Society 5.0: How will technologies shape a bright digital future?
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Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): The Society 5.0 concept emerged from the Information Society and was initially expounded in 2016 in the Far East. In Japan, the new societal model was first defined to mean a human-centered approach to the ever-growing take-up of technology. Also called ‘super-smart society’, it aims to balance economic advancement more widely across society, for example, as well as create an opportunity to think about how certain social challenges can be resolved by digital technologies such as big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics.
Having a closer look at the Middle East region, digital transformation programs are already in full swing: from oil fields, to manufacturing, to city infrastructure. Leaders in the region are aware of the societal and business demands and are already addressing the emerging challenges to shape the transition into the future.
I’m Oliver Elbracht, Managing Director for Siemens Advanta in the Middle East, and in the context of the event Transformena 2021 in April this year, I had the honor to sit down with several remarkable leaders from corporations in the Middle East to discuss how technology is creating a better tomorrow. Below you can find an extract from my discussion with Neetan Chopra, the CTO of Dubai Holding, Ahmad Aalem, the former Head of Strategy at The Red Sea Development Company, and Abdullah Albalushi, who holds the role of Board Advisor at The Zubair Corporation LLC in Oman.
The answers of these great panelists were certainly quite revealing, as I'm sure you'll agree with this insightful discussion.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): Ahmad, is focusing solely on technological solutions and their implementation enough to achieve the Society 5.0 concept?
Ahmad Aalem (The Red Sea Development Company): The Red Sea Development project is focused on creating a luxury tourism destination, that is based on the sustainable concept of regenerative tourism through a twin approach of person-centered and technological change. We are no longer settling for simply protecting and preserving the environment. We aim to enhance it. Indeed, we are committed to enhancing Saudi Arabia's natural ecosystem by 30 percent over the next 20 years. Crucially, it is technology that will enable this link between tourism, the environment and sustainability. Construction in sensitive areas may mean a modular construction method with manufacturing on-site, which needs to be sustainable, but this means you need people on board with the entire concept, not just the technology itself.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): How can technologies benefit people within the concept of Society 5.0?
Ahmad Aalem (The Red Sea Development Company): A good example would be our adoption of a smart destination platform, that allows guests and workers to monitor the environmental conservation enhancement across our lagoons – up to 2,400 square km of water. One of the best examples of the 52 smart technologies we've adopted is a wearable device for employees and vehicles to help maintain the balance between the environment and efficient construction. This device enhances employee welfare, too, by making sure they are supported by improved security measures, for example, by allowing an SOS signal to be sent. For now, AI and smart tech deployment is focused on our employees as we're in the construction phase, but in the future, it will center on a seamless visitor experience.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): The progress you're making building this unique destination truly amazes me. Now, from a smart tourist destination in Saudia Arabia to a smart city in the UAE. How does smart technology contribute to Dubai's objective to be the smartest and happiest city in the world?
Neetan Chopra (Dubai Holding): From Dubai Holding's perspective, there are two main actions. Firstly, we want to be in the arena, not on the sidelines, getting stuff done. We take action in transformation, innovation, and technology. Secondly, we support the technological ecosystem, which is enabling innovation and transformation. Further, when it comes to digitalization, you need to create magical, memorable experiences for customers – and employees alike. That is critical for the whole transformation journey. You can't be digital in the front-facing part of your business but at the same time keep your back office analogue. That doesn't give you true transformation. Additionally, we've found that investing in new business models as well as forging symbiotic relationships between start-ups and enterprises is crucial.
When it comes to digitalization, you need to create magical, memorable experiences for customers – and employees alike. That is critical for the whole transformation journey. You can't be digital in the front-facing part of your business but at the same time keep your back office analogue.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): How are businesses using digitization to manage large numbers of employees across various industries?
Neetan Chopra (Dubai Holding): Forward-looking organizations recognize that you can't do digital or transformational change without including your employees. It's critical! If you only focus on the customer receiving great digital experiences but forget about your employees that’s not a true digital transformation. The digital platform we have adopted at Dubai Holding connects all 20,000 employees. This offers them the same level of digital experience as our customers expect.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): The scope, scale, and economic impact of technology have been rapidly expanding in the Middle East. How have forward-thinking corporations integrated technologies in the region?
Abdullah Albalushi (The Zubair Corporation): The Zubair Corporation is one of the longest established business conglomerates in Oman. It started its business back in 1969. Of course, the business landscape at that time demanded a very different way of doing things. Then, focusing on building the infrastructure of the country in cooperation with the government was the priority. Only a few corporations were able to meet this challenge. Those which, like The Zubair Corporation, were widely perceived to be part of government and, consequently, to have a lot of social responsibility. The government's 2040 vision expects Omani corporations to continue to meet these social demands in the country, so it will shape our future as well as our past.
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): What is your approach to future digitization as Society 5.0 becomes an increasingly felt reality?
Abdullah Albalushi (The Zubair Corporation): We inherited various complex legacy systems, often by acquiring and merging with other companies. Therefore, after 50 years of business a check was needed to re-energize the company. We found that there was a big gap with what the younger generation expects, especially with mobile and digital technology. Given that we had historically dealt directly with the government, we didn't always need any of these technologies. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, everything moved to digital, causing business and social challenges for us. In 2019, we conducted an operational review. Based on that, we developed a digital transformation strategy. We entrusted Siemens Advanta to be our partner in the assessment of our digital strategy, and we are now 50 percent on the way down the road to delivering it. As others have said, the human element in this is creating the biggest challenges, but it also affords us the biggest opportunities. We want to create a truly human-centered ecosystem where all our business units will operate on a single platform, the foundation to innovate and shine.
In 2019, we conducted an operational review. Based on that, we developed a digital transformation strategy. We entrusted Siemens Advanta to be our partner in the assessment of our digital strategy, and we are now 50 percent on the way down the road to delivering it
Dr. Oliver Elbracht (Siemens Advanta): It has been an exciting journey you have been on – not only within Zubair but really for the Omani nation.
I'd love to continue this to experience how you and all of your corporations are making a difference to Middle East societies within the contexts of Society 5.0. I'm excited to see how the Middle East will continue to develop this human-centered, technology-based society in the years and decades to come. It’s fascinating what the upcoming decades will bring and I'm convinced that we can foster innovation that will create a bright future for us and for future generations.
Thank you very much all of you for joining this discussion.
Interested in watching the full dialog? Click here to watch the recording of the panel discussion: Society 5.0 – The Big Social Transformation.
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