SUNIL PAUL, COO AND CO-FOUNDER OF FINESSE, ANALYSES THE FAR-REACHING IMPLICATIONS OF THE BIGGEST EVENT TO BE STAGED IN THE ARAB WORLD FOR BUSINESSES.
Expo 2020 Dubai is only eight months away. From October 2020 to March 2021, the world’s biggest trade fair is expected to attract more than 25 million new visitors to Dubai and boost business across many industries in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Mega events such as Expo and the Olympics have always conferred the host nation or city with benefits that range from economic to iconic. The Eiffel Tower in Paris (1889), the Ferris wheel in Chicago (1893), and Seattle’s Space Needle (1962) were bestowed by respective World Expos. In Dubai’s case, nearly 80 percent of the built structures, like Al Wasl Plaza, would be retained and repurposed as legacy for District 2020 master plan.
Where economic benefits are concerned, in Dubai’s case, an Ernst & Young (EY) study from April 2019 found that the lead-up to Expo 2020 could deliver AED37.7 billion ($10.3 billion) to UAE’s economy. While much has been written about the economic and social impacts of such events, the same cannot be said about their technological impact. Due to their sheer scale and the funding involved, mega-events have often served as a launchpad for innovative technologies that have subsequently gone mainstream. A handful of examples include the telephone in Philadelphia (1876), X-Ray machines in Buffalo (1901), commercial broadcast television in New York (1939), IMAX in Osaka (1970), and touchscreens in Knoxville (1982).
In Dubai, for example, Siemens is working with Expo 2020 to implement smart building technologies across 137 Expo structures, while Etisalat is helping to ensure that the entire site is 5G-enabled to support Expo 2020’s goal to be one of the most connected places on Earth, both physically and virtually. Cisco is helping Expo design and implement the ‘Office of the Future, which will act as a venue for running the latest digital solutions and offer a glimpse of the future of workspaces. SAP solutions in areas such as analytics and customer profiling are being implemented by Expo to help tailor visitor experience based on their personal preferences. Overall, the Expo would serve as a proving ground for Dubai’s smart city ambitions. On the other hand, there is even more paucity of literature on how these mega-scale events spur technological transformation within enterprises, public or private, in the host country. The demands of mega events would require enterprises desirous of business to be agile and innovative in order to deliver on time and budget. Thus, Dubai launched an e-procurement portal to consolidate Expo 2020 procurement activity and enhance its ability to implement critical infrastructure projects more quickly and effectively. Digitalisation can help enterprises hit the ground running to tap into these opportunities, and to connect and collaborate.
In Dubai, in the build-up to Expo 2020, the biggest beneficiaries were the infrastructure and construction sectors. During the six-month event, it will be the tourism, hospitality, retail and transportation sectors that stand to benefit from the expected influx of visitors. Digitalisation in the construction and infrastructure sectors has been primarily driven by the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) approach supported by tools like 3D design and augmented reality for project delivery.
Meanwhile, hotels are investing in digitalisation to improve the customer experience at various touchpoints. These range from automated check-in to smart room access and control with smartphones to even facial recognition technology to enhance security.
Retailers are adopting data and technology to gain a better understanding of consumers and quickly respond to their preferences to meet the heightened demand that will come with visitor footfall during the Expo. It is obvious that businesses that have seen clear benefits from the Expo have been investing in technologies that enable digitalisation, whether it is networks, the cloud, virtualisation, software applications, security, or mobility.
On the other hand, enterprises that are mulling or taking their initial steps towards digitalisation would be able to see first-hand how the strategy has delivered for the Expo and its supply chain, ranging from large enterprises to SMEs.
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