolution, Saudi Arabia adopted a policy of pump-at-will. Oil collapsed from about $100 a barrel to $27.88. The peace didn’t come until September 2016: Riyadh made a U-turn and Russia joined the cuts. This time, the battle was more brutal from the start, with prices crashing more than 35 per cent in days. In past wars, prices tumbled slowly, over a period of months. Riyadh’s new shock-and-awe tactics may just shorten the fight by inflicting so much pain, so quickly, that everyone has to come to the table sooner. Bloomberg
April 2020 11
The Brief / Gulf Business Academy
A N A LY S I S
Matthew Cowan Regional director, Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) Middle East & South East Asia
Staying relevant in times of change Financial services professionals need to upskill themselves and maintain transparency to keep pace with the technological evolution
he financial services profession has evolved greatly since the economic crisis in 2008. The financial downturn was instrumental in driving increased transparency by financial institutions and highlighting the need for the upskilling of talent. Meanwhile, the role of disruptive technologies has proved key in the creation of new financial infrastructures and practices that aim to deliver seamless service. Emerging trends such as fintech, artificial intelligence and chatbots have already made their mark and will continue to grow in importance in the years to come. Financial services firms have all the tools in place to be more competitive, but how they adapt during this time of digitisation is the key to staying relevant. There is high demand for financial services professionals in the region, but competition is also strong. According to the latest Robert Half Salary Guide 2020, jobs like management accountants, chief financial officers, and risk managers top the list of the most indemand job roles in the region â€“ with chief financial 12 April 2020
Coveted and well paid Annual salary ranges for chief financial officers in the UAE SME Large company USD
500k 400k 300k 200k
0 SOURCE: ROBERT HALF SALARY GUIDE 2020
officers able to demand up to $438,900 (Dhs1.6m) a year. As technology continues to progress, upskilling is the key to success across many financial disciplines. In order to maintain technical expertise, data analytics proficiency and design skills, professionals have to work on keeping their skills current. Continuing professional development (CPD) has never been more important. CPD and other learning approaches not only help keep practitioners abreast of the latest trends, but they also strengthen commitment to high standards of professionalism through international accreditations and certifications. Continuing learning establishes a strong foundation for integrity and ethics, which enable financial practitioners to become worthy of trust â€“ a vital quality that clients seek in the profession. CPD focuses on development rather than training. Like building blocks, CPD adds to existing knowledge, providing a full up-to-date understanding of the profession. As we enter a new decade, upskilling will continue to aid the profession through strengthening the credibility of financial practitioners and institutions. In the UAE, regulators Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) and Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) have made CPD a mandatory requirement for all licenced professionals working in a financial institution regulated by them. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, for the past five years (2015-2019) financial services among other key sectors such as telecommunications, energy and technology increased by eight points in terms of trust categorised globally. Trust is crucial when it comes to maintaining relationships in the financial services profession. For practitioners to succeed in the field, they must demonstrate honesty and integrity to prove that they are aligned with customersâ€™ values and needs. Transparency is vital for companies and firms to create trust and to establish clear communication about the services they provide, the costs, and how they can serve the best interest of their clients. Although fintech and digital transactions are gaining popularity, consumers still seek human interaction that helps identify and validate the level of integrity and trustworthiness of the professional. It is by looking into the intrinsic qualities that clients make the decision about whether they can deliver quality financial input. The financial services profession is a key driver of national economic growth for any country, and its workforce plays an integral role in this. As the profession experiences rapid evolution amidst digitisation, practitioners should keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date, and focus on continuing to build trust in themselves and the profession they represent as they look towards the next 50 years. gulfbusiness.com
The Brief / Q&A INTERVIEW
Mohamad Nsouli General manager, UAE, e-scooter company Lime
Explainer: Why the micromobility market in the GCC is set to take off The region has seen the rise of e-scooter players even as discussions around urban mobility take centre stage The e-scooter industry is still in its nascent stage in the region. How quickly is it growing?
The micromobility market is huge, potentially bigger than ride sharing – and as a relatively new industry, our business has already proven that it’s strong. Lime surpassed 100 million rides across the globe, and has expanded to more than 120 cities, 30 countries and five continents. A Barclays study suggests micromobility will be a $800bn industry by 2025, with roughly 30 per cent of the market coming from the Middle East and Europe and about 20 per cent from North America.
$800bn The value of the micromobility industry globally according to a Barclays study
Urbanisation, traffic congestion, pollution will all accelerate the trend. By 2050, it’s estimated that 68 per cent of the total population will be living in cities – that’s over four billion people. We’re not just thinking of what people need to get around cities today, but how to predict what they’ll need tomorrow. What are the main challenges facing urban mobility in the region?
As the population of cities increases, the existing transit system and infrastructure will struggle to keep up with the increasing demand for transportation space, and congestion and pollution will continue to climb. The transportation sector accounts for a third of our CO2 emissions, and if only a fraction of short-distance vehicle trips in city centres were replaced with scooter and bike trips, cities could reap significant benefits. The GCC is a great region for electric scooters since there is a need for first/last mile connectivity. In Abu Dhabi, we’re already seeing impressive numbers showcasing a shift to new modalities and the need for more car alternatives. Our rider’s average ride time in the UAE capital is about 14 minutes and some people are travelling as far as 19km. There have been justified fears about e-scooter safety – how can they be addressed?
We know that micromobility can only be successful if riders and communities feel safe. Last year we built out a Trust and Safety team, and we continuously innovate on hardware with enhanced safety features, new technologies, and safety programming. We are constantly developing and implementing tools in the app to further promote safe riding and scooter use. gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 13
The Brief / Future
To make each city safer, cities also need more and better infrastructure to protect today’s new micromobility options. Do you expect to see more regulations in the market?
Yes, we do, and regulation is much needed. Lime is committed to working with cities to develop appropriate regulations that allow micromobility to thrive, while simultaneously meeting their transportation, sustainability and safety goals. What is critical though, is to have constructive regulation that improves the use of micromobility and does not limit its use. As a global operator, do you expect to see more competition from local startups?
Yes, local startups are expected, and we have been seeing them in most markets we operate in. How-
THE GCC IS A GREAT REGION FOR ELECTRIC SCOOTERS SINCE THERE IS A NEED FOR FIRST/LAST MILE CONNECTIVITY ever, we also noticed that startups that don’t establish scale are not able to sustain themselves. Local startups usually do not develop hardware and software that pushes the envelope on rider safety and experience. As such, they find themselves struggling to gain traction or to compete with bigger operators that invest heavily in product and hardware development. Consolidation in the industry started and we expect more of that happening. This is normal in any industry where the barrier to entry might seem low. Local startups might have an advantage in markets global players are hesitant to enter in. If they manage to establish product market fit, then they are on to something. Lastly, what is the future of the e-scooter market? Where is it headed?
We’re witnessing the great unbundling of the car where the old model of single car ownership is dying and being replaced by the right vehicle for the right trip at the push of a button - with the introduction of ridesharing, and now small vehicles for short trips (i.e. scooter) and bigger vehicles for longer trips. Lime will continue to focus on connecting people in cities in the 1-8 km range as communities continue to grow, and I believe that the technology in the industry will continue to get smarter and more sustainable. 14 April 2020
A N A LY S I S
Rehan Khan Managing consultant for BT and writer of historical fiction
Cue to work As Covid-19 forces many of us to work from home, it is imperative that we create the right environment to increase productivity
he notion of working-from-home used to be an excuse to take it easy. Or at least it did for some. Now, with many employees around the world resorting to homeworking in the era of the coronavirus (Covid-19), some consideration needs to go into the actual physical working environment. Many organisations are asking the question – how geared up are our employees to do a good day’s work from home? Let me demonstrate, by way of example. If I stroll into my dining room and see a plate of chocolate brownies on the counter – which is quite likely, since my family are rather fond of them – then it’s possible I may snatch one up and start munching, even if it hadn’t been my initial intention. If I walk in and see a bowl of fruit – apples, grapes, kiwis, I’m likely to grab some fruit. Our behaviour changes depending on the cues in the environment around us. Perhaps one of the ultimate cases of environmental cues shaping behaviour is the case of Laszlo Polgar - a Hungarian man with an interesting theory in the 1960s. He believed that: “A genius is not born gulfbusiness.com
The Brief / Future
but is educated and trained.” His view was that with deliberate practice and the development of good habits, a child could become a genius in any field. In fact, his conviction was so strong that he decided to test it on his own children. Laszlo and his wife formulated a plan to raise their children to become chess prodigies. To facilitate this, the children were to be home-schooled, very unusual in Hungary at the time, and their home was going to be filled with books on chess and pictures of famous chess players. Of the couple’s three daughters: Susan, Sofia, and Judit, the eldest, Susan, started playing chess as a four-year-old and within six months was defeating adults. Sofia, by 14, was a world champion, and a few years later, became a grandmaster. The youngest, Judit, at 12, was the youngest player ever listed among the top 100 chess players in the world. At 15 years and four months old, she became the youngest grandmaster of all time. The Polgar sisters grew up in an environment where chess was pre-eminent. Having a chess obsession was normal in their world. The cues we find in
“A GENIUS IS NOT BORN BUT IS EDUCATED AND TRAINED”
our environment and culture normalise the behavior and make it appealing. We like to conform with society around us, to fit in. If your work environment, the office that is, is one where people wear expensive designer brands, then it’s going to affect your choice of clothing as well. Being equipped to work from home is not just about having the right technology and broadband, but also the subtler environmental cues which impact our productivity and quality of work. Are we eating healthily by stocking up on non-processed food which takes longer to break down, sleeping 7-8 hours a day so that our bodies are strong enough to fight off the effects of a virus, doing regular exercise to boost our mood and build strength? As the future unfolds and we find ourselves in the midst of the next pandemic, placing the right environmental cues around us will make our workhome lives more productive. As quality of work is a factor of intensity of focus multiplied by time well spent, I’d warrant that we’ll be able to do a lot more in much less time.
Dialling the right numbers OPPO, which just launched its new Reno3 smartphone in the region, is eyeing strong growth ahead. Here’s why
hen OPPO launched its Reno2 smartphone in the UAE last year, it decided to reveal the news from the top of the world – quite literally. Taking over the façade of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, OPPO made clear its intent and statement – it was here to compete among the top ones. The leading technology company, which began manufacturing smartphones 10 years ago, has gone global, with business in 40 countries and regions, six research institutes and four R&D centres around the world, as well as an international design centre in London. Looking at the MENA region, OPPO entered the Egyptian market in 2015 and a year later, set up its Middle East and Africa sales centre in Cairo. Its regional presence has since expanded to Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Kenya, Nigeria, and the Levant. More recently, the company moved its regional centre to Dubai. To explain its decision, OPPO states: “So far we have achieved success in Africa, especially in North African countries like Egypt where we are number one in the market now. There, our brand awareness and credibility are already up to the mark, and our teams have become mature. So next we will consolidate our success and replicate it in other countries. “Dubai is the economic and cultural hub of the Arab world, influencing the development of the whole region and South Asia. If we desire to be widely recognised by the region as a high-end brand, we must secure a foothold
16 April 2020
OPPO is now present in 40 countries globally
in the UAE. Since the high market volume and per capita income in countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE provide us with many potential opportunities, we have every reason to take the region seriously.” Regionally, it has also embarked on the process of localisation, which covers products – to
meet the core needs of users further; marketing – to better communicate with local young customers, and the team – to understand the local consumers and provide better services. A key factor that OPPO is focusing on is catering to its primary audience – the youth, by developing new smartphones with enhanced camera technologies that will appeal to them. It has also adjusted its production lines to target the regional high-end markets, which has included the launch of its flagship OPPO Find X smartphone and the introduction of the OPPO Reno series. The company is also concentrating on the future, with its sights set firmly on 5G technology. In April last year, OPPO announced at the 5G MENA 2019 summit that it was collaborating with telecoms operator Etisalat to test the compatibility of 5G smartphones for commercialisation for the very first time in this region. That was followed by the launch of Reno 5G in September – one of the first 5G products in the MEA region. Its future ambitions are enormous. “Apart from network and download speed accelerations, 5G technology will give birth to a whole range of new application scenarios. We are hoping to come up with a comprehensive set of 5G solutions instead of merely some devices,” OPPO states. Looking ahead, OPPO continues to have big plans for the region. “OPPO will be investing more in the Middle East to assure our presence as a high-end brand. Now is the perfect time to emphasise our presence in these markets. We will make no bones to meet and exceed the expectations of our valuable customers,” it adds.
The Brief / Social A N A LY S I S
Fadi Khater Founder and managing partner of digital marketing agency Netizency
Social space Every month, Fadi Khater provides an overview and analyses the latest social media news and trends in the GCC
olitical discussions revolved around governmental policies during the coronavirus outbreak including preventive measures and remote working. Educational discussions were about the suspension of schools around the world and the benefits of eLearning. Health conversations were mainly around the spread of the coronavirus outside China and preventative measures to disinfect. Other hot topics included entertainment activities at home while quarantined, the technology required to work from home, and confusion around the suspension of sports events. The latest updates to social media platforms include:
Is helping fight coronavirus by adjusting search results to show content from credible health organisations first Now allows you to link a new tweet with any of your older ones Announces ‘Fleets’, vertical ephemeral tweets similar to Snaps and IG Stories Makes List pinning available on Android
Removes discover tab from messenger Revamps its Messenger app on iOS to make it faster, smaller, and simpler
Online mentions in the GCC Politics Education Health Entertainment Technology Sports Food Environment
639,554 528,397 462,973 333,443 289,344 242,963 161,048 158,484
METHODOLOGY: Netizency conducted a social listening across all social and online media from the GCC between February 15 and March 15, 2020 to gather the information on popular trends.
Will remove false content and conspiracy theories around the coronavirus Experiments with new “Hobbi” app
To monetise videos discussing Covid-19, relaxing its ‘sensitive events’ policy
Introduces ‘Here for You’ resources, to support users going through emotional crises Considers a redesign adding a navigation as its standout feature among many potential UX changes
Launches a new “Featured” section in profiles to display top achievements and links Is trying new ways to launch ‘Stories’ aimed at making users engage in productive conversations
Bans Covid-19 AR filters by non-official organisations Safeguards accuracy about Covid-19 by ensuring you have priority access to credible sources Tests a pop-up to show users the posts they missed since they last logged in Is testing a feature that will enable video replies to IGTV content Will soon allow you to restrict multiple accounts from your comments section
designed to create and organise photos and videos from your favourite hobbies Is testing a new feature that will allow users to switch back to a chronological feed Will allow you to turn any 2D image into 3D using newly-developed AI tech
Releases ‘TikTok Tips’ an account focused on promoting safety and mental well-being Now allows you to add URLs to your bio Launches ‘Family Safety Mode’ enhancing its parental controls Launches new sticker-pinning feature on videos Releases new native analytics tool
Launches Dark Mode April 2020 17
The Brief / Infographics
Mapping the flows
GCC IMPORTS FROM WITHIN THE REGION ($) 43.89bn
The interconnectedness of the world has never been stronger. With goods flowing in and out, global trade has enabled the regional economies to prosper and grow 2016
GCC intratrade Top 5 products imported by each GCC country from within the region in 2018 (in $) BAHRAIN
Mineral fuels and mineral oils
Pearls and precious stones
Pearls and precious stones
Articles of iron and steel
Aluminium and articles thereof
Iron and steel
Salt, sulphur, earth and stones
Iron and steel
MOST INBOUND TRADED PRODUCTS WITHIN THE GCC In 2018 (in $)
18 April 2020
Aluminium and articles thereof
Salt, sulphur and earths
Mineral fuels and mineral oils
Machinery, boilers , mechanical appliances
Electrical machinery, sound recorders and reproducers
Pearls and precious stones
Articles of iron or steel
Plastics and articles thereof
Pearls and precious stones
Mineral fuels and mineral oils
Ships, boats and floating structures
Iron and steel
Pearls and precious stones
Ores, slag and ash
Iron and steel
Pearls and precious stones
Mineral fuels and mineral oils
Plastics and articles thereof
was the top GCC export partner for goods imported by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman in 2018
Iron and steel
Saudi Arabia was the top GCC export partner in 2018 for goods imported by the UAE
IMPORTS TOP 10 EXPORTERS TO THE GCC IN 2018 (IN $)
GCC IMPORTS PER CATEGORY IN 2018 ($) Retail 125.25bn
Metals & Minerals 144.22bn
518.9bn Pharma 12.27bn
Global imports outlook in 2018
WORLD’S MOST IMPORTED PRODUCT
UAE’S TOP 5 EXPORTERS
Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof
$23.07bn USA $20.92bn
TOP 3 GLOBAL IMPORTERS
Japan $13.81bn Germany
EXPORTS TOP 10 IMPORTERS FROM THE GCC IN 2018 (IN $)
GCC EXPORTS PER CATEGORY IN 2018 (IN $)
Metals & Minerals 590.9bn
Global exports outlook in 2018 MOST EXPORTED PRODUCT IN THE WORLD
Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof
TOP 3 GLOBAL EXPORTERS
COMPILED BY ZAINAB MANSOOR
April 2020 19
The Brief / Lightbox
An aerial view shows an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba in Makkahâ€™s Grand Mosque, Islamâ€™s holiest site, on March 6, 2020. Saudi Arabia closed the site as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. 20 April 2020
PHOTO: AFP/ GETTY IMAGES
April 2020 21
COVER STORY / CORONAVIRUS
22 April 2020
ITâ€™S WHILE THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK HAS CREATED PANDEMONIUM GLOBALLY, SOME
NOT BUSINESS SEGMENTS NOW HAVE A BIGGER ROLE TO PLAY THAN EVER BEFORE
April 2020 23
COVER STORY / CORONAVIRUS
We are living in unprecedented times. A global pandemic is a bitter pill to swallow for individuals, governments and businesses. The human impact of Covid-19 is hard to comprehend, and horrifying to calculate. Simulations of the United Kingdom and United States modelled by epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London are brutally stark; an unchecked epidemic would see the virus infect eight out of 10 people, and cause over half a million deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US. The implications for the developing world are even more grim, as social distancing and constant hand washing are difficult to achieve in overcrowded communities without access to running water. Plus Covid-19 is dangerous for the elderly and anyone with an underlying medical condition. Around the world, medical professionals are now urging self-isolation and social distancing as much as possible, to slow down the spread of the virus. Economically, since Covid-19 first appeared in Wuhan in December, the world’s markets have collapsed, Brent crude has slumped to a 17-year low, airlines are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and consumption has all but ceased in the countries on lockdown. Governments are scrambling to introduce rescue packages to bolster banks and support their people. The US Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates to zero per cent, and the Bank of England cut its rates twice in the same week, bringing them down to 0.1 per cent, the lowest ever in the bank’s 325-year history. In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has announced a stimulus package of SAR120bn ($32bn) to help businesses through measures such as exemption and postponement of some government fees. Meanwhile, the UAE has unveiled a Dhs126bn ($34bn) economic stimulus package to boost the private sector. Despite financial aid, businesses in the worst affected countries will be all but gutted by the time this pandemic recedes, and in the interim, millions of staff will be laid off or pushed into unpaid leave – a report by the International Labour Organisation estimated that income losses for workers could reach up to $3.4 trillion by the end of 2020. Notwithstanding the horrifying story that is unfolding, there is one silver lining in the form of virtual connectivity. Smart governments, Silicon Valley and communication companies will play a key role in this war against the virus, as people in every country around the world are gradually persuaded, coerced and then legislated into socially isolating for extended periods of time. During these quarantines, we will still need to communicate, to study, to shop and be entertained.
WORKING FROM HOME (WFH) Telecommunications companies providing a reliable, fast internet connection are witnessing rising demand for their services. As illustrated by coronavirus-crippled countries like Italy and Spain, 24 April 2020
working from home will be the new normal; employers will have no choice but to adopt home working policies. Strict quarantining in China has already borne fruit; the number of new locally transmitted cases has dwindled in recent weeks from several thousand a day to none, and the total number of confirmed cases outside China has now eclipsed those inside the country. Containment policies have already been introduced in the GCC. Saudi Arabia suspended office-based work in most of the private sector for 15 days, starting March 18, 48 hours after government employees were ordered to stay home. In the UAE, WFH is being strongly encouraged and tighter restrictions on movement are widely anticipated after the country closed schools and cancelled the entry of most visa holders. The impact of these changes can already be measured. According to app analytics firm Sensor Tower, remote working app downloads in the Middle East saw a huge increase in popularity week-on-week between March 2 - 9. Even ahead of restrictions starting in the Gulf, Microsoft Teams installations grew by 115 per cent and Google Classroom increased by 256 per cent. Meanwhile, video conferencing app Zoom downloads increased by 559 per cent and Hangouts Meet rose by 696 per cent.
STREAMING ENTERTAINMENT As ‘staying in’ replaces ‘going out’ and schools are closed for months at a time, streaming companies like Netflix, Apple TV and WAVO OSN “will [also] see explosive growth”, according to Maha Abouelenein, communications expert and founder of Digital and Savvy. Such is the predicted rate of demand that the European commissioner has called on streaming platforms to stop showing video in HD to “to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet”. In a tweet, Thierry Breton called on consumers to “#SwitchtoStandard definition when HD is not necessary”. In response a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement that it would reduce the bit rate of all its video streams for 30 days. “We gulfbusiness.com
COVER STORY / CORONAVIRUS
estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 per cent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members.” Abouelenein, who formerly worked for Netflix said: “Not only do the streaming platforms have captive audiences, but [while quarantined], consumers will realise how much choice they have.” In her view, the availability of educational programmes and documentaries elevates platforms like Netflix beyond entertainment. “Consumers are choosing a huge variety of content; from educational stuff for kids, to comedies and even tutorials. You can learn DIY, cooking, home organisation, meditation and even music lessons.”
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION
GCC states are Parents are desperate for entertaining supporting their educational content for their children economies and teachers are scrambling to put their lessons online, as the prospect of months off school looms large. UAE According to UNESCO, over 850 $34bn million children and youth – roughly half of the world’s student population – have had to stay away from schools KSA and universities due to the Covid-19 $32bn pandemic. Nationwide closures are in force in 102 countries and local shutdowns in 11 others. UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said: “This represents more than a doubling in the number of learners prevented from attending educational institutions, with further increases expected. Countries are trying to fill the void with distance learning solutions but the uncertain duration of the closures adds further complication to their efforts.” gulfbusiness.com
Edtech companies are already experiencing extraordinary growth. When Chinese edtech company Yuanfudao offered free live courses, their system crashed for two hours as five million people attempted to log on at the same time. Meanwhile Indian unicorn BYJU has experienced a 60 per cent increase in students since it offered children complete access to its online learning app for one month. In the UAE, the Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart University is making waves. It was founded in 2002 as a groundbreaking e-university, and when the UAE government announced the closure of the country’s schools in March, it created a course on tutoring online available to teachers and parents for free. The university’s chancellor, Dr Mansoor Al Awar, said the speed of take-up was extraordinary. “In just a few days we trained 72,000 people, and that is not only in the UAE, but across the GCC countries as well as Egypt. We have also had clicks and registrations from the US.” The university is now planning two more free programmes, including one to upskill teachers on how to create online courses for their students. It is not just education that children are missing out on at school. Social media site GoBubble says it has seen an increase of more than 400 per cent of registered schools across the UAE in one week alone. CEO Henry Platten explained: “With schools closed, families are turning to solutions which enable and empower children to safely engage with their friends to prevent isolation.”
UPSKILLING Adults are using the extra time at home to learn. Coursera, one of the world’s biggest online providers of education has seen a 23 per cent month-on-month increase in overall enrollments among learners in the Middle East, and a 21 per cent increase in the UAE. “There’s definitely a lot of people who are doubling down on learning core skills and data science and business,” explains chief enterprise officer Leah Belsky. “We have a pretty famous course by Imperial College in London on the coronavirus, and some of our top April 2020 25
COVER STORY / CORONAVIRUS
Above: Social distancing markers are pictured on food court tables in a shopping mall in Bangkok Below: A woman walks past closed restaurants and shops in the Montmartre area in Paris
26 April 2020
COVER STORY / CORONAVIRUS
courses are ‘The Science of Well Being’, ‘Positive Psychology’, and ‘Managing a Virtual Organisation’.” Belsky is of the view that adults are turning to education for different reasons: “People are at home, and they have more time on their hands, and they are anxious about their careers, their futures and their jobs. Learning is something that can help with that anxiety, but also people now have the space and time to make sure that regardless of what happens to the economy, they can come out strong. Also, Coursera is a global community and I think in a moment like this people throughout the world are pulling together [and looking for] spots where they can come together and be with learners from around the world.”
A TIME FOR REFLECTION Some business leaders are determined to find the silver lining in any crisis. Anand Mahindra, chairman of the billion-dollar Indian business Mahindra Group insists the Covid-19 pandemic “presents business with challenges but also some unprecedented opportunities”. In a tweet, he listed his reasons: “1) We’ve acquired a precious resource: time for reflection. Use it to review strategies and portfolios. 2) Press the RESET button and recalibrate all costs and overheads. 3) Associates will have more time: solicit their ideas for business improvement. 4) Use the lull to build deeper personal relationships with customers. 5) We don’t know how long the containment might drag on, but prepare the business for a U or even V shaped recovery!” Psychologist professor Bryan Robinson, an expert on mindful productivity and work/ life balance and author of the book #CHILL children and agrees that it is sensible to turn your mind youth have had towards the positives that could come out of to stay away this pandemic. “I’m not talking about putfrom schools and ting your head in the sand and pretending universities due everything is okay when it isn’t. Our brain to the Covid-19 is wired for negativity; scientists call it the pandemic. negativity bias. So when something happens, the uncertainty will trigger what we call the lizard brain or the amygdala, [and we] get caught up in the negativity. The whole idea of looking for the silver lining is really bringing balance to how our brain works.”
they have seen a massive uptake in orders, of three to four times normal sales. “Consumers are pantry-loading key household products, so we have seen an acceleration across all of our categories from toilet paper, to facial tissues and diapers. Our face masks have been a huge launch. We just opened a new plant in the UAE and it’s already running at full capacity, with orders 20 or 30 times more than what we can produce.” The cautious elite are not taking any chances, and inquiries about life insurance have predictably increased. Carlton Crabbe, CEO of Capital for Life, an offshore life insurance provider based in Guernsey said: “We have seen high net worth clients looking to put in place significant amounts of insurance, with quote requests ranging from $5 - $10m of life cover.” Telemedicine is another sector experiencing strong growth, as patients seek virtual reassurance and diagnosis online, without the risk of infection from busy waiting rooms in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. “Our fully qualified doctors are available within minutes via our app” explains Charlie Barlow, founder and CEO of Health at Hand, the first Dubai Health Authority fully licensed telehealth company. “You can have a live video consultation, and if a course of medicine is required, we can send that to you, or we can reassure you that it is not required and you are absolutely fine to get on with your day.” Barlow also sees a silver lining to this pandemic, namely the growth of increased healthcare for the hardest hit. “We work with blue collar communities, who have limited access to doctors, and we’re now in an opportune position within the market that our technology product can actually help. We believe access to quality primary health care should be afforded to everyone, and not just the privileged few and through telehealth we can finally start doing that.”
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESET? Any business hoping to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic should encourage its employees to treat this crisis as an opportunity to take stock, advocates Professor Bryan. “This could be an opportunity for people to slow down, and reset, and evaluate their lives. To sit on the riverbank and take stock of how they have been living, and hopefully when things turn back to normal, we can all change how we have been living and become healthier, balancing our lives.”
HEALTH AND HYGIENE Individuals and businesses will approach this crisis in different ways. Not everyone will find it possible to “slow down and take stock”; the recent panic-buying in supermarkets, and sell-off on the stock markets show most people are currently being ruled by their lizard brains. Hygiene products, paracetamol and disinfectant are sellingout, and toilet paper has had to be rationed in countries like the UK, US and Australia. James Michael Lafferty, CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding in the UAE, explained gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 27
FEATURES / SPACE
A STARRY FUTURE
As the UAE prepares to select its next two astronauts, it is creating a culture of scientific pursuits, guiding its vision to build a knowledge-based economy By Zainab Mansoor
he UAE’s national dress – the kandura – received astronomical attention last year. Quite literally. When the Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori wore one on his first space expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) – a journey that commenced on September 25 and lasted eight days – he took the traditional robe to galactic heights. “[The thought was] to share our culture with the whole world,” says AlMansoori. Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi were the first astronauts selected in the UAE’s debut Astronaut Programme announced in 2017. Now national heroes, they are involved in the process of selecting the next two astronauts – slated to be announced in January 2021. “Top things I’d see [in an aspiring astronaut] are humility, passion and determination,” AlMansoori opines. On his own return to space, he feels that the second time around he’ll adapt better. “The amazing thing is that the human body memorises the experience, so the adaptation will be faster, and I think I will enjoy it more.” However, the next space expedition seems a few years away. “It will be between three to five years after [the selection of the new astronauts]. It could be sooner, it could be later, but this is something that we are currently working on,” says Salem Al Marri, assistant director-general for scientific and technical affairs at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and head of the UAE Astronaut Programme.
SECOND TIME AROUND
Building on the success of the UAE’s first space mission, the second edition of the UAE Astronaut Programme – registrations for which began in December 2019 – welcomed more than 3,000 applications, officials confirmed in March. 28 April 2020
A global station
The International Space Station (ISS) is a large spacecraft in orbit
Professionals working in the engineering field made up 31 per cent of the applicant pool, while 17 per cent of them were pilots. Meanwhile, 33 per cent of the aspirants were females, sparking hope that the next astronaut could well be a woman. With the search for the UAE’s next astronauts now underway, the country’s space programme has done more than just improve the country’s footing in space exploration; it has revved up national pride and helped space education gain momentum, prompting educational institutions nationwide to introduce content on space history and related sciences. “I think it’s [space education] going in a good direction, especially after the first mission of the UAE going to the International Space Station. Now, we see a lot of focus on this field; they are trying to highlight this field, talking about the history of the space race, where it started and where it’s going,” AlMansoori opines.
UP, UP AND AWAY
• Orbits the earth about every 90 minutes • The ISS is a unique science laboratory weighing over 419 tonnes • In 24 hours, the ISS makes 16 orbits of the earth, traveling through 16 sunrises and sunsets VISITORS
Two additional astronauts are expected to join AlMansoori and AlNeyadi early next year, to help form a bigger, more resilient astronaut team, leading UAE’s space endeavours well into the next decade. “I believe the team, and any possible additions to it in the next 10 years, will be trained to be able to conduct important missions that are in line with what’s gulfbusiness.com
FEATURES / SPACE
happening today. What I would hope is that the team is prepared for any type of mission that comes up in the next decade,” notes Al Marri. However, the UAE hasn’t limited its reach to the ISS alone; rather it has set sights on further goals. In 2017, UAE leaders launched the Dhs500m Mars Science City project to provide a viable and realistic model to simulate living on the surface of Mars. This project is part of the Mars 2117 strategy to establish a human colony on the red planet. In Q1 2020, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre called on UAE nationals between the ages of 28 and 55 to register for the eight-month long UAE Analog Mission#1 to develop capabilities and technologies that will be instrumental for the future explorations of Mars. “Our intention behind Mars Science City is of simulating the process of humans going and living there gulfbusiness.com
Opposite page: Hazza AlMansoori Above: A boy waves the UAE flag outside the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai
[in Mars]. How that affects them is what we intend to find out,” says Al Marri. Besides space exploration, the UAE is also exploring new frontiers such as space tourism. In Q1 2019, the UAE Space Agency partnered with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) to co-operate across a range of areas such as bringing Virgin Galactic spaceflights to the UAE for education and technology research purposes, as well as potential space tourism flights going forward. “Space tourism has come a long way. I think 2020 and 2021 are big years for it. It’s not the same as professional astronauts going into space that have been trained to conduct scientific missions, but it will get people closer towards maybe achieving their dreams of seeing earth from space,” adds Al Marri.
April 2020 29
Digital transformation: Doing it right Global tech firm Micro Focus says it is key for businesses to rethink their digitisation strategies to make them future-proof
f there’s one thing that is a constant today across businesses worldwide, it is that they are all changing rapidly. Digital transformation has become a popular phrase for corporations and public sector entities even as they seek to accelerate efficiencies by adopting the latest technologies. A combination of technology advancements, evolving customer expectations, process enhancements and new business models are forcing companies to rethink their strategies, according to IDC. Speaking at the Micro Focus Virtual Universe 2020 – which was held for an online global audience – the tech company’s CEO Stephen Murdoch explained that the key is to find the “balance of both running our business today and transforming it for what we believe it needs to be in the future”. “The reality is we have to find and capture new sources of revenue, on top of our existing business infrastructure, business processes and our organisational structures. We need to evolve but we have to build on what we have. That’s about finding this balance of innovating at speed but doing so with a cost and a risk profile, that’s appropriate for the enterprise,” he said. “Most of our customers live in a multi-generational, multi-process and development model environment. How do you innovate in the reality of that environment? How do you embrace new opportunities through the Internet of Things? How do you bring in new capabilities from emerging startup vendors and SaaS capabilities, and how do you do all of that with the correct balance of cost, risk and speed?” Outlining the company’s strategy, Murdoch highlighted their four main pillars of digital transformation: Enterprise DevOps; hybrid IT management; security, risk and governance; and predictive analysis. These elements are
30 September 2019
Stephen Murdoch, Micro Focus’ CEO
staff operating 24x7, scans 10 to 20 million code lines for security on a daily basis and manages around 6,000 patches annually. It offers enterprise DevOps services to 20,000 customers globally, with 50 languages supported and over one million users in the community. The company also provides security, risk and governance services to 10 of the world’s largest banks, managing 450 million identities with 485 patents also secured. “We have a holistic set of capabilities. We are very open and flexible in terms of how we embrace open source capabilities within our own solutions or in collaboration. We have an open partner proven ecosystem that allows you to be flexible in terms of which public cloud, which systems integration partner [you want to work with] and we work incredibly closely to be at the core of many of those offerings ourselves. We believe we have a flexible, capable and structured end to end offering to help you do business,” said Murdoch. The company is also focusing heavily on analytics to differentiate its portfolio, using its Vertica platform. Current offerings include ArcSight Investigate, Operations Bridge, hybrid loud management, data centre automation, app defender, GDPR solutions with voltage and ZENworks, with other solutions planned for the future. Using predictive analytics, Micro Focus backs 10 million digital ad auctions every second and powers 14 million Uber rides daily. “Analytics is fundamental to everything that we do. How we develop our products is really core to what we do here at Micro Focus. We call
A combination of technology advancements, evolving customer expectations, process enhancements and new business models are forcing companies to rethink their strategies all combined to offer clients a holistic and methodical approach. “We operate across waterfall methodologies, agile, true to DevOps. And we do all of that within our own business. We have taken very significant cost improvements and we’ve done so well improving our risk posture,” he said. Micro Focus, which has 4,800 engineering
it customer centric innovation,” said Murdoch. Internally, the company is also making investments in its business and undergoing its own digital transformation following a fundamental review of operations. This is taking place within four areas:
1. Complete the core systems and operational simplification work The objective is to create “agile, simplified systems and processes making it easier to do business.”
2. Transform its go-to-market organisation and approach The objective is to improve how Micro Focus supports customers and meets their evolving needs.
“Most of our customers live in a multi-generational, multi-process and development model environment. How do you innovate in the reality of that environment?
3. Evolve the business model to establish stronger positions in growth areas The objective is to make incremental investments in product research and development to deliver new capabilities faster.
4. Accelerate a targeted transition to subscription and SaaS The objective is to provide more choice for how customers licence and use products. “We may not always be the shiny, new solution or capability in the marketplace, but we have a bulletproof approach in terms of being able to deliver at scale. We are in business for 40 years, we’ll be in business for 40 more, and we’re fully committed to being a long-term investor success,” added Murdoch.
September 2019 31
FEATURES / SUSTAINABILITY
Bee’ah’s new headquarters
32 April 2020
With a climate crisis upon us, companies and individuals have no choice but to adopt sustainable practices. While many regional companies are championing the cause, more needs to be done
GO GREEN NOWâ€Ś OR NEVER BY AARTI NAGRAJ gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 33
FEATURES / SUSTAINABILITY
THE WORLD JUST OF ITS WARMEST changes. We are not talking about fighting against climate change In Europe, from the start of December to the end of February, the any more; it is too late already. Now we need to join forces to try to average temperature was 3.4 degree celsius above the norm when mitigate its consequences altogether,” he explains. compared to 1981-2010 and 1.4 degrees higher than 2015-2016 to make it the hottest-ever winter on record. As a report by the Climate Action Summit bluntly put it, “we are in a climate crisis”. Global warming has to be limited to 1.5 degree The one sector that has traditionally driven the regional economy – celsius by the end of this century to avoid “irreversible and cataand continues to play a significant role in its business landscape – is strophic impacts”, it said. This means that carbon dioxide (CO2) energy, which is now evolving rapidly. Governments in the region emissions need to decline by about 45 per cent by 2030 and reach have set ambitious sustainability targets, with the UAE Energy net zero in 2050. Strategy targeting 50 per cent in clean energy by 2050 (with 44 per With climate change staring us in the face like never before, the cent renewables, 38 per cent gas, 12 per cent clean coal and 6 per issue of sustainability has catapulted to the fore across the world, cent nuclear), while Saudi Arabia is looking to generate over 27GW with governments, corporates and individuals scrambling to adopt of clean power by 2023 and over 58GW by 2030. and implement policies and practices that will leave the earth a “These ambitious targets are supported by the regulatory habitable place for future generations. At the UN Climate Change certainty and transparency investors look for. In addition, the existConference (COP26) slated to be held later this year in Glasgow, ence of a secure off-take, access to land and grid connection, and countries are expected to urge for more stringent measures to curb the availability of competitive financing backed by solid credit worgreenhouse gas emissions and avoid temperature increases. thiness continues to support the sector, contributing to the record Regionally, the topic has already received its fair share of space tariffs we have witnessed,” states Yousif Al Ali, executive director in public policies, with the UAE, for instance, even renaming the at Masdar Clean Energy. Ministry of Environment and Water as the Ministry of Climate Change and EnvironRegion’s first 3D printed ment. A local council for climate change was bus stop in Ajman also set up way back in 2016 to create partnerships with the private sector, conduct studies and lead scientific research in fields related to the ministry’s work. “In the Middle East, governments, businesses and communities are showing more and more their vow to a greener future and to amplify the conversation on sustainable development in order to adopt sustainable lifestyles,” says Jesús Sancho, managing director, Middle East at sustainable infrastructure company Acciona. “This move is deemed critical to mitigating climate change and reducing the region’s important carbon footprint. However, regional governments should engage with the private sector as they need to attract more ‘green’ investors to ensure that the transition can cope with the necessary
The energy equation
34 April 2020
RECORDED ONE WINTERS. The Abu Dhabi-based clean energy company, which launched in 2006, has emerged as a showcase of the country’s renewable energy agenda. Masdar is now present in over 30 countries, in a sector that has investment of over $300bn a year. But challenges still exist with an imminent requirement to boost innovation to increase efficiencies and integrate the intermittent renewable energy sources into grid infrastructure, explains Al Ali. One company working towards achieving this is GE Energy, with the company deploying gas-based power generation to bring power online as and when required to stabilise the grid and plug the gap in power supply and demand when the wind isn’t blowing, or the sun isn’t shining, as Joseph Anis, president and CEO of GE Gas Power, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia explains. The bottomline is that more investments are required in the energy system globally if we have to achieve climate goals – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates we will need investment of $2.4 trillion each year to limit global warming to 1.5 degree celsius – that’s 2.5 per cent of global GDP. “Thankfully, technology advances, economies of scale and a more attractive risk profile for renewable energy investments are all making the economic case for renewable energy stronger than ever – for instance, the cost of installing photovoltaic solar power has fallen 80 per cent since 2009, according to IRENA,” says Al Ali.
The company, which works with establishments such as the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, and Dubai World Trade Centre, processes three million tonnes of waste annually, by recycling, recovering and regenerating materials for reuse at its waste management complex. The company has facilities to recycle mixed fibres, plastics, metal, rubber, industrial and construction waste. Bee’ah group CEO Khaled Al Huraimel says that there is growing interest in going green. “A lot of the private companies have put their own [sustainability] targets and many of them contact us for help. We even act as advisors and consultants for many private organisations, provide training and workshops as well as environmental assessment reports. So definitely, there is an industry where there is a lot more focus, especially in our region – today, more than ever,” he states. One specific initiative that has caught global attention is Bee’ah’s upcoming headquarters slated to open this year, which has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. One of the last projects that Hadid personally worked on before she passed away, the new building will be 100 per cent powered by renewable energy, with the energy storage provided by Tesla. Also claimed to be one of the smartest buildings in the region, it will feature a fully integrated AI system.
The Covid-19 angle
While the energy sector plays a key role in driving sustainability, every industry and business is tasked with leading the change, in whichever way relevant or possible. And many regional companies have already championed the cause and started implementing – or announced – grand plans. One example is Sharjah-based Bee’ah, which was set up 10 years ago to tackle the issue of waste management. It has achieved a 76 per cent waste diversion rate for the emirate – claimed to be the highest in the Middle East – and this is projected to reach 100 per cent in 2021 upon completion of the region’s first waste-to-energy plant. gulfbusiness.com
Feb 10-25, 2019
Jan 1-20, 2019
Feb 10-25, 2020
While humanity is struggling to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak, one beneficiary has been the environment, with lockdowns leading to a drastic drop in pollution levels in cities across the world. Satellite observations by NASA found that the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2 emissions are produced by cars, trucks and power plants) had dropped by 10 to 30 per cent between January 1 and February 25 in Wuhan. Images of crystal-clear waters in Venice have also been circulating worldwide. Activists and researchers are now urging people worldwide to learn from the experience and adhere to eco-friendly living practices once we are out of the current crisis.
April 2020 35
FEATURES / SUSTAINABILITY
“This building reflects our vision of positioning Bee’ah as a regional pioneer in sustainability and digitalisation,” states Al Huraimel. In the neighbouring emirate of Ajman, Acciona recently completed a bus stop built using 3D concrete printing technology – the first of its kind in the Middle East. According to the company, the benefits of such 3D manufacturing versus conventional construction methods include the reduction of waste (no molds or forms are used) and the lessening of CO2 emissions. In this case, the bus stop’s design also allows for the placing solar panels on the roof. The company, which also recently showcased its 100 per cent EcoPowered car – claimed to be the first zero emissions vehicle to finish the Dakar Rally – in Saudi Arabia, says that there is more interest in the region for developing sustainwable projects. “We see a lot of public tendering in the short and medium term – especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Projects that contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions such as transport infrastructure, utilities or industrial facilities which demand the latest technologies are all promising in the GCC,” states Acciona’s Sancho. “Good examples in the region are the projects related to railways, tunnels, bridges, metros, roads, seawater and brackish water desalination by reverse osmosis, sewage treatment plants and smart cities developments, waste-to-energy and biodiesel plants and lastly renewable – solar or wind — power plants.”
Bee’ah’s digital waste management system
buying patterns? “Sustainability was not always front of mind for many customers, however, today they are waking up to the disastrous impact of fashion on the environment and challenging industries to support the fight against global warming,” says Beig. He says this is especially true of millennial consumers, who now scrutinise corporations and their sustainability practices. “There has been a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour. We have observed that consumers in this region are driven by more than price – they’re looking for brands that align with their personal values and Several other regional companies have also started taking measures needs. A general concern for the environment is on the rise, with to combat climate change through a range of initiatives. In November, plastic pollution, loss of biodiversity, and climate change deemed as Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways partnered with Boeing to launch the top three issues.” the Greenliner programme, which will be used to test products, proLooking ahead, the call for action is strong. cedures and initiatives designed to reduce carbon emissions. The Sancho from Acciona opines that regional companies still need to airline, which has committed to a minimum target of zero net carbon do much more. “While sustainable practices are slowly becoming emissions by 2050 and halving of its 2019 net emission levels by 2035, the norm for many companies in the UAE, challenges remain that also secured Dhs404.2m in funding to expand the Etihad Eco-Resineed to be addressed: the GCC has developed rapidly, and the pace dence, a sustainable apartment complex for its cabin crew. of change here remains fast. It’s easy for people to think that they In November, retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim also announced don’t have the time or resources to invest in the research or planits commitment to phase out single-use plastics across its operations ning associated with sustainability and that the opportunity cost of by 2025. During the year, the company also refinanced existing debt sustainable practices is too high. through two green sukuk issuances totalling $1.2bn, with the pro“Getting organisations to grasp the long-term necessity and benceeds to be used for projects including green buildings, renewable efit of sustainable practices is one of the main challenges. As more energy, sustainable water management and energy efficiency. countries take charge to tackle the threats of climate change loomFashion outlet Splash says it is adopting a more holistic approach ing over the world, companies must all towards sustainability, looking at it from increase their efforts to take steps to build product design, selection of raw material, a better planet,” he says. manufacturing practices, supplier selection Adds Al Ali from Masdar: “I don’t think and packaging material to warehousing and anybody should settle for “doing enough” – retail. The brand claims to have become we all need to continue to drive progress.” the largest user of recycled polyester in the In recognition of the growing imporBeig concurs, stating that while progress MENA region, recycling 5.7 million bottles. tance of sustainability in the region and is underway in some areas, it is not happen“This year, we have collaborated with to acknowledge and appreciate the ing fast enough. “But this is not a reason to international agencies and industry experts champions promoting it, Gulf Business give up hope; in fact, it’s a reason to step to advance our sustainability initiatives and is introducing a new Sustainability up our actions. Time and time again, we’ve aim to make more than 80 per cent of the category at our annual Gulf Business seen that progress is possible when we work Splash product line using sustainable raw Awards. The shortlist will be revealed together towards a common goal.” materials,” says CEO Raza Beig. later in the year and will include a list of More hopeful is Bee’ah’s Al Huraimel. pioneering companies across sectors “This is a global effort, because we cannot who are playing their part in making the do it alone. But I’m optimistic and my view But while brands may be attempting to make green evolution happen. is that we will see a positive change globally.” a change, are consumers also changing their
Advocating a green future
Gulf Business sustainability award
36 April 2020
FEATURES / ENTERTAINMENT
TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE The coronavirus scare did not stop the Middle East Film and Comic Con event from welcoming geek fans in Dubai last month. Here’s why the regional pop culture industry is riding a high wave By Aarti Nagraj
he force was certainly with the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) event in Dubai this year. While several events in Dubai – and across the globe – have been cancelled or postponed due to concerns over the coronavirus Covid-19, the region’s premier pop-culture event managed to keep its doors open. Of course, gloves and masks found their way into many more costumes this season. “We encouraged people to practice good respiratory and hand hygiene, we had hand sanitisers available for use across the event, there were thermal cameras at the event entrance and as ever, we cleaned the site regularly,” says Michael Lamprecht, event manager at Informa Middle East – organisers of MEFCC. The star-studded line-up of celebs headlining the event remained more or less unscathed by the coronavirus outbreak– from Mena Massoud (of Aladdin fame) and Elodie Yung (Daredevil) to Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings), all of whom met and chatted with fans in Dubai. April 2020 37
FEATURES / ENTERTAINMENT
While organisers did not disclose the number of attendees this year, the event usually attracts “tens of thousands”, evidencing the exploding growth of the regional pop culture industry. The audience includes a cross section of the pop culture world, from movie fans to gamers and comic book fans to cosplayers, states Lamprecht. “It may sound cliché but the show appeals to a wide group of people – 16 per cent of our visitors are under 18, 66 per cent are between 18 – 34, and 18 per cent are over 35. What’s also interesting is 13 per cent of our visitors come solo,” he adds. Regionally, the wider leisure and entertainment industry has been steadily growing. GCC consumers spend 6.2 per cent of their income on average on leisure and entertainment (L&E), compared to 4.2 per cent in the UK, a study by global consulting firm Strategy& found last year. “L&E activities impact society’s well-being positively in a number of ways, through engaging nationally relevant culture and art activities, increasing citizens’ participation in recreational events and affirming belonging among diverse groups of people – which all leads to a higher quality of life,” said report author and partner with Strategy& Middle East, Bahjat El-Darwiche. The pop culture market, while still accounting for a small portion of the wider L&E market, is steadily gaining traction across the region. Saudi Arabia, which relaxed its restrictions on entertainment as part of its Vision 2030 diversification plan, held its first Comic Con event in 2017. The event, held for a second time in 2018, managed to attract huge crowds. In November, Riyadh also hosted the two-day Stan Lee Con, where comic book fans and cosplayers from across the country got to meet with celebrities and check out geek favourites such as the Batmobile and the DeLorean time machine of Back to the Future fame. With rising interest in the industry, Lamprecht highlights two main trends that he’s noticed at MEFCC. “Firstly, the huge increase in the diversity of the content our audience engages in – from Korean drama to Arabic indies we’re seeing much more of a demand for content from across the world. Secondly, individualism and self-expression is a huge part of our event. It’s a universal trend that people like to express themselves, whether it’s the clothes they wear, the films they watch and tweet about, or even something as small as a phone cover, or piece of jewellery.” The business around the industry has also picked up steam. “Certainly, we’re seeing growth in the pop culture industry with many of our key partners opening in multiple locations. Partners such as Geek Nation have multiple stores not only within the UAE but across the region, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” says Lamprecht. 38 April 2020
From top: People in costumes attend Middle East Film and Comic Con
Diverse appeal 66%
ages 18 – 34
Looking ahead, while pop culture – read science fiction – is usually credited with predicting the future (and it has proven to be true several times), the industry is also feeling an impact from technologies such as AI. “Each year we see more interesting, diverse and new technologies on the show floor. We’re seeing VR, AR and AI implemented into brands’ stands as well as dedicated VR gaming zones such as Street Maniax’s Hado VR where you can throw energy balls to down your opponents,” states Lamprecht. In what could potentially provide another major boost to the industry, the next edition of the MEFCC is slated to take place during the sixmonth period when Dubai will host Expo 2020. “We have big plans for MEFCC next year. Firstly, we will be heading to the Dubai Exhibition Centre in the Expo 2020 site, giving our visitors the opportunity to explore the exhibition while at the show. “Secondly, we are creating a pop culture mega-event and locating Middle East Games Con and Middle East Film and Comic Con in the same space. We’re looking forward to sharing more details later this year,” adds Lamprecht. With the pop culture industry growing at an astronomical pace, it’s probably apt to quote Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future to understand where it is headed: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”
Class apart Young entrepreneur Azhar Sajan, director of luxury interiors company Casa Milano, outlines his journey so far and where he hopes to reach You launched your first showroom late last year. Tell us about your journey so far. Also, how has the response been? My father had the vision to open something luxurious during the summer of 2018; we discussed it at our dinner table, and that’s how the concept of Casa Milano came up. To me, it sounded very interesting and I was excited to take that vision forward, so, we talked more about the concept and how to execute it. Initially, we started with understanding who is in the market, what is selling and what are people’s requirements. Once we had a better understanding of these elements, we travelled to Europe and researched more on sanitaryware and tiles. We looked at the best available products in the market and what gives them the luxury quotient as well as what attracts customers. My responsibility in the UAE market is to provide unique products through Casa Milano, luxury wares that are, at least, not available anywhere else in the country and also provide good service. Even if we don’t sell anything, the customer should walk out of the showroom thinking that he was very well treated here and when the need arises again, he will come back. I have taken a lot of feedback from my sales team and have met a lot of walk-in customers, and the responses I have received about the products and showroom have been generally positive. The last quarter of 2019 was quite good and for 2020, I have a target in my head. If I hit that target, I will know that this market is very much open to this type of luxury business. Since October 2019, we have received a decent amount of business, which we weren’t expecting. However, we are extremely pleased that the market is responding very well to us; in fact, a lot of stores have opened up in our area due to the market improving. So, this is a positive sign and with Expo 2020 Dubai approaching as well, I’m looking forward to this year being good to us.
Azhar Sajan, director of Casa Milano
How are you coping with the current tough situation cause by Covid-19?
get hectic sometimes, but I feel this keeps me focused and driven.
Given the current global situation, we are taking the necessary precautions including maintaining social distance and installing sanitizer stations across the showroom. But the main way for me to cope is to have a positive mindset about the current situation and have faith in the government.
Also, what is your advice to other young entrepreneurs in the UAE?
As a young entrepreneur, what have been your biggest challenges? The biggest challenge I have faced is time management, since I’m also still studying at university. I had to manage my studies while also preparing for the launch of this brand, which was tough. Even now, I have to schedule everything and maintain a balance. It does
My advice to young entrepreneurs would be to be patient as there might be days when you feel that all the work you have put in is pointless, but the hard work will pay off and you will get your due. The other thing I would say is to have passion for whatever you do in life – otherwise it will all be for nothing.
Looking ahead, what are your plans for Casa Milano? Are you eyeing expansion in the medium term? Currently, I have only one store to work with, so I want to plant my feet here and see where this takes us. My strategy is to interact with
August 2019 39
a lot of interior designers and architects, as well as focus on the clientele – we focus on professionals who would like to build their houses from scratch and on new building projects. I do not intend on marketing this as a mass-product. I’m looking forward to expanding the business to other GCC countries and even Europe in the future. This is a distributor store; we are responsible for the UAE market. Most of my brands are from Italy but we also carry products from other countries in Europe like Spain, Portugal and Turkey. With certain brands, we have the provision to provide customisation as well. For instance, we have a brand called Corian, which can be customised to create any product – table, sink or bathtub – it’s from the US and comes with a 10-year warranty. Additionally, all of our products are manufactured in their original countries and brought here.
Casa Milano’s showroom in Dubai
Lastly, on a personal front, what is your vision for the brand? Where do you hope to take it? Casa Milano’s priority is to understand its customer’s needs. We offer all our clients the opportunity to design their homes with us; we sit with our customers and understand what their needs are. Most of the time, they come with their designer/architect and have an idea of what they want. We then take them around the showroom and depending on the products we have, we help them create a design, and the kind of products that are required for that design, be it any space. Once everything is finalised, we give them a delivery date. Since
“My advice to young entrepreneurs would be to be patient as there might be days when you feel that all the work you have put in is pointless, but the hard work will pay off ” 40 August 2019
our clients are different, the way we work with them is also different. A villa-project’s timetable will be unlike a building project which has 30 floors. Most of our suppliers also provide authenticity certificates with their products and most of our products have technologies incorporated in them to save water. While we don’t have any products specifically implemented with energy savings as yet, we are fully aware of the sustainability conversation and our next step will be to see how sustainability can be implemented better through our products. We are still a start-up company; it has not even been six months since we inaugurated the showroom, so, we are still a baby, but since we have entered the market, we have made a little noise and our competitors have also taken notice. The challenge is to provide the best products at competitive prices, since in this type of market, customers are always looking for the latest design and unique products – so to speak. All the products that I have and the brands that I cater to are different, as well as my partners. So, there is a market for these products and the competition is also less and not as tough. Overall, my vision is to place Casa Milano in each household that aspires to have luxury living.
FEATURES / EDUCATION
Preparing the future
The recently created Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) aims to form the backbone of the region’s new digitised workforce, reveals interim president Professor Sir Michael Brady MBZUAI is a world-first. Why set up an AI university when most institutes globally are now only offering AI courses? MBZUAI is symbiotically related to the strategic plan for the region that gave rise to it. We do not regard AI as just another component of a computing science or engineering degree. Rather, we want to provide a coherent, detailed, and broad understanding of AI – from its theoretical foundations to specific applications. This implies the need for greater depth and greater breadth, and this can only be realised by a well thought-through set of interrelated courses. As well, in many cases of practical importance, applications of AI are at the cutting edge of the subject, and so tuition quickly morphs into research. This is why MBZUAI offers both MSc and PhD courses.
How does the institution fit with the leadership’s vision for the UAE’s future? The UAE has a clear vision for the role AI will play in the nation’s future. This is outlined in the Strategy for Artificial Intelligence 2031, and realised through various initiatives throughout the Emirates that champion the value and potential of AI. MBZUAI will contribute to the leadership’s vision for the future, while developing talent that will contribute towards the progression of AI in societies across the world. The UAE leadership is supportive of MBZUAI and our goals, providing clear guidance for how we can establish our university as an institution that can contribute to the world’s societal development through AI.
Can you elaborate on the facilities that MBZUAI will offer? MBZUAI will operate out of purpose-built facilities in the Masdar City complex. This will house the students, faculty, and administration, and will have state-of-the-art lecture theatres and computing facilities to support courses and research projects.
turn have profited not just from theoretical developments, but also from the ease with which large datasets can be accumulated over the internet. Again, there will be many applications – from healthcare, through financial services, to consumer applications for which big data and ML will play key roles. • However, AI is more than ML. For example, there have been impressive, practicallyuseful applications of reasoning under uncertainty, causal reasoning, natural language understanding, as well as signal and image analysis and robotics. So, even if developments in machine learning – or any of these other topics – were to slow, even slightly, there will likely continue to be rapid progress in other aspects of AI.
Regionally, do we have the talent pool required to keep pace with the AI development pipeline?
Professor Sir Michael Brady
MBZUAI embraces the challenge of contributing to the talent pool required to realise the growing needs for AI talent across a wide range of sectors, from government to industry – big and small – to hospitals. It is likely that there will be a surge in demand for such expertise, which our graduates will go some way to satisfying. To this end, MBZUAI will need to engage with the local ecosystem to create for students enrolled from outside the UAE such positive experiences of life in the country that a substantial percentage will remain in the region to build their careers.
Applications opened in October last year. How has demand for the courses been?
In the longer term, is there a plan to expand the course offerings at MBZUAI?
The number and quality of the applications to enrol at MBZUAI has been extremely good – it has exceeded our expectations. We received over 1,000 applications for the 50 places (now 75) for the first cohort. Just under 300 of these were evaluated by three independent faculty/evaluators, from which just over 100 are under detailed consideration.
The courses offered initially by MBZUAI emphasise depth in a small number of core subjects: machine learning, image analysis, and natural language understanding. Aside from providing a basic underpinning of a wide range of applications in which machine learning can add significant value, these also build on the expertise that has been developed over the past two years within the Inception Institute of Artificial Intelligence. Image (and signal) analysis have a very wide range of applications, from security to healthcare to financial services and smart power delivery, while natural language understanding, per- haps the single most distinctive human facility, reduces barriers to communication. Looking ahead, MBZUAI can expect to recruit faculty, offer courses, and develop research projects in a wider range of AI subjects, not least in automating causal reasoning systems that go beyond correlation to ask “why/when/how does X cause Y?”
While everybody uses the term AI, there remains limited understanding on its scope. Can you elaborate? • AI is an important, fundamental development in science with roots in computing science, statistics, mathematics, and logic. For this reason alone, the background of – and demand for– AI engineers will increase steadily, since the core competences of AI underpin many professions, including professions that are only now emerging. • AI has surged recently based on developments in machine learning (ML), which in
April 2020 41
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S P E C I A L R E P O RT
Cybersecurity: Is the GCC wellprotected? BY EMMA HODGSON
n 2019 alone, the GCC was hit by more than 5.5 million malware attacks, according to a report released in March by cybersecurity expert Trend Micro. Malware refers to a broad group of malicious programmes which affect day-to-day computer and internet usage, including coding for bugs, bots spyware, adware and digital worms. However, much more prevalent over the same time period were ransomware attacks across the region. Trend Micro highlighted a 10 per cent increase of ransomware attacks across the GCC, with the cybersecurity solutions company reportedly blocking over 61 million ransomware attacks over the time period. “Despite the prevalent ideals of digital transformation, the lack of basic security hygiene, legacy systems with outdated operating systems and unpatched vulnerabilities are still a reality,” according to Moataz Bin Ali, vice president, Trend Micro, Middle East and North Africa. “As long as the ransom scheme continues to be profitable, criminals will continue to leverage them,” he explained. Indeed, although these figures may seem high, they fit with the global outlook: “The Middle East is like any other developed region. More often than not they are not getting the basics right, partly due to complex products and difficult management tools for midsize IT departments to handle,” states Harish Chib, vice president, Middle East and Africa, for cybersecurity company Sophos. “IT security remains a highly challenging and complex area for organisations across the globe including those in the Middle East. This has been fuelled by the ever-increasing complexity of malware attacks and the financial incentives for attackers. The gap is growing between the knowledge and skills of the attackers, particularly around the areas of ransomware and exploits, and that of the IT professionals charged with stopping them. Cybercrime is a big business and is well-funded – criminals don’t need to be IT experts in order to be successful. Toolkits with support services can be bought on the dark web, as well as ransomware, which is marketed on the dark web by enterprising cybercriminals who sell kits complete with technical support and other options.” In recent years, the cyber landscape has exploded in terms of connectivity, from e-commerce to the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based applications. This has gained particular traction in the GCC. “With no shortage of ambition, smart technologies and innovations can already be seen across much of the region. This is evidenced from initiatives such as numerous ‘smart city’ developments throughout the region, Bahrain’s ‘cloud first’ policy, the progression of a ‘gold-based cryptocurrency’ in the UAE, and the emergence of blockchain technology as the preferred method for transactions,” explains Jonathan Miles, head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast. “However, with these same opportunities, comes the potential for associated vulnerabilities, risks, and threats,” he continues. “The observed growth in technology paired with a concentration of wealth in the region has made it a natural target for cybercrime and malicious activity from a range of
SPECIAL REPORT hostile actors. While technology, strategies, and processes have been put in place to combat this threat, protecting perceived weakness is still affected by a lack of skilled cybersecurity professionals in the region.” Despite that, many cybersecurity issues fall into the same group, irrespective of national boundaries. “Cybersecurity issues are much the same internationally. Rapid digitisation in the Middle Eastern countries has given rise to many connected devices. However, this connectivity has increased the vulnerabilities that today’s enterprising cybercriminals have enthusiastically embraced. They use a range of connected techniques in their malware attacks: a phishing email leads to an initial foot in the door, followed by a malware infection through the exploitation of a known or unknown defect, then an escalation of privileges or a lateral movement across the network to spread the infection across different devices. A single compromised device can mean your network and connectivity are held hostage or used for malicious intent. Essentially, they exploit our IT connectivity to achieve their malicious ends,” adds Chib.
Government strategy in the GCC Governments around the world have played a key part in terms of legislating to protect businesses and individual users. However, according to Maher Jadallah, the regional director for cybersecurity firm Tenable, cyber threats are an issue which are likely to “worsen rather than lessen” over the coming years. “The reality is that cyber risk is a business risk, which means cybersecurity is a critical business function and needs to be treated as such. “It’s part and parcel of doing business today and getting it wrong can be extremely expensive and inconvenient. It’s not just about protecting customer data, although that’s obviously a key element, organisations also rely upon it for critical business functions,” he explains. In the UAE, the government has focused primarily on development programmes and driving regulation. As Jamie
“The most important thing any company can do is to ensure company-wide streamlining of data being encrypted and backed up” 46
Lyne, the chief technology officer of SANS Institute explains: “Regulation and education are crucial to the ongoing safety and security of the region. The government’s investment in building the right talent is a key step. As the type of skills and practitioners in the region diversify with the burgeoning industry, it is important that governments continue to focus on developing youth talent, or the ‘next generation’ to secure future digital borders. The most important role the government can play is to ensure a good ecosystem of skills development within its own organisations and within the enterprise. The talent pool needs to be expanded and diversified and the government is in a unique position to target and mitigate this problem.”
How companies in the GCC can protect themselves
According to security experts, the key threats which companies in the GCC face fall into several areas, notably: making sure cybersecurity is streamlined company-wide, and ensuring staff are regularly trained and kept up-to-date regarding the anti-malware and firewall software they should be using. “The most important thing any company can do is to ensure company-wide streamlining of data being encrypted and backed up,” explains Chib. “Backup all files regularly and keep a recent backup copy off-site.” Another key area, he explains, is ensuring that there is a workplace culture which understands the importance of cybersecurity, from contract workers to inhouse staff. “It’s important to take a user-centric view to company security. Anti-malware and firewall software should be something that each member of staff can easily take part in, regardless of their skill level. Make sure to simplify – complexity is the enemy of security. In the same way, companies must train all users as cybersecurity software is often a weak point within individual teams. Finally, ensure that any contractors, outsourcers or third-party partners take cybersecurity as seriously as you do at your company; an organisation’s cybersecurity is only as strong as its weakest link.” Interestingly, according to Tenable’s security expert Jadallah, social engineering has become a key issue for companies, with employees’ social media data providing a weak spot in overall cybersecurity. “There are numerous ways that facilitate identity thefts. Social engineering is one common method. All too often, individuals will expose intimate details in social channels – be it Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platforms that allow a threat actor to piece together key information. For example, many security questions will include mother’s maiden name, date of birth, first street or pet. Another is for an attacker to contact an individual, either by email or phone, and trick them into revealing personal information. Another is that information stolen during data breaches is pieced together. We’ve seen massive databases of compromised information published on the dark web – the most recent being 620 million stolen online accounts offered on the Dream Market cyber-souk.”
Chib also highlights that individual employee scrutiny and vigilance play a key role in company-wide protection: “I would advise all employees, when you receive a document attachment via email, don’t enable macros [disguised as download attachments, which often look suspicious]. Microsoft, a partner of ours, deliberately turned this off as a security measure. Be cautious about unsolicited attachments, and when in doubt, don’t open them.” To address personal security data threats, many security firms now advise using two-step programmes which require password validation through a second portal or device. “In addition to VPNs, password managers are another way for users
to safeguard themselves online. “We live in a world where the need for passwords can be in the hundreds for the average user. If an individual relies on just one or two that are reused across multiple accounts, the likelihood of one being discovered and used in a credential stuffing attack is highly likely. “An easy option to self-protect is to enable two-stage verification on accounts, where they are possible, as it dramatically increases the difficulty for a malicious user to take over your account,” says Jadallah. “Ultimately, the best advice is to never do or say anything online that you wouldn’t in the physical world.”
Is coronavirus the newest threat to cybersecurity? BY EMMA HODGSON
he new Covid-19 disease, commonly known as coronavirus, has become one of the most discussed subjects around the world in recent weeks. Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11, the disease has affected business operations globally, across all industries, with aviation, hospitality and F&B being particularly affected. Unsurprisingly, it is a topic that has seen exponential growth online too. Grad Conn, chief experience and marketing officer at the social media analytics firm Sprinklr, noted that the platform has seen unprecedented spikes in Covid-19 related content, with 19 million mentions of coronavirus across social media sites within a 24-hour period alone this March. “Coronavirus” has become one of the most searched Google terms around the world, showing a significant upward spike in
the GCC from February 16 onwards, which continued through March. Many of the most popular search terms connected to the disease have been related to symptoms, the impact on regional countries and news about the disease. At the same time, security companies have seen a rise in the number of malware threats, seeking to abuse users’ vulnerability regarding their fear and uncertainty around the disease. “Threat actors often exploit times of confusion or global events to conduct cyber-attacks and email phishing campaigns. These actors are opportunistic and inventive and will seek to exploit the public’s and organisations’ fears in order to perpetuate malicious activity,” explains Jonathan Miles, head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research, Mimecast. Indeed, the uncertainty and unpredictability caused by an unforeseen outbreak as with Covid-19 has caused some people to act with what psychologist David DeSteno, an expert on socio-emotional psychology, has described as “a mix of miscalibrated emotion and limited knowledge.” It is something which has been expressed globally in multiple ways, for example, through consumers panic-buying household items resulting in empty shelves in some supermarkets in certain countries. Online, however, this can also translate to an increase in misjudgement when faced with malware which is designed to specifically target these psychological vulnerabilities. “One of the most typical ways users are being targeted is through email malware threats. An example is a potentially malicious email [with content about coronavirus] used by scammers as a vector for delivery of malicious content. As is typical in such campaigns, it requires the victim to click on a link or a pdf document, in order to download malicious code, or to be redirected to a malicious URL. The body of the email makes repeated requests to shape the recipient’s action, by suggesting that the link be clicked,” explains Miles. As much of the information being shared within companies regarding the evolving Covid-19 pandemic is via email, it makes users particularly vulnerable to this type of threat. Indeed, Miles continues, “the sole intention of these threat actors is to play on the victim’s genuine fear of the impact on them by such global incidents, in order to increase the likelihood of victims clicking on an attachment or link delivered in a malicious email. Ultimately, this will cause the infection of a single machine, a system, or network, or can be made for monetary gain. This is a rational choice by criminals as our research has shown that over 90 per cent of compromises occur by email and that over 90 per cent of those breaches are primarily attributable to user error.” James Lyne, chief technology officer at SANS Institute adds: “Cyber criminals are, simply put, experts in using the latest news trends to snare clicks. It would be prudent to provide employees and users with authentic information sources to address their fears of Covid-19 to drive them away from the ‘shock and awe’ e-mails or communications they may receive. Some of these may be genuine, but avoiding them entirely is a safer strategy.” Interestingly, Covid-19 is not unique in terms of the typical spikes seen in threats by cybersecurity firms in the region.
SPECIAL REPORT “Following any significant disruptive event that plays on perceived human vulnerabilities such as benevolence and fear, there will almost certainly be an increase in cyber attacks,” explains Miles. “One of the motives for these time-specific attacks is to identify vulnerabilities in infrastructure and defences, which can be exploited and used to improve future attack methodologies.”
How to protect your company from Covid-19 cybercrime
The key way to protect your employees is to “proactively communicate to your users where they can find trusted information and why they should avoid unknown sources,” says Lyne. Another key step is making sure your company has reliable antivirus (AV) support and good cyber hygiene practices – for example making sure staff use strong passwords and do not enable attachments in the event of malware emails being opened. “These things will help shore up and support good company-wide cybersecurity practice, so when these unpredictable threats arise, your company is better positioned to remain unimpacted by them in terms of security,” explains Miles.
Watch out! An example of a coronavirus scam with fake links highlighted by Sophos (top) and the links to the genuine website (bottom)
An intrinsic part of ensuring companies are secure from these type of attacks lies in making sure each employee is informed and empowered to make the correct choices. Organisations should keep staff abreast with how the company is handling a particular or perceived crisis (in this case, the rapid spread of Covid-19) and ensure employees are knowledgeable about best cybersecurity practices. “It is important that users pause before clicking a link in an email. They should never feel pressured into clicking a link. Most importantly, users should not act on any advice within the email body that they didn’t ask for and were not expecting – for example, an email from an unknown user that demands they click a link from an unknown source,” explains Harish Chib, vice president, Middle East and Africa, Sophos. “If you are genuinely seeking advice about the coronavirus, do your own research and make your own choice about where to look. Don’t be taken in by the sender’s name. A scam email could say it’s from the ‘World Health Organisation’, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is, as the sender can put any name they like in the ‘from’ field.” There are often key warning signs that users can also look out for when trying to detect whether the email they have opened is malware content. “Look out for spelling and grammatical errors. Not all scammers make mistakes, but many do,” explains Chib. “Take the extra time to review messages for telltale signs that it’s fraudulent. It will be bad enough if you do get scammed, but you will feel even more foolish if you realise afterwards that there were signs that you could have spotted in the email upfront.” Although most malware attacks come through phishing emails, there are also many that can be found elsewhere on the internet. In the case of Covid-19, many of the phishing attacks are linked to the spread of misinformation about the disease. Something that in recent weeks, Google and other social media and search engines have been racing to control. To combat the threat, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and Alphabet made a speech on March 15 announcing that Google would be partnering with the US government to create a website “dedicated to Covid19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide.” The website, he explained will “include best practices on prevention, links to authoritative information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers and businesses.” However, as Chib explains, there are many precautions users can make, without relying on just one website for information, which can be an issue in itself if the website is hacked. “There is general good practice that people can apply. Check the URL before you type it in or click a link. If the website you’re being sent to doesn’t look right, stay clear. Do your own research and make your own choice about where to look. Never enter data that a website shouldn’t be asking for.” A key area where cybercrime is rife is in relation to password data. “If you realise you have accidentally revealed your password to scammers, change it as soon as you can. The criminals who
“If you are genuinely seeking advice about the coronavirus, do your own research and make your own choice about where to look. Don’t be taken in by the sender’s name”
run phishing sites typically try out stolen passwords immediately, as it is a process that can often be done automatically. So, the sooner you react, the more likely you will beat them to it.” Having healthy password protection in place can also lessen the chances of being affected by phishing scams. “Never use the same password on more than one site. Once scammers have a password, they will usually try it on every website where you might have an account, to see if they can get lucky. Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) if you can. Those six-digit codes that you receive on your phone or generate via an app are a minor inconvenience to you, but are usually a huge barrier for the scammers, because just knowing your password alone is not enough,” states Chib. There’s a simple rule the security expert advises to follow to help lessen users’ chances of being exposed by a cyber security scam. “If you are searching for something to do with the coronavirus, there is no reason for a health awareness webpage to ask for your email address, let alone your password. To lessen your chances of being affected follow this simple rule: If in doubt, don’t give it out.”
PA R T N E R C O N T E N T
Time to reboot Regional companies have to strengthen their IT systems to ensure they are able to support work-from-home policies, says Vijay Babber, senior channel manager, Middle East and Africa at Gigamon With several organisations regionally now working out of home due to Covid19, are companies equipped with the right IT infrastructure to support this shift?
The short answer is no, most companies are not well equipped for this shift. Agile working policies, particularly in larger organisations, is a trend which has gradually been increasing over the last few years. However, we are definitely behind the curve in the Middle East region on this. Even the larger organisations who were moving towards this approach were not set up for rapid adoption of a work from home policy for all employees. This set-up dramatically increases strain on existing IT systems that were never designed for this scenario. IT departments themselves are under huge pressure to get a sustainable, reliable infrastructure in place as the corporate LAN essentially moves primarily to the WAN. And the situation is made more complex by the economic uncertainty which drives an increased focus on cost containment across every industry. Clearly, this raises many concerns for any organisation on how they can remain successful and keep their networks secure. How big a concern is security?
Security is a huge concern. Aside from the practical elements of getting everyone physically able to work from home in terms of their desk set-up, this shift in working model demands major changes to the organisation’s infrastructure. This puts enormous strain on not only application performance but also on the entire security posture of the organisation. Both network performance and application performance tools will need to be deployed to manage the now predominantly WAN-based traffic. As the world grapples with those impacts and a drastically changing
working model, cyber attackers are already taking advantage of the situation, while thinly stretched IT departments are focused on responding to an unprecedented pandemic. Hackers will attempt to scam individuals, launch phishing attacks to get people to click on malicious links or open infected mail attachments. With your workforce operating from home, this clearly is a concern.
visibility of your network and traffic in motion is absolutely critical. Gigamon’s platform provides visibility into exactly what’s happening on the network. Application Intelligence automatically identifies over 3,300 applications on the network, thus allowing IT to prioritise some apps and ignore others. For example, most network tools can be spared from having to inspect the burgeoning WebEx and Zoom traffic. In terms of security, Gigamon helps with visibility and threat detection on user traffic that was previously predominantly inside the firewall. By aggregating and redirecting traffic to security tools, Gigamon helps better monitor traffic to assist with the “Zero Trust” concept. And Gigamon’s ThreatINSIGHT solution helps detect and respond to threats faster. And in these uncertain times when budgets are constrained, Gigamon helps IT get more out of their existing infrastructure investments. Our solutions increase the effectiveness of their existing tools and extends lives of older ones. This means that you don’t necessarily need to invest in more security tools.
How can Gigamon support companies in the current scenario?
Can you elaborate on the way you operate in the region?
In order to survive this landscape, businesses need to adapt fast. Gigamon’s solutions can help companies to stay secure and efficient during this time by allowing you to maintain visibility of your network and solve security and performance needs across virtual and cloud networks. The way in which Gigamon can help an organisation is actually threefold. Firstly, we can help companies to continue to run fast even in the shift from LAN to WAN. Secondly, we help them to stay secure as the organisation turns inside out. And thirdly, we help companies do more with less which, right now, is crucial. During this transition, having accurate
We have a regional sales team who are all based in Dubai looking after Middle East, Africa and Russia. As a channel-first company, we are focused on expanding our ecosystem. Gigamon is fundamentally changing how we go to market, and with partners initiating a significant portion of our business, we want to demonstrate our commitment to them in return.
Looking ahead, what is your advice to companies that may switch to some form of remote working in the longer term?
Start making changes now that can take your organisation into the future model of working. Also, take the time to consider the most cost-effective solutions to increase performance.
Counting the losses
Fraud and cyber crime have increased across the board with companies now seeing a big impact Top types of fraud committed
The UK case
Cybercrime came second on the list
Bribery and Corruption Accounting/Financial Statement Fraud
Deceptive business practices Corruption
Money Laundering and Sanctions
Disruptive fraud events by industry Fraud impacted companies across most industries in diverse ways 1
Customer fraud 18%
Asset misappropriation 17%
Customer fraud 27%
Accounting/ financial statement fraud 14%
Government & public sector
Accounting/ financial statement fraud 17%
Bribery and corruption 16%
Accounting/ financial statement fraud 13%
Customer fraud 13%
Asset misappropriation 21%
Bribery and corruption 14%
Accounting/ financial statement fraud 16%
Customer fraud 13%
Industrial products and manufacturing Technology, media & Telecommunications
Among those affected, a high percentage have identified at least one breach or attack a month
Anti-Competition/AntiTrust Law Infringement
Human Resources Fraud
Number of cyber security breaches or attacks identified in the last 12 months
Cyber security preparedness in the GCC (2018-19) (0 = High preparedness; 4 = Low preparedness) COUNTRY
Oman UAE Saudi Arabia Bahrain Kuwait
0 1 2 2 3
is the average annual cost for businesses and charities that lost data or assets after breaches
BUSINESS CYBER SECURITY POLICIES IN PLACE 33% 27%
losses reported due to fraud in the last 24 months (According to 5,000 respondents to the PwC survey across 99 countries)
SOURCE: PWCâ€™S 2020 GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRIME AND FRAUD SURVEY, THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT, UK DEPARTMENT FOR DIGITAL, CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT, CYBER SECURITY BREACHES SURVEY 2019: STATISTICAL RELEASE
Is there light in the dark side of the internet? BY EMMA HODGSON
ICONS BY PROSYMBOLS FROM THE NOUN PROJECT
ou’ve no doubt heard of the dark web. It is referenced in television series and films as being a shady part of the internet; where people go when they want to acquire stolen credit card information or hire a hitman. But that’s only partly true. While the dark web – which includes thousands of websites that use tools to hide their IP addresses and remain completely anonymous – has been used for black market services, it’s also a bastion of free speech. It enables anonymous whistleblowing and protects users from surveillance and censorship. That said, it has a long way to go to shake off its shady reputation.
Last year a 60 Minutes documentary described the dark web as a “vast, secret, cyber underworld” where “your kids buy drugs with a swipe of the finger”. It went on to describe it as “90 per cent of the internet”, and a place for piracy and other nefarious activity. As it turns out that’s not exactly accurate. “The dark net is often over-hyped as ‘a different internet where crime occurs’,” says James Lyne, chief technology officer of SANS Institute. “In reality, it’s a corner of the internet that uses special software to mask your identity – to varying degrees of success. “It is where sites and services sell malicious codes, hacker services and other illegal products. However, anonymity, privacy and the right to free information are principles on which much of the Internet has flourished.” That was no more apparent than in 2018, when the dark web became an important part of Iran’s anti-government protests. When Iranian officials saw that protesters were taking to social media to organise and spread information, they blocked access to many web services and messaging platforms. That prompted protestors to take to the dark web, to both communicate within the country, and to journalists outside of it. One of the most high-profile platforms on the dark web is an anonymous information database built by WikiLeaks. It allows anyone to post intelligence and documents 100 per cent securely. That idea has since been adapted into a web tool called SecureDrop – which uses many of the same processes as the dark web to mask user’s identities and lets any news organisation receive anonymous submissions. Even Facebook has embraced the dark web; the social media platform launched a dark web version of its site aimed for users who wish to evade surveillance and censorship. However, the ability for users to go online and do just about anything with impunity is one of the fiercest criticisms of the dark web. It is why so much nefarious activity runs rampant, primarily with regards to cybercrime. “The services for sale on the dark web remove a barrier to executing cyber-attacks,” says Lyne. “It makes it easier for organisations to procure capabilities to target competitors, for example. “I believe it has significantly contributed to the volume of malicious activity and cybercrime on the web.” This has led to a lot of attention from the world’s top law enforcement and intelligence agencies, all of whom are looking for a way around the dark web’s anonymity tools. Last November, a coordinated action by the FBI and Europol saw dozens of dark web sites seized, including three of the most popular drug markets on the dark web. How those ‘anonymous’ web sites were found remains a mystery. But the move sent a powerful signal to those who use (and those who abuse) the dark web; it’s not completely untraceable. To be clear, a majority of the dark web looks very much like the regular internet. You don’t need any particular software to visit dark websites; you just type in the relevant URL which is publicly visible. What is hidden are the IP addresses of the servers that run them; which means anyone can visit
ﺗﺮاﻓﻴﻠﻴﻜﺲ ﻓﻲ اﻟﺴﻮق اﻟﺤﺮة ﻓﻲ أﺑﻮﻇﺒﻲ.
Travelex at Abu Dhabi Duty Free. The worldʼs largest global airport currency exchange operator.
ﻳﻌﺘﺒﺮ ﺗﺮاﻓﻴﻠﻴﻜﺲ أﻛﺒﺮ ﻣﺸﻐﻞ ﻋﺎﻟﻤﻲ ﻟﺼﺮف اﻟﻌﻤﻼت ﻓﻲ اﻟﻤﻄﺎرات اﻟﺪوﻟﻴﺔ.
the dark web, but it’s incredibly hard to figure out where they are hosted, or by whom. The next level is for users who run Tor, which is a hidden service that masks your online identity. It works by encrypting web traffic and bouncing it through randomly chosen computers and servers. The more the traffic moves around, the harder it is to accurately track; thereby keeping your information anonymous. If a website uses Tor, then only internet users also running the service can access it – making a site and its users almost impossible to identify. Some of the dark web’s fiercest critics say that anonymity and lack of accountability are the main reasons why it’s used by nefarious users. Which is partly true, but outside of forcing all internet users to register themselves with some sort of official body, there’s little that can be done. “While a draconian and absolutely identifiable internet would have some benefits,” admits Lyne, “those zones would not be without crime. Broadly speaking, criminals have always found spaces to operate in. Removing encryption or anonymity on the internet will not address that issue.” The dark web is not to be confused with the deep web – or
websites that aren’t reachable by a search engine. While those websites hidden from services like Google include the dark web, it also includes things like your email inbox, or private web forums that require an individual login. According to security researcher Nik Cubrilovic, the dark web is made up of less than 10,000 hidden services, versus the hundreds of millions of regular websites that make up the internet. In truth, the dark web’s primary reason for existing is its biggest criticism; that it’s untraceable. For businesses, that means there’s little point in trying to shut down the service, and more about preparing for the inevitable. “The commoditisation of crime and the availability of tools on the dark web does increase the volume of attacks. That service model is unlikely to diminish anytime soon, so we all need to prepare for the threat that undeniably faces us all.” Is the dark web a force for good or a platform for evil? At this point, that depends more on an individual’s stance on net neutrality than cold hard facts; by its very nature, data around the dark web is incredibly hard to identify and collate. However, as long as there are users who wish to remain anonymous, the dark web will continue to have a place online.
“THERE ARE ONLY TWO TYPES OF COMPANIES: THOSE THAT HAVE BEEN HACKED, AND THOSE THAT WILL BE”
RO B E RT MU E L L E R , FORMER FBI DIRECTOR 58
Lifestyle Luxury Technology Culinary Horology Travel
60 66 68 70 72
Apple iPad Pro Available in options of 11-inch and 12.9-inch displays backed by a new A12Z Bionic Chip, it has a dual-camera setup capable of shooting 4K video
Technogym founder Nerio Alessandri is redefining corporate wellness while also keeping the worldâ€™s best athletes in shape for the upcoming Olympic Games p.62 gulfbusiness.com
April 2020 59
Lifestyle / Luxury
The luxury industry’s fight against the pandemic The luxury sector across the world has suffered a blow due to the coronavirus pandemic. That doesn’t necessarily mean though that they aren’t devising ingenious coping strategies BY VARUN GODINHO
hen 2020 rolled in, the single greatest concern on the minds of the suits within the luxury business was the prolonged protests in Hong Kong. But the issues in Hong Kong were contained by temporarily shuttering a few stores in the country and rejigging their distribution channels within the region to bypass that country. In effect, the problem they had with Hong Kong could be quarantined. In January, while the first reports of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China began trickling in, conglomerates like LVMH were reporting heroic revenue figures – it reported €53.7bn ($58.2bn) in sales revenue in 2019, a 15 per cent year-on-year increase. No one quite imagined that within under two months, Covid-19 would be declared a global pandemic, affecting over 165 countries. Still worse, Europe, a bastion and stomping ground for many of the world’s biggest luxury labels, would be declared as the centre of the pandemic. The ramifications of the lockdown and travel restrictions imposed by countries around the world has had a catastrophic effect on luxury brands across watches, fashion and auto, among other sectors. Swatch Group cancelled their trade watch event, and it wasn’t long after that Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) dominated by Richemont brands announced the cancellation of their fair as did Baselworld, the world’s largest luxury watch exhibition that was to be held in Switzerland this month. There is no immediate data on the impact that coronavirus has had on the watch business. But consider that for 2019, the value
60 April 2020
of Swiss watch exports to China rose 16 per cent. Credit Suisse, for example, estimated in a February 24 note to investors that sales in China for the Richemont Group – the owners of brands including Cartier, A. Lange & Söhne and Vacheron Constantin – would fall 80 per cent in February and March. It even prompted one of the industry’s biggest voices, Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari to tell CNN, “The fact that we are relying on e-commerce only in China is hurting sales significantly.” Also, the retail watch business outside of China relied heavily on Chinese travelling abroad and purchasing luxury items while on holiday. An estimated 150 million Chinese tourists travel internationally every year; and according to Bain, 70 per cent of the luxury spending done by Chinese shoppers was done outside of China in 2019. Jefferies Group, an investment bank, estimated that Chinese buyers accounted for
Coronavirus can already be counted as a catalyst to spur companies to tilt towards a digital and e-commerce friendly model
40 per cent of the $305bn spent on luxury goods globally last year. Also, 10 per cent of luxury sales done globally were by travellers visiting airports or on cruises. That figure will take a body blow. Watch manufactures themselves are going into lockdown – Rolex, the world’s largest luxury watch brand, announced that from March 17-27, it would shut its manufacturing facilities in Geneva, Bienne and Crissier. The closures of production facilities have extended to the luxury car industry as well. Rolls-Royce announced that it was closing its Goodwood manufacturing plant for two weeks starting from March 23. BMW, Honda and Toyota ground their European production facilities to a halt as well. Tesla’s stock price was at an all-time high of $968.99 on February 24, but lost over 60 per cent of its share value three weeks later by March 19. The fashion world has expectedly been impacted as well. With overall business sentiment impacted on multiple fronts including coronavirus, the crashing of oil prices to its lowest levels since 2003 due to the non-agreement of OPEC+ members on the production cuts, and the combined forces of which have pushed global stockmarkets deep into the red. Ralph Lauren cancelled its runway show scheduled for April in New York, Burberry postponed their show in Shanghai that was also scheduled to be held this month, and Gucci and Prada did the same for their shows that were to be held in San Francisco and Tokyo respectively. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Luxury brands are taking it on the chin and rethinking strategies – in some cases rejigging their production to align with the global fight against the pandemic. In March, Louis Vuitton owner LVMH repurposed its existing perfume and cosmetics production line to manufacture hand sanitizers that are in dwindling supply globally. “LVMH will continue to honour this commitment for as long as necessary, in connection with the French health authorities,” the company said in a statement. Tesla’s Elon Musk meanwhile said on twitter in March that his company could make ventilators if there is a shortage, in response to a comment from a social media user regarding whether the billionaire could repurpose his factory production lines to build health equipment. Likewise, other industry leaders are striking a defiant note too. The footwear gulfbusiness.com
Lifestyle / Luxury
major, Santoni, has a 30,000 square metre facility and employs 700 people in Italy’s Marche region, a country that is grappling with the pandemic. The company’s CEO, Giuseppe Santoni, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to support the intensive care units of local hospitals in the Marche region with a goal of raising half a million Euros – within four days of initiating the campaign, by March 19, it had already raised over a fifth of that amount. “Marche is the region I belong to, the region where my family, my company, my people are grounded. A beautiful territory, that is currently suffering due to coronavirus. Now, I want to give to this region that has always given so much to me,” said Santoni. Tech platforms hosting fashion content are realigning to the new reality. This year alone, YouTube new fashion vertical, /Fashion, live streamed more than 40 runway shows, including Bottega Veneta, Tod’s, and Lanvin. Its livestreams garnered over four million views. Coronavirus can already be counted as a catalyst to spur companies to tilt towards gulfbusiness.com
Guests wear protective masks as a model presents a creation by Dries Van Noten during the Women’s Fall-Winter 2020-2021 Ready-toWear collection fashion show in Paris, on February 26, 2020
a digital and e-commerce friendly model. Louis Vuitton quickly digitised their collections, with its chairman and CEO, Michael Burke, reportedly noting that if it weren’t an absolute necessity, the company would have taken two years to achieve this. For fashion tech companies like Farfetch, it’s another reason to double down on proven technology like their Store of The Future concept tested in London last year, which merged augmented reality and e-commerce to provide shoppers with a hybrid e-commerce and brick-and-mortar model. Here in the UAE, there’s an ecosystem supporting businesses to ride through the pandemic crisis. On March 19, the Al Futtaim Group – the operator of Dubai Festival
City Mall and Festival Plaza mall which houses luxury brands including Kate Spade, Montblanc, Rolex and Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons – announced that it was offering all its tenants three months of rent-free occupancy in a package worth Dhs100m. “In these unprecedented times, we understand the difficulties faced by the businesses and the impact this current situation is having on our economy. As a business deeply attached to the wellbeing of the UAE, we have a role to play and have committed ourselves to finding ways to support while the malls remain open. We hope this contribution will help pave way for business continuity in this difficult environment,” said Timothy Earnest, group director for Al-Futtaim Malls. With countries around the world increasingly locking down their internal and external borders, it’s unlikely that the worst has come to pass for luxury brands. Still, it doesn’t necessarily need to spell disaster for them. No one quite knows how deeply scarred their individual business models will be at the end of this. How these brands react and adapt over the next 6-12 months would be crucial. Watch this space. April 2020 61
Lifestyle / Wellness
The wellness revolution A multi-billion dollar Italian company focuses not just on high-end fitness equipment, but on delivering nifty tech solutions to your everyday workout. Technogym’s founder and president, Nerio Alessandri, talks exclusively to Gulf Business on his vision for igniting the global wellness industry, one treadmill at a time BY VARUN GODINHO
t would be almost entirely inaccurate to call Apple a ‘smartphone company’ or Microsoft a ‘software company’ or even Netflix as a ‘content hosting company’. While it is true that each of those functions occupy a large part of what they do, they have also developed entire ecosystems around their respective business models that account for much more than merely those core functions. That’s what 58-year-old Nerio Alessandri has strived to do with his fitness and wellness company Technogym – the maker of highend fitness equipment – setting it up as a company that doesn’t just produce and sell exercise equipment, but one that offers holistic technology-driven fitness solutions built around the business of wellness. With a presence in over 100 countries, there’s a strong chance that you’ve trained on Technogym’s equipment which includes the entire gamut from treadmills and bikes to rowing machines and free weights. Technogym today is a $2.4bn company listed on the Milan Stock Exchange with revenues of around $595m in 2019, and one that began in a private home garage in Italy. “I founded the company in 1983 when I was 22-years-old. I was very
62 April 2020
Above: Technogym’s exercise equipment is connected to a cloud system via the company’s Mywellness platform Opposite page: Nerio Alessandri, president and founder of Technogym
passionate about sports and I had an engineering degree. So, Technogym was born by combining my two passions, technology – “techno” – and gymnastics – “gym”. I come from very humble origins. We didn’t have much money to invest and so I started out by building the first pieces of equipment in my home garage,” says Alessandri. Back in the early Eighties though, going to the gym mainly revolved around bodybuilding. Alessandri wanted to shift that narrative. “Wellness as we know it today didn’t exist back then. It was only [about] bodybuilding with some dumbbells and rudimentary equipment. My idea was to apply technology to fitness and sport in order to develop equipment, which was not only functional for exercise, but also equipment which was beautiful from a design standpoint and easy for people to use.” As a self-funded operation at the very beginning, Alessandri would take half the money from clients upfront when commissioned to build equipment and half when delivery was completed. While Alessandri efficiently and sustainably scaled the business over two decades, he didn’t accept private equity until around 12 years ago, before listing on the Milan Stock Exchange more recently in 2016 to raise further money for the company’s expansion plans. In 2012, he set up a new sprawling headquarters, the Technogym Village, in Cesena, Italy, not far from Bologna. The facility was described as a ‘Wellness Campus’ dedicated to R&D, interior design, wellness culture and physical activity. But nearly a decade before that in 2003, Alessandri began to take a personal interest in lifting the wellness levels of not just his company, but an entire district in Italy. Through his non-profit Wellness Foundation, he set up the “Romagna-Wellness Valley” initiative that has been promoting and supporting fitness programmes among public and private stakeholders to create what it calls ‘the first wellness and quality of life district in the world.’ The programme has had measurable success over the last 17 years. Reportedly, in Romagna, only 13 per cent of the population is sedentary compared to a national average of 28 per cent. In the region, 40 per cent of the doctors prescribe physical activity as a medicine, as compared to the national average of 30 per cent in other parts of the country. gulfbusiness.com
Lifestyle / Wellness
Pieces of equipment will be supplied by Technogym to the 2020 Olympic Games
Lifestyle / Wellness
However, apart from its equipment manufacturing and wellness initiatives, technology has played a central role in the company’s business model. Technogym began integrating software into its equipment as early as 1996. By 2003, it integrated a TV screen into fitness equipment for the very first time, taking those pieces of equipment online by 2007 and introducing its cloud platform in 2012 – another first in the fitness industry. Technogym’s Mywellness is an open platform present on all its equipment consoles and also connects with third-party players including Apple Health and Samsung Health. There are believed to be 10 million users globally of its Mywellness platforms that are connected to 15,000 wellness facilities across the world. The Mywellness platform is connected to a cloud platform that allows users to log in their personalized fitness data directly via the console of the equipment they are training on and then store that data on the
cloud which can be downloaded to any of its machines anywhere in the world. “We call Technogym an Apple-like model. Of course, they do it with mobile phones, we do it with fitness. We call our offerings the Technogym ecosystem, meaning that our equipment is connected online. So people can connect on any Technogym equipment to their personalised training programmes and training data via our Mywellness cloud platform at home or at their hotels if they are travelling, or at their local fitness club, or even outdoors thanks to the mobile app which is fully integrated in the Mywellness cloud platform.” Apart from the cloud, Technogym is set to go one step further and create live and on-demand exercise and training sessions for its users. “Technogym Live is the sort of Netflix of fitness. It is our enormous content platform that allows people to get access from our equipment console to training classes and videos from the best trainers in the world – on demand or live. So
As official partners of the Olympic Games, Technogym will equip 30 training centres in Tokyo to help train the approximately 15,000 athletes who will participate in the Olympic and Paralympic games this year
64 April 2020
using Technogym Live you can select your favourite spinning class and join it from wherever in the world you are from your hotel or home,” explains Alessandri. Technogym supplies equipment to 65,000 fitness centres across the world. Its equipment is also present in over 300,000 private homes globally. “More than 50 million people train with Technogym every day all over the world,” says Alessandri. To facilitate its global distribution, Technogym has 14 branches around the world including one in the UAE. “We started developing our distribution in the Middle East over 15 years ago by selecting proven distributors in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Oman. Around 10 years ago, we decided to set up Technogym Emirates in the UAE to serve as a hub for us in the Middle East, which is a key hospitality market.” The goal of these branches, explains Alessandri, is to go beyond working as distribution channels and instead supplying total wellness solutions and added value services such as design, visual merchandising, education in training for fitness clubs and even corporate wellness programmes. “Corporate wellness is a big trend internationally. Companies understand that taking care of their employees’ health and wellness is also a return on their business because people who feel well are also more productive and more creative.” While on a global level Technogym has worked with several mega corporate clients including Ferrari and Maserati in Italy and Salesforce, here in the UAE, the Technogym Emirates division has provided solutions to large conglomerates including ADNOC, Emirates Global Aluminum and du. The regional team has also provided equipment to residential compounds like Al Barari in Dubai, to universities like the Abu Dhabi University and American University in Sharjah and a number of top-tier hotels in the UAE including Burj Al Arab, Bulgari, Kempinski and the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi. Alessandri is keen to give the corporate wellness initiatives an even bigger platform by partnering with major global business forums. “I’m part of a very important initiative of the World Economic Forum in Davos to support and to promote workplace wellness as an opportunity for companies to be socially responsible and take care of their employees’ health to have a positive impact on their business.” gulfbusiness.com
Lifestyle / Wellness
The Technogym headquarters called the Technogym Village in Cesena, Italy
“Companies understand that taking care of their employees’ health and wellness is also a return on their business because people who feel well are also more productive and creative” Commenting on its global operations, Alessandri says that Europe is the company’s biggest market at the moment, although it’s seen rapid growth recently in North America, Far East Asia, Middle East and Africa. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world, it is difficult to imagine that any business will remain unscathed. Technogym has over 2,000 employees globally. “At the moment we are focused on the safety of our employees. We have put in place all the prevention measures indicated by governments in different countries. We are producing and delivering around the world. It is too soon to say what the impact of it [coronavirus] will be on the business.” There is a silver lining from the pandemic though, as Alessandri explains that the gulfbusiness.com
company is experiencing a higher request for home-fitness equipment due to the fact that people tend to stay more at home as a result of the lockdowns being implemented around the world. Alessandri and his team have another major event though to focus their attention on for the moment. They have been selected to be the official equipment suppliers to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Japan. The company will equip 30 training centres in Tokyo and supply around 1,200 pieces of equipment to the approximately 15,000 athletes who will participate in the Olympic and Paralympic games this year. “Technogym has a very strong and established relationship with the Olympics. For
20 years, the Olympics has chosen Technogym as the official supplier for training the athletes because of the levels of innovation and safety of our equipment. Also, thanks to our international footprint, athletes tend to be very familiar with our equipment.” But the decision to partner with the Olympics is also a mutually beneficial one where Technogym gets to showcase its latest equipment to the world’s best athletes. “For us, the Olympic Games are very important in terms of innovation because by working with the athletes we get a lot of feedback and insights to innovate our products. And on the other side, it is also a great opportunity to develop globally our brand in terms of marketing and communication.” It’s too early to talk succession plans as Alessandri hasn’t indicated he is stepping down from his role as president of the company any time soon. His family remains the majority shareholder though he is keen to reiterate that there is a “very strong governance system and management in place.” In a year that comes with its own set of unique challenges owing to the Covid-19 crisis, Alessandri strikes an optimistic note, “The guideline we share with the market and with shareholders is profitable and sustainable growth throughout the year.” April 2020 65
Lifestyle / Technology
Hands-on review: OPPO Reno3 Pro Plenty of cameras. But do they all add up? BY VARUN GODINHO
ix cameras. That’s OPPO Reno3 Pro’s calling card with its latest flagship device that made its Middle East debut on March 18. Undoubtedly, cameras are among the most often-used features and a make-orbreak point when it comes to deciding your next smartphone purchase. And that’s where we began with our exclusive handson review of the phone. First, the cold numbers: the quad-camera setup at the rear consists of a 64MP f/1.8 ‘ultra-clear’ primary camera, a 13MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, an 8MP ultra-wideangle lens, and a 2MP mono lens. In front, and on selfie-mode, OPPO has added an additional camera compared to the phone’s predecessor the Reno2 which was launched last year. The now pill-shaped dual punch hole camera on the Reno3 Pro consists of a 44MP main selfie camera and a 2MP depth of field bokeh lens. How do these six cameras operate in real-world scenarios? We took it out for a road-test in Dubai. One of the most impressive features of the phone is the new ‘ultra-steady’ mode that is available when shooting videos from the rear camera. Think of it as an internal gimbal technology worked into your smartphone so that any shaky hand movements (or car movements in our case) didn’t result in the frame jumping up and down violently. Surprisingly, we could rotate the phone an entire 360-degrees and the picture would always remain oriented the same way up on the 6.4-inch 1080p Super AMOLED panel. Even in ultra-steady mode, we toggled the Pro mode on the screen, allowing the 8MP wide-angle lens to kick in. When we went to the downtown area of the emirate, we tested that wide-angle lens. OPPO claims that the lens can capture 119.9-degree shots and judging by our experience with the device, they aren’t off the mark. When we wanted to know whether someone was really standing on the balcony of 66 April 2020
An 8Mp ultra-wide angle camera captures nearly 120-degree images, while the 13MP telephoto lens combines with three of the four rear cameras to offer 2X optical zoom, 5X hybrid zoom and up to 20x digital zoom
the 40th floor of a skyscraper around 200 metres away, that’s when the 13MP telephoto lens began to work wonders. Three of those four rear cameras combine to offer 2X optical zoom, 5X hybrid zoom and up to 20x digital zoom. Even as we zoomed in, the clarity didn’t distort as much as we expected. But then again, the company released its Reno 10x Zoom last year, and have used that as a base since then to develop the zoom capabilities on this device. There is an option to capture 108MP ultra HD images too. We tested that with a mural painted on the wall. The colours rendered well and the clarity, as expected, was ultra-sharp. There’s also an ‘ultra-dark mode’ that kicks in automatically when the illumination is below 1 lux. We tested it just past sunset and the images looked brighter than pictures we captured on comparable devices under similar lighting conditions. The single-most promising case for this phone’s camera and one that makes DSLRs further redundant, is the ‘Expert mode’ on the phone. By toggling into Expert mode on the device, it gives users complete manual control over functions that assist professional photography. We could change the ISO setting (100-3200), adjust the shutter speed (1/8000s-32s), white balance (3000-10,000k), exposure value (-3-+3) and autofocus(0-1) capabilities. But knowing that our photography skills aren’t honed, we also chose to use the auto-mode within the Expert settings that allowed for the phone’s algorithms to configure the optimal settings automatically, allowing us to appear to be better photographers than we are. Upfront, those selfies cameras aren’t an afterthought. There’s a 44MP primary camera and a 2MP bokeh lens that allows for videos and images with a blurred background, putting the selfie-taker into the spotlight. The Expert mode cannot be employed on the front camera, but helping selfie-takers look their best are specific AI-powered beauty modes which can make your eyes bigger, nose smaller, tuck your chin in or even just make your entire face smaller. Elsewhere on the device, the loading time of apps on this phone with 8GB RAM, is on par with other devices within this category. Thankfully, we didn’t suffer from battery-anxiety when using this device – after gulfbusiness.com
The ‘ultradark mode’ is automatically activated when the illumination is below 1 lux
a full day’s use which included a photo and video shooting exercise for the most part of the evening, the 4025mAh battery had enough charge on it to make it through until the following morning which is when we needed to plug it in. OPPO hasn’t, unfortunately, introduced wireless charging to this device, but attempted to make amends with its flash charging cable that charges up the phone to nearly 50 per cent of its capability in under 25 minutes. The three-card tray on the device allows for dual SIMs in addition to a storage card too, keeping in mind that the phone has storage options of 128GB/256GB. Google Assistant can be activated from the power button to the right edge of the device. gulfbusiness.com
One of the most impressive features of the phone is the new ‘ultra-steady’ mode that is available when shooting videos from the rear camera
There’s an under-screen fingerprint sensor, but keep in mind that the rear glossy body panel of the device does show up plenty of fingerprints. As for the software, it operates an Android 10 with OPPO’s ColorOS7.1 layered above it. We didn’t experience much lag when loading and opening apps on this device that supports 1080P streaming on Netflix backed by Dolby Atmos stereo sound. The 256GB model is priced at Dhs1,899 and is available for pre-order from March 19, with deliveries in the UAE starting from March 26. Should you buy one? If a midpriced device with a DSLR-baiting camera that is far more capable and agile than flagship devices in the market is a dealmaker, you already have your answer. April 2020 67
Lifestyle / Culinary Networking, dealmaking or just plain schmoozing – whatever the end goal of your business meeting, here’s where to head in Dubai with your associates
here isn’t a dearth of Indian cuisine across Dubai. From fusion-Indian to molecular gastronomy, restaurants across the emirate are attempting to put their own spin on food from the South Asian culinary powerhouse. Opening up another Indian restaurant in Dubai, and that too in the fiercely competitive DIFC area of the emirate where you’re instantly competing with international concepts, is a bold move. But it’s a challenge that Bombay Borough, which opened in Gate Village 3 of DIFC in February, is willing to brave. The split-level restaurant has a takeaway café on the bottom level called The Gully Kitchen that offers up gluten-free dosa pockets and grab-and-go biryanis, while it has a more formal sit-down restaurant above it that can be accessed via a private elevator. The décor upstairs isn’t filled with traditional clichéd Indian references. Instead, it features bright contemporary art and has Western music playing in the background. The space has marble top tables, black-andwhite floors and an indoors as well as an alfresco dining space. Bombay Borough sells itself as a restaurant that offers "hyper local" Indian cuisine. One glance at the menu and you’ll realize that they’ve sourced ingenious ingredients from specific areas across India: Bhoot Jolokia from the North East, Aam Papad from Amritsar, pink salt from the Himalayas, and Podi Masalas from the south of India. We began with the Aam Papad Paneer that consisted of crisp lotus stems helming in the paneer which is placed on a base of mango pulp (aam papad) and is topped with sundried mango slivers and ‘chaat masala’ which is a mixture of spices and commonly used as a garnishing over street-food staples. The bhoot jolokia meanwhile is considered to be one of the world’s spiciest chillis and is grown in the north-east region of India. We decided to hazard the Naga Ghosht Pepper Wings which comprised of spicy chicken wings with fiery-hot bhoot jolokia chilli. For refuge, we found ourselves resorting to the accompanying yoghurt dip. 68 April 2020
Bombay Borough in Dubai's DIFC district offers "hyper local" Indian cuisine
For the mains, the well-informed staff suggested we have the house-recommended Jodhpur mutton which comprised of clove smoked lamb with Marwar Mathaniya chillis sourced from the north-Indian city of Jodhpur. But with our palette still reeling from the bhoot jolokia chillis, we decided to skip it and instead opted for the Kashmiri naan Kebab, a succulent preparation of mutton mince-seekh with black pepper and red chilli marinated into the kebab, served atop naans brushed with saffron oil alongside a ‘doon chetti’ yoghurt and walnut dip. For the rice selection, we skipped the Mario’s Mango Prawn and Coconut Rice that references the popular Goa cartoonist, Mario Miranda, and the prawns cooked in an ‘ambotik masala’ preparation from his home state. Instead, we opted for Bombay Berry Biryani and Apricot Salli Chicken which are a firm favourite among the Parsi community within India. Sampling this combination at
Bombay Borough takes you right back to Britannia restaurant in Mumbai’s Ballard Estate area which has served a combination of these two dishes for decades. Here at Bombay Borough, the berry pulao is cooked in exactly the same way as Brittania and comprises of saffron rice, caramelized onions and sweet-sour Iranian berries, whereas the salli chicken comprises of tangy chicken cooked with stewed apricots and a tomato base. For desserts, the options include Amritsari kulfi and Anglo-Indian bread pudding which is served with vanilla custard, but we opted for the Ras-e-aam which is made up of Bengali ‘rosgullas (Indian cottage cheese)’ covered with sweet condensed milk called ‘rabdi’ and was topped with ‘aamras’ or Alphonso mangoes from Gujarat. If you want a quick tour of India and a sample of its chief ingredients from different regions of the country over the course of a single meal, head to Bombay Borough.
Bombay Borough, Gate Village Building 3, next to Coffee Club, DIFC. Sunday-Thursday noon-11.30pm; Friday-Saturday noon-1.30am. Tel: (04) 327 1555
Lifestyle / Gadgets
The device is Bluetooth 5.0 capable and features a 730mAh battery which should return around 20 hours of playback (we haven’t yet gone hands-on with the device). Interestingly, it also features Google Assistant that allows for voice-activated controls and commands. The MB01 is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms. With proximity sensors, the sound playing through will automatically start when you put them on and stop the moment you take it off. “When developing these travel essentials, our focus was not just on creating headphones that would deliver performance and reliability, but also a design that was very distinctive with larger headphones to com-
MB01 also features Google Assistant for voice-activated controls and commands, and is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms
Soundcheck Montblanc’s first-ever headphones are a stylish audio device promising to offer sound quality to match
t would be safe territory for the 114-year-old Montblanc to compete across its existing core product categories: leather accessories, writing instruments, travel goods and, of course, luxury watches. But the Hamburg-headquartered brand isn’t content with sticking to safe ground. Last month, it extended its reach into an all-new product category: headphones. The MB01 are its new wireless headphones with active noise-cancelling technology. To enter the fiercely competitive audio market, it rightly teamed with one of the industry’s best audio engineers: Alex Rosson.
Rosson is the co-founder of headphone giant Audeze. Through another of his ventures, Rosson Audio Design, his team creates over-ear headphones custom-made entirely by hand. Needless to add, Rosson’s audio credentials are impeccable. The MB01 is kitted with 40mm neodymium dynamic drivers and has an active noise cancelling function that allows users to choose between three settings: live mode, on and off. In live mode, outside sound can percolate inside – ideal when you don’t want to drown out the world altogether. The ‘on’ mode is what you need when you want to take the concept of social distancing to the maximum.
fortably cover the ear, as well as sleek metal and leather finishes that give it that unmistakable Montblanc flair. When they are on the road, whether business or leisure, intrepid travellers want stylish accessories that help them stand out wherever they go,” said Zaim Kamal, Montblanc creative director, in a press statement around the launch of the headphones. Those stylish options come via three variants: black leather with chrome metal, grey leather with polished metal, and what is sure to be its most popular option – brown leather with a gold-coloured metal model. With each of the three models, Montblanc is letting established headphone majors in the industry know in no uncertain terms that it’s in it for the long run.
Available in Montblanc boutiques in the UAE; Dhs2,405
April 2020 69
Lifestyle / Watches
Introducing: Bremont ALT1C-Griffon The Henley-on-Thames headquartered watchmaker’s new timepiece pays tribute to equipment on iconic vintage military aircraft, and to a family member of the brand’s co-founders BY VARUN GODINHO
he Swiss, German and Japanese are the usual suspects that you’d turn to when talking about fine watchmaking. But there is a treasure chest of mechanical timepieces from other countries including Finland (Sarpaneva), Russia (Konstantin Chaykin) and The Netherlands (Grönefeld). And then there’s the British watchmaking scene that includes stalwarts like Roger W Smith and, of course, Bremont. Bremont is a company with a tragic backstory, but one that channeled misfortune into a strength. Back in 1995, one of the company’s co-founders, Nick English was practicing a flying formation with his father in their two-seat airplane. When the engine of the plane in front of them misfired, it forced Nick and his father to take immediate evasive action to prevent a collision. Unfortunately, the father-son duo’s plane crashed, killing Nick’s father while he survived. 70 April 2020
That event triggered existential questions for Nick and his brother Giles who decided to abandon their careers in corporate finance and instead dedicate themselves to the world of mechanics. As trained pilots, they had imbued their father’s passion for aviation and the two brothers set up a company restoring historical aircraft. Eventually, their love for mechanics drew them to mechanical watches and the brothers set up Bremont in 2002. But before they could begin making watches themselves, they travelled to Switzerland where they learnt and educated themselves about the
trade from the Swiss who have had it down to an art form for nearly two centuries. The ALT1-C chronograph was one of the first watches the brothers designed. This year, they decided to revisit those roots by debuting this ALT1-C Griffon chronograph timepiece. The Spitfire with Griffon engines was a plane that the brothers’ father – a former RAF pilot – flew several decades ago, and hence a fitting tribute. The bi-compax chronograph layout on the new model features the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock and a running seconds at 9. The nickel hands on the dial with custom SuperLuminova is a nod to the kind that was used on military equipment from the Griffonpowered-engine era of fighter jets. The 43mm stainless steel case features a modified in-house calibre BE-50AE movement that returns 42 hours of power reserve. Bremont watches are known to have a toughas-nails build quality and this timepiece is no different thanks to the Trip-Tick threepiece case design with a scratch-resistant DLC treated case barrel. The robust construction of Bremont watches is also one of the reasons why it has partnered with the British Ministry of Defence. A chronometer, the ALT1C-Griffon is also adjusted to 28,800bph and features a Glucydur balance, an Anachron balance spring, and Nivaflex 1 mainspring. Even if you don’t understand the specific functions of each of those components, it’s worth remembering that they combine to create a timepiece that is in fact more accurate than an average chronometer: it is accurate to -4 and +6 seconds a day. Flip the timepiece over and you’ll be able to see a few of those components through the skeletonised and decorated rotor visible through the crystal caseback. The ALT1C-Griffon which comes with a three-year warranty is priced at Dhs24,585 for the leather strap variant and Dhs26,790 for the stainless steel bracelet. With either one, you have a hand-made timepiece that reminds us just how refreshing and ingenious British watchmaking is at its core.
The Spitfire with Griffon engines was a plane that the brothers’ father – a former RAF pilot – piloted several decades ago gulfbusiness.com
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Lifestyle / Travel
Five places to visit in Amman… with Nafsika Skourti The eponymous contemporary Jordanian brand, Nafsika Skourti, is a strong voice for her country’s cultural roots. One of the brand’s sibling co-founders, Nafsika, reveals hidden gems around her hometown
Lifestyle / Travel
BY SHEILA MARIKAR
1 Off the Record Touted as Amman’s first speakeasy, this cocktail bar inside the Conroy Boutique Hotel is where trendy types gather during the colder months (it’s closed in the summer). “They have a small but interesting menu, and even better cocktails. It’s an off-the-beaten-path kind of gem,” she said. House rules include “no name dropping” and “leave your ego at the door”. Inside the Conroy Boutique Hotel, Shatt AlArab Street, 17 2 Jasmine House Named for the trees on its terrace, this Fifties villa has been repurposed as an Italian restaurant that specializes in Calabrian
Clockwise from top: La Capitale; Trinitae Soap Shop; Nafsika Skourti
The city has grown exponentially. The music scene is booming, there are a ton of pop-up parties, and there’s an entrepreneurial spirit
PHOTO CREDIT: NADIA BSEISO/THE NEW YORK TIMES
mman fashion designer Nafsika Skourti could have started her clothing line anywhere. Her Paris Fashion Week debut six years ago won over buyers from around the world. But Skourti, 32, and her sister, Stephanie, 30, headquartered their company in their hometown in 2014 “to teach Arab hands to create clothing with international appeal,” she said. The sisters employ refugees from Iraq and Syria to embroider and bead their edgy designs, which riff on Middle Eastern stereotypes and Nineties pop culture. In their Amman, Jordan, atelier and boutique, you can find curios like the popular signature pants, called the Naughty Trousers. Growing up, Nafsika Skourti recalls, “Amman was quaint and insular – we had maybe one cinema. I remember the first McDonald’s opening, that was a really big deal.” Since then, she said, “the city has grown exponentially. The music scene is booming, there are a ton of pop-up parties, and there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that has given rise to coworking spaces, juice bars and other concepts that are new to this part of the world.” Here, are five places Skourti frequents for inspiration.
cuisine. “It’s a little piece of Italy in the heart of old Amman,” Skourti said. “They offer a small, seasonal menu and utilize the best local ingredients.” Al Ba’Ouniyah Street 28 3 Trinitae Soap Shop Started in the Thirties, this family-owned brand makes skincare and fragrance with salt and minerals from the Dead Sea, which are said to have healing properties. The shop, perched atop a hill, offers panoramic views of downtown Amman. “The pomegranate body scrub is a staple in my bathroom,” Skourti said. Products range from about $6 to $56. Rainbow Street 8B; trinitae.com
April 2020 73
Lifestyle / Travel
4 Tiraz Museum In the home of fashion collector Widad Kamel Kawar, this museum, with garments dating to the 19th century, is said to be the largest private collection of traditional Jordanian and Palestinian womenswear in the world. Kawar sometimes leads tours of the galleries, explaining how different styles of dress evolved. “If you’re interested in fashion and design from the region, you must visit Tiraz,” Skourti said. Open Sunday through Thursday; tickets cost around $3 for adults,
74 April 2020
Above: Off the Record Below from left: Jasmine House; Tiraz Museum
$1.5 for students, and $14 for a guided tour. 19 Riyadh Al Mifleh St.; tirazcentre.org 5 La Capitale With thick marble tabletops, warm orbs of light and lots of polished brass, this French brasserie inside the Four Seasons Amman serves as a tribute to Paris. “The Art Deco space is incredible,” Skourti said. “Get the steak frites and enjoy the architecture.” Inside the Four Seasons hotel, 5th Circle, Kindi Street; fourseasons.com/amman
OPPO RENO3 PRO Clear in Every Shot 64MP Zoom Camera | 44MP Dual Front Camera
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