The future is about skills and competency more than anything else
At the sidelines of this year’s Gitex – the region’s annual information, communication, technology and electronics trade show, exhibition, and conference that took place in Dubai earlier this month – Business Recorder got a chance to have a sit down with Alaa Elshimy, Managing Director and Senior Vice President of Enterprise Business Group, Huawei Middle East. In this interview, we discussed latest technologies the company has to offer to various government and non-governmental organizations, implementation challenges, cyber security and whether or not 4th industrial revolution may reverse offshoring from cheap labour economies. Below is edited transcript of that interview.
BR Research: Walk us through Huawei Enterprise Business Group’s latest offerings at Gitex 2020.
Alaa Elshimy: We are showcasing five key technologies: Big Data, 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud and intelligent industrial applications. These are the building blocks of fourth industrial revolution. Having infrastructure is not enough; it’s about what kind of applications can you benefit from, and how it can help you transform your business, and this is actually what we are showcasing at Gitex this year.
While most other players in the industry are conservative, and didn’t participate at all, we decided to double our participation at Gitex this year to showcase our technology for today and the future. This is because we see immense opportunity in the wake of Covid-19.
Our intelligent applications are across various industries. Currently, we have 1000 applications in place across industries from oil and gas industry, to government services, utilities, education, health care, banking, aviation, airports and so forth. But practically, we are talking about more than 5000 applications in the near future.
BR: How do you work on applications considering that you are essentially an infrastructure company?
AE: You are right, at the end of the day we are an infrastructure company, a technology company, which begs the question how we build a vertical solution for let’s say a smart airport. The model is that we work with the consultants within the ecosystems where we work with application providers, independent software vendor (ISVs), system integrators, resellers, distributors, talent development partners.
According to industry estimates, the expected business of the ecosystem only from devices and applications point of view is expected to be $3 trillion over the next decade. So, it’s a huge market to collaborate and grow with. For example, we work with Arup, which is one of the biggest infrastructure consultants in the world; we collaborated on Shenzhen airport and built a reference model for intelligent airports, which has now become the reference model for other airports in the world.
BR: But external consultants often unnecessarily delay the implementation of enterprise business solutions or charge substantially high amounts for even small services.
AE: Without naming names, I agree that this has been the experience in the market. However, in our case the role of the consultants is such that the consultant will design the solution in broad concept terms, and then Huawei will take that design and operationalize it with requisite technology. Of course, we don’t have all the technology; we have what we have. But the rest – from applications point of view – we engage with third parties from within the ecosystem to deliver the solution together. The consultant does not deliver the solution; it is the local system integrator under the supervision of Huawei and the consultant.
And if for example you have a new project or new solution for which you don’t have local system integrator in the market, then Huawei will deliver the solution and make sure that we train people on the ground so that they can manage future projects on their own.
BR: We know that Huawei is working on real time translation services. Do you think these applications can be integrated with your enterprise business solutions, such as your smart university and remote learning solutions?
AE: At Huawei we deal with 23 different languages across the world, and of course someone sitting in Huawei definitely does not know 23 languages. So, we have created an OCR system that has the capability to translate with the accuracy of 99 percent. That system is available on our cloud in case anyone wants to benefit from those services. In other words, the technology is there but its application across industries is in the pipeline.
Let me give you another example. Our camera system for facial recognition, for instance, didn’t initially recognize faces with face masks after Covid-19. So, there was a request from a customer that they need to have facial recognition despite wearing masks. Did that mean that we need to replace all the cameras? No! What we did instead was we developed an AI algorithm on the cloud and pushed it to all the camera systems, and the same camera is now able to recognize the faces with masks. This is this the benefit of cloud and AI at Huawei.
Let me also take this opportunity to point out something unique, which no one in the industry has. We have created an intelligent fabric, using which you can connect to any device of any third party – be it a phone, a TV, tablet, etc. – and this intelligent fabric will be able to translate the language of the operation system – because different devices have different operation system which are based on different languages – then all devices can connect to HUAWEI Harmony OS into the cloud, get the intelligence from the cloud and push it back to the devices.
BR: What are the price points for these solutions; can lower middle income countries like Pakistan afford such solutions.
AE: I cannot share the price points. But if you look at the vision of the company by the board it is to bring digital to every person, home, and organization. If you look up the prices of our solutions and services, it is extremely competitive. We build open system so others can connect to it; and second, most of the software we use are open source so people can use it and contribute to it and so on.
BR: As you know alongside Gitex 2020 was Gisec which is a trade show on cyber security; but unlike technology side of the exhibition the stalls on cyber security had thin attendance. This begs the question that what are the risks of the often-overlooked aspect of cyber security and what does Huawei do to mitigate them.
AE: It is part of Huawei’s policy and procedures to integrate security in everything we do. Security is not only someone hacking you from outside; it could be someone hacking you from inside as well. Industry analysts contend that 75 percent of the attacks happen from inside the organizations and not outside them. At Huawei we make sure the security is an integrated part of the process, the design, the chipset, the software and so forth.
The very strong proof of this is that we have been serving the telecom for the last thirty years. We have more than fifty percent market share globally; in the Middle East we have exceeded 70 percent market share. Did you ever hear about any security incident with our networks? Never!
And on a lighter note, security was the first training I had as a part of onboarding process when I joined the company followed by an exam which was the most difficult exam I have ever had. And in Huawei you have to score 100 percent to pass the exam. The company is very strict on security.
BR: As technologies like 5G, cloud computing, AI etc. become accessible do you think countries and regions like the US and EU will stop offshoring their manufacturing to China and other parts of South and South East Asia?
AE: The way we look at it is slightly different: the highest number of patents registered by any country in recent history was the US, until 2019. Since then, the number one country became China, and the number one company in China is Huawei.
The future is about your skills and competency more than anything else. And the more you invest in research and development, which is what we do, the more you will be ahead of the curve. Every year we invest more than 15 percent of our revenue to R&D, and just last year we invested $18.9 billion in R&D which is more than total profit of some of the competition. That investment was to bring 5G years ahead of anyone, to bring full comprehensive AI, full stack for different scenarios which no one in the industry has; this is one of the competitive advantages we are focused on
Huawei is a global company. While we have presence and research centers globally, we bring the best of the world to the world. For example, India is one of the world’s best in software development, so we have software development center there; the best design and taste of design is in France, so we go and get that. The conclusion is we have R&D centers, joint development centers and open labs across the globe to bring the best of the world to the entire world.
Source: Business Recorder