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Wed 7 Aug 2019 04:52 PM

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Why the tech sector needs to re-gear its approach to innovation

A three-pronged approach and leveraging technology are required to achieve exponential innovation

Why the tech sector needs to re-gear its approach to innovation
Gaurang Shah, Senior Vice President, Product Management, Digital Payments & Labs, Middle East and Africa – Mastercard

Everyone’s talking about it and everyone is promising 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 meeting and industry seminar and you’re likely to hear this term being used repeatedly, 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?  Both 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 your innovation is successfully driving your company forward, whilst in parallel 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, not only will your business be at the top of its game, but 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 an entirely 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 the hospitality industry, and Spotify and Netflix in the entertainment industry have done the same.

Similarly, in the payments industry, when tokenization technology was introduced, it was a conceptual shift in thinking. Should card data be compromised, the data became useless to fraudsters. This not only helped to protect consumers’ financial data, but also boosted consumer 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 challenges the status quo, looks at pain points with a different set of lenses, with the aim to eliminate them, not just reduce them.

It is necessary to approach your product or service from the viewpoint of the end-consumer. Every organization today is a B2C organization, 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.

Three-pronged approach

This is perhaps the most obvious one: design, invent and innovate. Building the right solutions requires looking internally and investing in those technologies and solutions that aim to disrupt existing technologies.

In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation, 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.

The boundaries of technologies continue to increase, and there has never been a better time in history for innovators to experiment, 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 what Expo 2020 Dubai has to offer, the region is ripe for further invention and world-firsts.


Look at your landscape. The rise of fintechs and start-ups is disrupting virtually every industry, not just the tech sector. 2018 saw a record of 366 start-up deals across MENA, amounting to $893m of total funding. 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-digitalization, these start-ups 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. Looking at the positive sentiment that Careem and Souq received this past year after being acquired is a clear indication that the region is increasingly becoming a hotbed of unicorn start-ups, and it makes business sense to leverage this opportunity.


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 technology-based start-ups and consumer-facing 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 that the consumer has an easy-to-understand user experience that allows them to make the purchase seamlessly.

The telecom provider needs to ensure that a person has sufficient data capabilities to be able to process this payment via their phone. The payment provider needs to ensure they can seamlessly process the payment safely and securely. Collaboration is thus key in this process.

Overcoming 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 behaviours and have concerns regarding cybersecurity and fraud. In 2018, the proportion of organizations 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 minimize 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.

Gaurang Shah, Senior Vice President, Product Management, Digital Payments & Labs, Middle East and Africa – Mastercard

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