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Mon 2 Sep 2019 02:19 PM

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How to achieve exponential innovation in the Middle East

Gaurang Shah, SVP of Product Management, Digital Payments & Labs, MEA, Mastercard tells CEO Middle East why the word innovation is over-used and how tech companies must evolve their thinking to be able to compete in today's landscape

How to achieve exponential innovation in the Middle East
Gaurang Shah, SVP of Product Management, Digital Payments & Labs, MEA, Mastercard.

Everyone’s talking about it. You’re constantly surrounded by it, and sometimes you’re even worried by it – innovation.

In the corporate world, innovation has become one of the most used words of the decade. Sit in any boardroom and you’re likely to hear this term being used, and if you’re in the technology space you don’t really have a choice. Innovation is the name of the game.

But what does innovation truly mean for my company and my audiences? This is a question that a lot of leaders today are forgetting to ask. More importantly, what measures do you put in place to guarantee innovation is successfully driving your company forward, whilst creating a positive impact on the wider community?

In order to make true change, these questions must be addressed head on. If you do this successfully, nyour business be at the top of its game and your workforce will act as a force for good.  This is where the concept of exponential innovation comes in.

Redefining the value chain

When Uber was trying to solve the problem of taxi availability anytime, anywhere, it invented a new concept and caused a paradigm shift. Now, every car on the road can potentially become a taxi, and the industry has changed forever. Airbnb in hospitality, and Netflix in entertainment have done the same.

Similarly, in the payments industry, when tokenisation technology was introduced, it was a shift in thinking. Should card data be compromised, data became useless to fraudsters. This not only helped to protect consumers’ data, but boosted confidence in an industry becoming increasingly more digital. This is the very definition of exponential innovation: it goes above incremental innovation to reimagine the consumer experience and create efficiencies within the industry’s value chain. It is necessary to approach your product or service from the viewpoint of the end-consumer.

Every organisation today is a B2C organisation, not a B2B or a B2G, because ultimately the work you do will have considerable impact on individual lives. It is that impact that you must look to positively transform, to achieve exponential innovation.

Build, Acquire, Collaborate and Build

This is perhaps the most obvious one: design, invent and innovate. Building the right solutions requires looking internally and investing in solutions that disrupt existing technologies. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Machine Learning and Blockchain are ruling the roost in terms of their use-cases for commercial purposes.

Smart Dubai recently stated that the number of things connected to the internet surpassed the number of humans and is expected to reach 20.4 billion by 2020. There has never been a better time in history for innovators to build and test new solutions.

Complementing this is the growth of the knowledge economy, in which technology giants no longer work in individual silos, but rather encourage knowledge-sharing with each other in order for the world’s technologies to be able to talk to each other. The UAE recently announced its aim to become a knowledge economy and with the world having their eyes on Expo 2020 Dubai, the region is ripe for further invention and world-firsts.

Acquire

Look at your landscape. The rise of fintechs and startups is disrupting virtually every industry. 2018 saw a record of 366 startup deals across MENA, amounting to $893m of funding, according to data from MAGNiTT. The UAE accounted for 30% of these transactions and fintech overtook e-commerce as the most active industry in terms of the number of deals. Thanks to hyper-digitalisation, startups have far greater access to consumers than was ever possible before.

It is important to view these players not as competition, but as potential strategic partners that can help you achieve exponential innovation.  The region is increasingly becoming a hotbed of unicorn startups, and it makes sense to leverage this opportunity.

Collaborate

Let me give you a world famous example. When Apple decided they wanted to launch the Apple Card, Mastercard didn’t shy away – we became their global payments network.

Similarly, many tech startups and consumer apps only work thanks to established companies partnering with them.

For example, popular apps in the region such as Zomato, Uber and Namshi enable consumers to purchase their food, travel and clothing anytime, anywhere simply from their smartphones. For this to happen, several stakeholders need to work together. The app itself needs to ensure an easy-to-understand user experience. The telecom provider needs to ensure sufficient data capabilities to process payment via the phone. The payment provider needs to ensure they can process the payment and securely. Collaboration is thus key in this process.

Overcoming the challenges

Trying to achieve exponential innovation comes with its fair share of challenges. In the payments industry for instance, our biggest concern is around misconceptions around security. Consumers take a lot of time to change behaviors and have concerns regarding cybersecurity and fraud. In 2018, the proportion of organisations in the Middle East reporting that they’ve fallen victim to acts of fraud and economic crime increased to 34%, up from 26% in 2016.

The key to addressing this is three-fold. First, it’s necessary to establish a dialogue involving knowledge-sharing with governments, and banking and technology partners to address these issues in a collaborative way. Second, deploy the technological tools available that minimise fraud concerns, and strengthen authenticity.

Tokenisation and Artificial Intelligence have been instrumental in achieving these goals. Lastly and most importantly, it is necessary to raise awareness on these issues to gain trust amongst consumers. Trust is the foundation of the digital economy, and consistent efforts must be made to ensure that trust.

Transforming industries, economies and communities

Every company that aims to innovate will have its fair share of challenges while trying to achieve exponential innovation. But keeping the larger picture in mind and addressing these concerns is essential not just for a firm’s growth, but also their sustainability and survival.

By executing a three-pronged approach and leveraging technology to achieve exponential innovation, it is possible to transform industries, benefit economies, and positively impact and enrich communities

The world today is evolving at an exponential pace – disrupting technologies are changing the way people shop, travel, communicate, pay and much more. Exciting times lie ahead, providing companies are able to approach and harness innovation in the right way.