The kingdom’s digital future

September 18 - 24, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly The kingdom’s digital future

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Summit and the Smart Cities Summit were held earlier this week as part of Bahrain’s Tech Week. The common theme at the two was ushering in an era of digitisation in Bahrain, a country with high technological penetration and a unique mix of legacy and cutting edge infrastructure.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) is hosting Bahrain Tech Week to further cement Bahrain’s regional role as a technology hub. So far a few key themes have emerged, reflecting the EDB’s technology ecosystem strategy.


• Education

Various private and public sector players have been introducing short, medium and long-term programmes, intending to reskill or specialise young Bahrainis in technology-focused fields. The Bahrain Fintech Bay’s Fintech Institute is gearing up for its second cohort of the highly successful Georgetown Fintech Programme, created in collaboration with Dr James Angel, Associate Professor at Georgetown University.

Dr Angel said in previous comments to the GulfWeekly: “The students here are quite sharp. We built the program to provide finance skills to the computer science grads and a base level of coding knowledge to the business graduates. More importantly, by working together, they are solving some very interesting problems.”

At the recent AWS summit, University of Bahrain became the first university in the Middle East to offer a full four-year cloud computing Bachelor’s degree plus a one-year cloud computing certification, culminating in a certification from AWS.

Amazon’s Worldwide Public Sector vice president Teresa Carlson, pictured left, said: “The four-year degree will equip students with technical skills and hands-on experience to prepare them for careers including cloud architecture, cybersecurity and software development.”

More than 2,500 Bahrainis have signed up for AWS’s certifications, which means that there needs to be demand in the market for the new supply of cloud-based skills.


• Data-Centric Cloud-First

AWS’s new Middle East ground station and data centre are going to be the platform for 36 AWS partners to launch and manage cloud-based services. The ramifications of this will be industry wide, ranging from relatively simple applications like server-less computing, allowing developers to “rent” space on much more powerful machines to develop their applications to complex applications like machine-learning and smart sentiment analysis, the latest Silicon-Wall Street trends that hope to find insights in data invisible to the human eye.

The skills required for these applications will range from simple data entry and verification, mid-level skills like coding and debugging and high-level PhD skills in artificial neural networks. Bahrain and its push towards Bahrainisation seem to be targeting the mid-level rung.  However, to keep up with the changing tech market, both the bottom and the top rung need to be addressed either by importing talent, adding more cloud-focused components to traditional programmes or developing high level vocational and theoretical computer science programs.


• Focus on FinTech

Building on Bahrain’s existing financial hub status and ecosystem, FinTech has quickly become the most-overheard term at hipster cafes, based on this reporter’s personal survey. While there is confusion en masse about what the term exactly refers to, the EDB and Fintech Bay’s strategy is much more focused on Banking Technology than just pure FinTech.

However, start-ups like Sprinkle and Rain who are betting big on FinTech could end up winning big, as they leapfrog other regional players hampered by more conservative regimes. James said: “There is an opportunity in Bahrain to both leapfrog technologies which now require much capital to invest in and solve problems like ethical investing through Islamic finance cornerstones like Sharia compliance.”

Whether Bahrain goes the BankTech or FinTech route, the multiplier effect of the government’s push on this industry can already be felt. The AWS summit and the Smart Cities summit both emphasised cybersecurity and distributed processing, both of which find their biggest clients in financial institutions.

Tamkeen and EDB are hoping to guide Bahrain’s technology and FinTech scene towards a smarter and more agile workforce, attracting reliable 21st century companies to provide employment opportunities while nursing an embryonic start-up scene. With significant success already achieved, what needs to be considered is a focus on passion-based education, not just knowledge, skills or earning potential. When AI and Machine Learning become widespread, a lot of the jobs that are being trained for will find themselves obsolete, at which point, a solid flexible education is going to be much faster at retooling skills than another young talent programme.

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