NXN's digital transformation platform is completely revolutionizing how government entities and enterprises are taking new innovative initiatives and services to the market. NXN's incredible DNX digital transformation platform essentially allows government entities to reduce 80% of the workload required in the launch of a new initiative and service. The platform can take new services to market within two to three months, which represents a phenomenal difference compared to the traditional timeframe of 12 to 18 months. Smart Cities World Forums Magazine managed to secure an exclusive interview with NXN CEO Ghazi Atallah.
NXN is recognized as the leader in the smart city domain both regionally and internationally. In a fascinating and insightful interview, NXN's CEO illustrated the benefits of NXN's DNX digital transformation platform, and outlined the details of its exciting new partnership with Saudi government digital arm, The National Digitization Unit (NDU). In addition to this, Atallah highlighted how the smart city market will continue to evolve in the MEA region and outlined some of the key strategic trends driving digital transformation in the GCC region.
NXN recently announced it signed a MoU with NDU. Can you elaborate on what this strategic partnership will entail, and what its primary objectives and goals are?
The MoU with NDU extends our current partnership. Our primary focus is to support NDU in its strategic aim to accelerate digital transformation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. NDU works with various government entities and sectorial stakeholders to accelerate digitization in the Kingdom. We're working with them very closely to ensure from a government perspective that initiatives and plans are put in place so that transformation is achieved in an effective and efficient manner. In addition to this, we're also working with them on establishing sectorial digital blueprints in sectors such as education, healthcare and e-commerce. That's taking place right now. So in collaboration with various stakeholders in each sector, we're working on putting a transformation plan that includes initiatives and programs. In addition, one of the primary areas of development in the Kingdom is data. One of the key requirements for successful transformation is that you have your data organized. So, we're working with NDU to put in place the data framework, data governance, policies and standards that will enable this data sharing and release of open data which will ultimately enable the Kingdom to achieve its objectives because this is a main element of digital transformation.
Can you outline to us some of the most important things NXN has learned since it entered the ‘smart city' space, and how those experiences will help shape your strategic partnership with NDU?
Smart cities, smart nations and digital transformation are essentially all in the same bracket. What we've learned, or mostly confirmed and experienced, is the fact that the transformation of a city or a nation is not a technology exercise. Technology is part of it, but it's just one of the elements. You have to look at technology and you have to look at policy; you have to look at people. You have to put in place the right programs that actually encompass all of those elements so that you can definitely achieve transformation. For us, the experience that we got by working through those challenges allows us to improve digital transformation, improve smart city masterplans which subsequently allows us to make sure we tackle the areas of governance, the areas of skills, resources, policy, data and platforms. It's a full-fledged transformation program that covers many key elements. It's not a technology initiative per se.
In your expert opinion, what is the role of digital platforms in enabling cost-effective and efficient smart cities?
When you talk about a holistic transformation program, a digital platform is one of the fundamental elements of the transformation program. A digital platform sits in the middle, sits in the core and enables this interaction to take place between various stakeholders in the digital transformation. One of the platform's key elements is data, of course. You should organize your data, and then you have to put in place the right platform architecture and make sure that it is flexible and agile so that it allows you to facilitate interaction between various stakeholders in a city. You also need it to facilitate innovation so that you can bring in new digital experiences for citizens, residents and businesses. On one hand, you're facilitating interaction, and on the other hand, you're innovating, producing and providing new digital experiences to the city. That is the core of the transformation and that is part of the digital platforms capability essentially.
DNX is NXN's digital transformation platform. Can you tell us who can use it, how and ultimately what differentiates it from other platforms?
When we architected DNX and put it in place, at the beginning we faced many challenges that you'd expect when implementing a digital platform. We've launched the platform in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It's implemented, it's fully federated and it's working across the three countries in tandem with dynamic allocation. We encountered lots of teething problems and challenges at the beginning because on one hand it's a new architecture, and on the other hand it's also launching across three countries and the challenge of that in itself. So, we went through a lot of experiences that allowed us to really learn about digital platforms. Potential users of the platform are any entity that wishes to embark on digital transformation. There are, of course, government entities who wish to launch new services and initiatives into the market that can hugely benefit from the platform. It essentially enables them to take away 80% of the complexity and the integration. So, if you were to launch a new initiative and you were to take away practically 80% of the effort required to do it, and the remaining 20% which is essentially the customized service itself, then you basically get to market with new innovative services and new innovative experiences in a much, much quicker way. When you think about that, it usually takes between 12-18 months for a typical launch of a new service, versus two to three months. So, it's an amazing difference in terms of time to market for new services. Of course this is enabled through the innovation building blocks that we have on our platform, and it's also enabled through the data orchestration capabilities that we have on our platform. This allows the government entities on one hand to be able to innovate and to be able to put in place new services, leveraging data and those building blocks. On the other hand, we can also enable the private sector and entrepreneurs to come in and leverage the platform to develop their ideas and bring to life their new application and services. We see here across this region lots of government initiatives designed to encourage entrepreneurs. We need to provide these entrepreneurs with an environment that is innovative and allows them to bring their ideas to life.
Do you think the smart city market will evolve in MEA, and if so, can you identify to us where the greatest potential for growth is?
The smart city market is evolving at a rapid pace, there's no question about that, and it's evolving everywhere. We don't have any discussions with a customer where they say we're not interested, it just doesn't happen. Every customer is interested in transformation, and every customer is saying look I need to improve, I need to offer better services, I need to be more efficient, I need to be more effective with my budget, I need to better utilize my resources, I need to integrate better with other government entities. These are things that every single entity that we work with is saying and that's transformation, that's digital transformation. We actually see the market accelerating very quickly. We see much more interest from government entities across the region saying look we need to transform. We need to get better. We need to integrate more with other departments. We need to innovate in terms of how we deal with our customers. And, we need to be more efficient with our budgets. The market is clearly in an accelerated growth period, and you'll see more and more digital transformation, smart city and smart nation type of initiatives across the entire region. If you look at the UAE, it's probably a bit more mature than the rest because their initiatives started earlier. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, it is embarking on an extremely ambitious transformation program across the entire country. We look at other countries across the region as well doing the same thing, but I'd say the UAE is a little bit more ahead of the rest. However, Saudi Arabia is catching up very quickly, plus the others are coming up now with their own specific initiatives around smart city and digital transformation.
Do you think AI, Blockchain and IoT will continue to be the strategic technology trends that will drive digital transformation in 2018, or will there be other strategic tech trends emerging next year?
I think Blockchain and AI are very interesting trends but both are still in their early stages. We still see the core capability of any platform being the important key technology building blocks in 2018 and 2019. Blockchain and AI are interesting technologies that have very interesting use cases and they complement the services in terms of developing new initiatives or new digital experiences. So, if you're interested in developing a new digital experience you can use AI complements like computer image recognition or computer speech recognition, etc. Whatever type of AI you use, it will allow you to create a much better digital experience and that is something that we see happening now. We're using some AI capabilities and functions in some of our projects and we're using Blockchain capability in different projects as well, so we're definitely using that now where it makes sense and how it makes sense as part of that particular digital initiative. Blockchain and AI are not digital initiatives on their own. They are contributing to a certain experience or service that you want to build. Moving forward, we can see AI playing a huge role. This isn't a one or two year thing, it's not a buzz; it's going to be there for a while and it's going to become more and more relevant.
Can you outline to us NXN's primary objectives and goals for 2018?
Looking ahead to 2018, we want more of the same. We're really happy with what we've done so far in 2017. 2017 was the year we launched our digital services capability on our platform. It was a year for us to actually establish ourselves strongly in the market as a digital services provider. 2018 is the year that we accelerate this presence in the digital space and the smart city space. We will attempt to extend our services portfolio and extend our customer base in the smart city as a service, or digital services capability leveraging our platform. That's essentially what will be our primary goal in 2018.