Digital labour provides GCC businesses with unprecedented opportunities

30 January 2018

The rise of digital is unprecedented, with 2018 touted to be another breakthrough year for digital technologies both globally as well as in the Middle East. Farhan Syed, a Partner with KPMG Lower Gulf and head of the firm’s Digital Transformation in the region, reflects on how digital labour can help GCC businesses gain an edge, and what they should do to ensure a smooth transition. 

We live in interesting times. From political turmoil and election surprises to rising nationalism and protectionism, any outsider may well be skeptical about where markets are going. Yet the UAE CEO Outlook released by KPMG in Q3 last year shows positivity throughout industries, including the banking sector: 88% of the CEOs interviewed expect their own industries to grow over the next three years. Perhaps even more surprising, constant change actually drives optimism – where some people see risk and focus on damage control, leaders see opportunities to improve, to create new markets and to encourage growth. 

Innovation – such an important factor in economic growth – happens faster in the banking sector. Until relatively recently, the sector was closely guarded by protectionist rules and a lack of truly differentiated options. Advancements in technology have made data storage and processing power faster and cheaper. Browsing the internet has become many people's preferred weekend activity.

FinTech is paving the way for radical disruption of both the financial services industry and capital markets. Banks recognise that technology is a major driver of opportunities as well as cost, so key decision makers – and the regulators – are cautiously navigating through some more radical concepts like blockchain, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI). Still though, millions of staff hours are devoted to trivial or manual activities, particularly in customer service, business support and operations. 

 Strategic priorities for UAE CEOs

While big data or deep learning may grab headlines, the figures speak for themselves; automate trivial tasks and banks will reap huge benefits, not just in terms of significantly reduced costs and improved speed and accuracy, but also improved leadership, with staff freed up to focus on higher value activities.

Robotic process automation

This is where robotic process automation (RPA) helps. RPA is automation software that executes tasks and activities in the same way a human operator would interact with applications and systems. At KPMG, we call it digital labour – replicating the specific actions and decisions an operator would take while working on the computer and interacting with an IT application.

In the next 15 years, some analysts suggest that at least half – and possibly as many as three-quarters – of back and middle office jobs in the banking sector will be performed by RPA. And it is not just administrative roles. Today's complex global financial markets require unprecedented levels of speed, accuracy and cost efficiency – beyond what a human can provide. That's why banks are increasingly turning to RPA and AI-driven cognitive automation to transform their businesses. 

Although capital markets have been expanding, competition from traditional competitors as well as from disruptive new entrants is increasing. Some of these new entrants are far more nimble and tech savvy than established firms with a legacy infrastructure to support. This increased competition, together with the ever-mounting pressure to reduce costs, means firms have to work smarter, not just harder.

RPA is the use of machine intelligence and software tools to perform human tasks. Cognitive automation is a confluence of many technologies including natural language processing, machine learning, data analytics and probabilistic reasoning - which combine to interact, learn and simulate decision making the way a human does. 

Risk UAE CEOs are most concerned about

Employee buy-in key

One important aspect of RPA that should be considered early in the process is how to get employee buy-in. This will be particularly important in the GCC, where the finance sector has been one of the most significant sources of coveted private sector jobs. Banking isn't the only industry that will be affected – some industry observers predict that more than 100 million knowledge workers could be replaced by robots by 2026. 

Without building employee support – by focusing on operational effectiveness and efficiency, demonstrating the value of being involved with these high-tech tools, building quick wins and ensuring that systems work before rolling them out – the process is likely to be slow, difficult and disruptive.

RPA solutions assist organisations to improve service delivery, reduce costs and derive specific business outcomes to achieve sustainable, continuous improvements and competitive advantage. However, it is important to assess where RPA offers the most benefits by identifying how and where RPA can be used to optimise processes, as well as selecting the right automation vendor. Once a bot has been selected, appropriate programming is critical so it replicates the actions of a human operator, logs all activities and identifies exceptions where further investigation is required. 

RPA already has a place in the banking sector. It is generating significant labour cost savings and offers significant benefits in terms of speed, accuracy and productivity – and the ability to gather, input, and analyse vast amounts of data. For banks, both here in the UAE and more broadly, the questions key decision makers should be thinking about are, "How quickly do I want to get on board?" and "How deeply do I want to dive in?" Your long-term survival may depend on your answers.

Related: Middle East and UAE businesses should embrace artificial intelligence.

Oxford Business Group appoints new directors for Bahrain and Oman

21 March 2019

Global research consultancy Oxford Business Group has installed a new leadership team for its operations in Oman and Bahrain.

To support the production of its forthcoming country 2020 reports on Oman and Bahrain, global research consultancy Oxford Business Group (OBG) has appointed new leaders in each, with former Oman Project Manager Sarah Crompton-Donnelly appointed as Country Director for Bahrain, and Naiade Freitas crossing from OBG’s Myanmar branch to take over in Oman.

A former Oil & Gas advisory services consultant with PwC in Mexico, Freitas joined OBG in 2017 following a three year stint as a business consultant with IT professional services firm Everis in Brazil – where among other activities she helped to develop its Lean Six Sigma training programme. Earlier, Freitas worked as an account executive at Neilson, and holds a degree in international relations.

Noting the IMF’s current 5% economic growth forecast for Oman, OBG Middle East Managing Director Jana Treeck said, “With business confidence high, investors will undoubtedly be keen to discover more about the openings in evolving sectors of the sultanate’s economy, such as mining, tourism and manufacturing. I’m sure Naiade will do an excellent job of unearthing these myriad opportunities and relaying them to our readers.”Oxford Business Group appoints new directors for Oman and Bahrain Meanwhile in Manama, Sarah Crompton-Donnelly has stepped up to the Country Director role in Bahrain after serving as an OBG project manager in Oman for the previous six months. An MA graduate from the University of Edinburgh, Crompton-Donnelly was previously a project coordinator for Istanbul-based Global Business Reports, working in Europe, North America and Asia.

“Sarah has already shown herself to be highly knowledgeable when it comes to emerging markets, while her recent spell in Oman has given her additional insight into the workings of GCC economies. I’m sure that this on-the-ground experience, combined with her evident enthusiasm, will stand her in good stead as she takes up this new opportunity,” said Treeck.

With respect to OBG’s upcoming Bahrain 2020 report, which covers a range of economic development factors and local investment opportunities, Treeck continued, “These are exciting days for Bahrain, with its efforts to diversify the national economy and attract new investment for its public-private-partnership projects now accelerating, against a backdrop of key reforms.”

With a focus on emerging economies, OBG in addition to Oman and Bahrain compiles comprehensive country reports on Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the individual emirates of the UAE, among some 40 countries covered across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Middle East. Together with its local bureaus, OBG also has primary offices in Istanbul and Dubai.