Interview: Ahmad Mohamed Al Kuwari
What is your assessment of the innovation ecosystem for smart city technology within Qatar?
AHMAD MOHAMED AL KUWARI: The innovation currently taking place in Qatar is supported by partnerships with important players in the segment. As the IT management system provider, we are creating a unique experience here in Qatar, through major smart development projects such as Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD). We ultimately want to give something back to our country, something that will make Qatar proud of its local companies and providers.
In terms of future smart city developments in Qatar, there are a few that come to mind, including Lusail City, Lekhwiya, Qatar Foundation and especially in the run up to 2022, smart stadia. There is no denying the significant contribution these will make to Qatar National Vision 2030 objectives. Two of the four pillars of the plan highlight social and economic development, both of which could be accelerated through smart technology. We are contributing via various projects, such as MDD, which is a major addition to the environment of the national vision. Msheireb has a number of different services that fit within the “smart experience”. These include navigation, people counting, help desks, online payments, CCTV, fire alarms and infrastructure network applications – all the experiences and services that you would expect in a smart city.
Could ICT infrastructure gaps hold back Qatar’s transition towards a truly digital economy?
AL KUWARI: Infrastructure can always be improved and there is no reason for Qatar to not be at the forefront of ICT infrastructure development. There are currently some grey areas, mainly due to the fact that the ICT sector is still in its dynamic phase, which means it is changing constantly. I do see certain areas that need improvement, but more in terms of IT awareness. We do need better strategies in developing roadmaps to show the digital transformation of the country. From there, all related players should be able plug their own strategies and join forces together. On-boarding of the connected players is very challenging and that can lead to a lack of commitment. Moving forward, efficient collaboration between all the related parties should be a focus for the sector.
How do you rate the market’s offerings of ICT business services and solutions?
AL KUWARI: Although the outlook for our economy in the long term is bright, the current offering of ICT business solutions and services still needs further improvement to meet the growing demand. Whether it is foreign direct investment, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures or other areas, all of these efforts will help to boost the current offerings. Over the last few years I have witnessed many of the major players in the global marketplace invest their resources here in Qatar.
In what ways could Qatar nurture a more productive ICT start-up culture?
AL KUWARI: Initiatives such as the Qatar Business Incubation Centre, and the Qatar Science and Technology Park are major contributors to the local start-up environment, and they are doing a lot to foster the start-up culture, which is equally important. An entrepreneur must find their own ways of making things happen, which is a different concept that takes getting used to. I believe there are benefits to formalising the process, through the seed money dedicated to small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. There is substantial public sector support, which is a change from the traditional Silicon Valley model of self-funding or funding from venture capital. Entrepreneurs should make the most of these opportunities, as they are not available elsewhere.
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