Increasing investment in information and communications technology (ICT) is set to drive the UAE and GCC region's digital economy post-Covid-19, experts said.

According to Roland Berger's recent whitepaper on ICT's pivotal role in the post-Covid-19 era, IT spend for GCC markets is expected to increase from $16.5 billion in 2019 to $20 billion by 2024, with sectors such as healthcare, education, media, and financial services expected to accelerate their IT spend growth by more than two to three times over this period.

Moreover, the top five prioritised emerging use cases - e-consultation, e-health monitoring, e-learning, automated mining, and safety and sanitation - are expected to drive a total market opportunity of $5 billion in the GCC by 2024.

Kushal Shah, senior partner and head of the Digital Practice in Asia, Roland Berger, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic will have a seismic and permanent impact on our lives - work, life and play as we knew it will no longer be the same again. Our report studies how Covid-19 has affected economies, businesses and consumers in the Middle East region, and will lead to new, digital-driven use cases emerging in an ICT-led economic recovery."

Roland Berger's report also states that telcos are expected to accelerate investment in 5G and fiber connectivity to enable new online businesses, support increased consumer demand, and ensure sufficient network redundancy. The accelerated rollout of 5G and the expansion of fiber networks is projected to increase telco capital expenditure to 23 per cent of revenue by 2021 up from around 20 per cent in 2019.

Nicolai Solling, chief technology officer, Help AG, noted that the UAE has an ambitious government system that aims to utilise digitalisation as a competitive advantage for the country, and that this opens up a range of opportunities for industries within the ICT sector. The government's continuous focus on creating a smart society powered by smart IT infrastructure has driven significant investment across leading technologies such as the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

"The growth has been rapid in recent years, with gradual digitalisation further accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic when necessity dictated that communication and social interaction become digital, grocery shopping move online, trading transform into e-commerce, and business meetings shift to webcams and headsets," he said.

Solling added that the ICT sector has had an undeniable impact on everyone's life during the pandemic. "It has changed the way we work, shop, and function as a society, and has opened our eyes to the opportunities that exist when we embrace a behavioral change, whether through desire or necessity."

However, the downside of this digital transformation is that not everyone has been ready for the inherent risks that come with it, he said.

"It has been a perfect storm for cybersecurity attackers, who have utilised the interest in knowledge around Covid-19 to their advantage through phishing attacks using fake news links," Solling said. "Furthermore, companies have had to deal with the security risks that come with workers moving outside the office and sometimes using their own personal hardware. A report by Palo Alto Networks revealed that cyber-criminals have created more than 100,000 new Covid-19 web domains to trick unsuspecting people into giving out their personal data."


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