Surprisingly, the 2nd day of the MENA ICT Forum was as exciting as the 1st day, if not more engaging and informative. The day started with a Social Media discussion, and Alexander McNabb from Spot On PR declared Print and traditional media agencies dead. This statement kicked off a heated discussion between the panelists and some of the audience who tried to defend TV advertising and traditional media. Alexander delivered a storm of proofs that back his statement, and his KO punch was highlighting the increasing number of newspapers going bankrupt globally and regionally. The verdict is traditional media is going south if they do not embrace the new media.
The second panel discussed outsourcing in MENA, and the conclusion was that there are more than 70 cities in the world that are trying to emerge as the new destination for outsourcing, and Multinationals are evaluating them all. Therefore, MENA’s aspiring cities need to step up their game and invest heavily in their people, because the name of the game is quality talent. Following that, Future trends were covered by a set of distinguished speakers including Richard Avery from IBM, Ari Kesisoglu from Google, Imad Malhas from IrisGuard, and Mohammed Saleh from Microsoft. Innovation, interconnectivity, and systems intelligence were some of the key topics discussed.
The Mobile Development discussion was also interesting, and it was very clear that the Mobile sector has way more challenges than the Web. While the Arabic Web is struggling with quality content, the Mobile arena is struggling with lack of sustainable revenue models, payment challenges, telecoms monopolies, etc.. One of the main questions raised was why don’t we have enough rich Arabic Mobile applications? Especially because the cost and effort for developing a mobile app is usually less than a web app? After going over several possible reasons, it was apparent that we do not lack the technical know-how, but rather the financial incentives for entrepreneurs. As long as the Telecom operators insist on taking 50% of the revenues and the Entrepreneur/Developer ends up with 20-30% after the aggregators take their cuts, no serious efforts will be invested in the Mobile space.
The best discussion was Addressing the Arabic Content Crisis. Mohamed Saeed Harib shared his continuous struggle when starting Freej the popular Emarati animation series, and Wael Ghonim shared very positive stats, for example, he noted that the Arabic Content on Google increased by 50% in the past 12 months! Kareem Darwish from Microsoft noted that the best quality Arabic content is actually in Forums, and that the problem is not in the content quality, but rather on the tool that hosts it. Hosam Elsokkri from Yahoo concluded that the Arabic content is going through a quality crisis and not a quantity crisis.
eGovernment was the last panel, and the Bahraini eGov initiative shined as the #1 eGovernment in the Middle East, and the #13 in the world! Syria had a very local approach to their eGovernment strategy with their eMokhtar initiative.
Finally, the MENA ICT Forum ended with a celebration of the first wave of graduates from Oasis 500.