Interview: Richard O’Kennedy

What policies can spur greater investment in RDI?

RICHARD O’KENNEDY: The main priority is to bring together all the players involved in RDI. To this end, the RDI council has been created as the entity responsible development and implementation of RDI, fostering and facilitating collaboration among all key stakeholders and thus combining efforts to promote RDI in Qatar. There are particular topics that we need to focus on: for example, the use and protection of intellectual property, and the establishment of a pro-entrepreneurial environment. The latter topic is important as Qatar is focused on developing an entrepreneurial spirit among its young people. It has taken some years to bring in the right infrastructure and funding; we now need the people who can create and exploit ideas. For this to happen we need policies and legislation that encourage risk-taking.

How does the uptake and quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education affect RDI development?

O’KENNEDY: Improving the quality and availability of STEM careers will inevitably affect RDI initiatives. There are positive steps being taken, such as Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, which is designed to nurture local talent with a focus on innovation. It is important to understand the interaction of STEM with arts and humanities, which today relate to RDI in a much deeper and meaningful manner. We can see this by simply observing social media and the impact it is having on our business and personal spheres.

How is Qatar strengthening the link between the development of disruptive technologies and the monetisation of that disruption?

O’KENNEDY: Qatar is aware of its ability to create and develop ideas, but the challenge of building an ecosystem where ideas are implemented and transformed into economic growth remains. Our stakeholders realise the value of working together and utilising our available resources while identifying efficiencies and eliminating redundancies. An important challenge to overcome is the lack of a wider set of business sectors, as oil and gas have traditionally been the main drivers of growth in Qatar. However, we are seeing bold steps in the right direction, with efforts being made to develop other industries, such as ICT or food production. Qatar needs to continue building on this nascent path by utilising the large amount of RDI we are producing across different sectors and translating it into commercial benefits.

Where do technologies such as data analytics and machine learning have the potential to be used?

O’KENNEDY: In recent decades many people have joined the oil and gas sector, responding to its status as a global economic driver and major provider of jobs. We are now looking beyond the production of energy and investigating how to exploit it – this is where new technologies, such as data analytics, machine learning and the internet of things, can play a crucial role.

There have been important RDI developments taking place in key areas, such as health care, through innovative initiatives like the development of precision medicine. The vision for this aspect of RDI is to enable customised treatments and health care for individuals through the implementation of Qatar Chip with genome analysis. If we can link these developments to data analytics to interpret the results of the work being conducted in this area, there is the potential for a transformation in the way treatments are provided to the population much more effectively.

In transport there is also a growing need for route customisation and optimisation in terms of moving people. This can be facilitated by data analysis of traffic movement and delays, which is used to provide people with the choice of the best way to travel in the shortest journey time. This will not only improve the lives of locals and visitors, but also people with disabilities, and is an area where Qatar aims to become a regional leader.