How ICT powers businesses and people

by  — 15 June 2015

When it comes to the mobile market, Doha is a melting pot of consumer behaviour. It is unlike any other place in the world, though the level of digitisation in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) segment is arguably low. This is a dichotomy, as research into digital habits here reveals that residents in Qatar are among the most connected and digitally-savvy in the world. What lies in the middle is a latent, untapped consumer demand for digital services, information, and new experiences which calls for effective public private partnerships, writes Kyle Whitehill.

All businesses are online businesses. At least they should be. On my first Saturday in Doha, I remember looking for a tailor. When I pulled up Google Maps on my iPhone to find one, I was directed to a recruiter, a publisher and an electrical substation.

I eventually found a number of excellent tailors near Doha. However, I was surprised so many small retail outlets were not listed on Google Maps – a relatively painless, cheap and lucrative step for any SME to take.

It turns out that this is not all that uncommon. A recent report by Deloitte shed light on ICT adoption by SMEs in the region. The report showed that in Qatar, more than 55 percent of SMEs have no presence on social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook and indicated there are still many SMEs that do not have a corporate website.

There is no shortage of innovation in Qatar., a hyper, local online community and successful media enterprise, is innovating constantly to engage, expand and diversify in new ways. I have used Uber to move around West Bay and it simply works brilliantly.

But there remains an opportunity to supercharge Qatar’s digital development by empowering SMEs to change the way consumers communicate, get information and buy things here. Seizing that opportunity is mostly up to the businesses themselves.

For our part, telecommunications providers should be doing more to help SMEs help their customers by developing products deeply in tune with their business’s diverse wants and needs. While Vodafone Qatar has already begun by crafting Shared Plans for SMEs, there is a lot of work to be done.

Another example: in Qatar, electronics, travel and telecommunications services are the most purchased items using a mobile phone, though cash on delivery is still a very popular way to shop here and across the region. We launched a virtual store, Scan&Go, whereby anybody can buy something on-the-go and have it delivered to his or her office shortly after. We piloted this concept at Katara and then took it to The Pearl-Qatar before moving it permanently to Al Furousiyah area, pioneering e-commerce for businesses and people in Qatar.

Qatar’s most promising features – mind-blowing smartphone penetration, a huge appetite for data, and multiple SIM ownership – present complex challenges and opportunities that play to our strengths.

In the public sector, e-government services have been available in Qatar for some time and the national commitment to fibre connectivity and policies supporting that – at the highest levels – are enabling the country to become a regional leader
in connectivity.

The private sector, on the other hand, must be a loyal partner in this digital transformation if companies such as Vodafone want to pull it off. Telecommunications providers offer the key building blocks for a digital society and economy. This is why we work regularly with ictQatar to help create a culture of digital business on a grassroots level through several innovative initiatives. A rising tide, we know, lifts all boats. 

The 2014 Networked Society City Index observed, “ICT presents new ways to organise society and change the way individuals and businesses behave.” Accelerating the transformation of the consumer experience in Qatar, by enabling businesses, is the next frontier indeed, after having achieved significant savings in the local calling rates which have dropped by almost 82 percent and international rates by 92 percent, since Vodafone entered the Qatari market.

 Kyle Whitehill is the CEO of Vodafone Qatar. 

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