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Member Spotlight: Julian Frankum


Thank you to Julian Frankum, CEO of RP International, for agreeing to be our next member to sit in the Spotlight. Insight magazine recently spoke to him about his experience in Dubai and about Digital Transformation. Our RGS Professionals event at Jellyfish last month brought Digital Transformation to our attention and we asked Julian to share his insight on the topic with us.

“With little or no legacy technology, and a young nation that is tech savvy and digital hungry, the UAE’s capacity for embracing transformation through technology is rapacious.”

Can you tell us more about the digital revolution in the UAE?

The pace of change, or to use the more fashionable word ‘transformation’, in the UAE is phenomenal. It is what the UAE is all about. This can present considerable challenges to anyone trying to start or maintain a business here. Transformation can come in many guises in the UAE. Changes in the legislation are frequent and keep the lawyers engaged – seldom is it black and white. The demand for all sorts of products and services changes as the region evolves and in spite of the UAE’s dramatic diversification away from a hydrocarbon economy the oil price still keeps us all on our toes. When the price of a barrel plummets as it has in recent years, we all take a bath irrespective of our industry sector.

It’s not only the pace of change but also the regional rationale behind it that can wrong foot the best in the business. Even the biggest brands with the deepest pockets can come a cropper, and it’s frequently the smaller more agile enterprises whose brave and nimble commercial tenacity prevails.

The appetite for ‘Industry 4.0’, as the new digital ecology is now labelled, is total. Virtually every governmental service is on-line and app-based. One app on my phone allows me to pay all my bills from water and electricity through to traffic fines, road tolls, medical bills and school fees. All housing developments are smart cities although I have yet to work out just when or why I would want to switch lights on and off in my house or change the temperature of my fridge whilst sitting 30km away in my office. The latter is a sort of metaphor for the UAE. There is technology doing lots of stuff here but do we need it all? The regional governments of the UAE and rest of the GCC (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain) cannot get enough of the major consultancies like McKinsey, Accenture and Deloitte and spend billions on adopting their strategies, processes and structures. All of which is laudable, so long as the processes work. Frequently they don’t. But it’s a process from a major international consultancy that cost a king’s ransom and sometimes that’s all that counts.

How are Transformational technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Robotic Process Atomisation impacting on yours and your clients’ businesses?

As a recruitment company, we can often be a good barometer of what is trending. Almost all job specifications coming from our clients contain the word ‘transformation’ somewhere.

When we first arrived, we were a telecoms recruitment specialist. The international telecoms market was deregulating, new operators were springing up all over the world and we would manage their recruitment. Du, the second local carrier in the UAE, is a good example and we launched them from scratch. But these days, you and I speak for free on Skype and WhatsApp – when they work here – so telecoms operators have had to find other ways of making a living. Their answer has been to take their considerable expertise in technology and go head-to-head with giants like IBM, Accenture and Techmahindra. Telco’s like Du and the incumbent Etisalat now have entire divisions dedicated to winning and delivering technological transformation in the Finance industry, Government, Defence, Media, Transport, Logistics, Healthcare and Security. The duopoly of Du and Etisalat owns all the fibre and mobile networks. So they are intrinsic to the UAE’s drive for digitalisation, Smart City and Smart Nation strategies as they control the medium through which disruptive digital solutions operate. The regional telecoms industry is also pivotal to the maintenance of cyber and homeland security. Therefore, commensurate with our telecoms clients diversification of services, we have had to follow this trend and evolve our recruitment capabilities accordingly, addressing the need for IOT across all industry sectors.

How has the Digital Revolution affected the needs of your clients?

It is not uncommon for us to be approached by clients who want to take a very sensible, cautious approach to establishing their regional practice or diversifying into new markets. They will frequently approach us to make use of our employment hosting services to accommodate their own staff on our visas, payroll and compliance. Once they are more established they then transfer their staff back to their own employment.

One such client is TTRO (The Training Room Online). As well as hosting their own staff on our visa and payroll in the region we also do their recruitment. TTRO have embarked on an ambitious regional program to work with Governments and Industry to digitise all training and educational content. Having studied sciences at university what I would have given to have all my textbooks and work on a tablet rather than humping small rain forests around in my duffle bag.

But TTRO do much more than digitize the access to content. They work with the government to create centres of excellence with the Ministries of Education. Here they consult on what might be the jobs of the future. So many jobs available when I left university no longer exist owing to AI and robotics. In a region like the GCC where the monarchies are trying to reduce their dependency on ex-pats, it is critical that their own people are educated and trained for the jobs of the future.

What other digital advancements are being made in the UAE that affect everyday life?

The main thrust of digitisation in the region is for disruptive monetized customer centricity. Here’s one example. Fashionable sentiment is that the region is probably less well-regulated than in the west. Privacy settings might not be as robust here as we might like. I am told that if you get a taxi via an app like Uber, it will come back with a ride at a premium rate if your phone’s battery is dying. The inference is that if your phone is dying you can’t afford to miss that ride as you might not have enough power to call for another. So the app is telling the taxi firm that your battery is low and hence you get a ride at an inflated rate. Nice !

Locational marketing and advertising are being optimized here. For example both the Airport and construction companies who make malls are recruiting experts from us who can map a digital journey for all customers as they enter the premises. It’s all about how they can up-sell to a customer. From the moment you enter a mall or a passenger enters the airport how many digital data points can be captured, what digital finger prints do you leave that can be turned into opportunities for revenue generation. Go on any popular social media and ‘like’ something. Within 200 milliseconds your click will have dendritically triggered 100’s of new connections to vendors based on your profile. These vendors will electronically bid to launch their own pop-up advert that suddenly appears on your screen. All in less than a blink of an eye you have walked through the world’s biggest virtual mall and supposedly arrived at the very shop perfectly suited to your needs.

In a similar fashion, artificial intelligence and block chain solutions are enabling the malls and airports to use locational services, facial and voice recognition plus data captured from your boarding pass or credit card history to squeeze the very last cent from your wallet.

Whilst such digital intrusiveness might feel a tad sinister I am told that in the UAE it is also put to good use in security. Arguably, we live in the middle of the world’s geopolitical hot spot surrounded by conflict and instability on all sides with boarders that can easily be osmotic for those of ill intent – and yet the UAE persist as one of the safest and most secure places on the planet. In no small measure this is down to some of the world’s most advanced homeland security powered by AI, distributed IT architectures and cyber surveillance.

The geographical location of the UAE should ensure its future as a global hub of technology and innovation. The country has probably created the critical mass of infrastructure needed to make it sustainable and as I write the government is embarking on many new initiatives with the common goal to make the UAE the most technologically advanced country in the world. The challenge to all businesses here, including mine, is how to remain relevant. The pace of change and transformation in the region is arresting. Overlay that with complex cultural diversity and demographics and it really is quite hard to know how to stay ahead of the game.

All that glitters in the UAE may not be gold, but these days it is usually digital in some way or another. The region remains pioneering across so many industry sectors. Going digital is the key whether you are delivering its technology or harnessing it.


If you have any insight into Digital Transformation, the telecoms market, setting up or growing international business that you would like to share, please do get in touch, or feel free to share directly in the LinkedIn RGS Professionals group.

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