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Monday, 18 January 2021

INTERVIEW: Cairo is our hub for exporting technological solutions to Africa and MENA, says IBM's VP Peluso

Ashraf Amin, Saturday 29 Jun 2019
Ashraf Amin interviews IBM's VP Michelle Peluso (Photo Courtesy of Ashraf Amin)
Views: 3395
Views: 3395

In an exclusive interview during her first visit to Cairo, Senior VP of IBM Michelle Peluso said that the company is launching two new centres for digital marketing and the first model of Pathways in Technology Early College High-School in Egypt.

The projects supported by IBM aim to accelerate digital transformation for both public and private organisations and to turn Cairo into a hub for innovation solutions in Africa.

Ms Peluso spoke in detail about the importance of the new centres and the impact of a collaboration project with the Ministry of Education.

Would you tell us about the purpose of this visit?

I have always wanted to come to Cairo and to see the pyramids.

Officially I am here for three main reasons. Firstly, this is a big moment for IBM. We have been here for 65 years and we are expanding our operations in the Middle East and Africa with the opening of an Innovation and Industry Client Centre and a Marketing Services Centre in Cairo.

Secondly, we agreed with the Ministry of Education to launch the country’s first P-TECH School to Address Digital Skills Shortage.

That project will equip Egyptian students with vital skills in the era of digital technology.

Finally, I am happy to witness in Cairo a big hackathon that we organised in partnership with Riseup summit, as we asked the young developers and entrepreneurs to find solutions to the water crisis due to climate change. Surprisingly, for over a year we received ideas from over 100,000 developers contributing great ideas and we are content to dedicate $25 million for this and the coming hackathons to bring the best ideas from developers to fruition.

Why is IBM launching the centers in Egypt? And why now?

As I have mentioned, we have been in Egypt for many years during which we have established great connections with the government and the different stakeholders.

We have previously launched six technological centres in Cairo that have served as innovation hotbeds and platforms to explore the creative ideas of talents teams.

Since the launch the Egyptian digital transformation agenda, we thought that it's the right time to support this initiative by expanding our investments and fast tracking digital transformation for both public and private organisations through advanced technologies including AI, digital, security, block chain and the hybrid cloud idea.

In addition, we believe that with the great number of talents here, Egypt is a great place to serve on the marketing side to the rest of the region. We have a real passion in the region for bringing places together, both virtual and physical, where clients can help co-create what’s next for them by leveraging the latest technologies.

How would you turn the centre into a hub for exporting digital technology to Africa?

We believe in the company in a marketing perspective called agile marketing. This methodology has been applied for software development for many years, and in marketing the same principles could be applied, so instead of grouping huge teams of creative data scientists and content marketers, we put small teams of 10 different technical experts to work together and we ask them to develop creative campaigns for the region they are serving.

So for instance, they might take a campaign on the ways AI is changing call centres and they will compile the assets to tell that story and the references to use across the region. They will work together from the idea all the way till the training and marketing the service.

We have implemented these group models quite successfully in many parts of the world like Bucharest and Bangalore, and we do believe that we will succeed based on the talented Egyptians that we will depend on.

Where does Egypt stand when it comes to the global digital transformation?

Your government has been very ambitious about digital transformation and that makes us very exciting to continue to invest in the region.
I’ve been seeing the government during the past year put technology at the core to improve the economy and services for citizens.
The government’s plan is all based on digital transformation and accordingly all the resources are being put for its execution and implementation.

How is IBM collaborating with the government to assist in digital transformation?

We are participating in national projects in capacity building and skill training technologies. These projects are done in collaboration with and through entities like ITIDA, ITI and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and we are bringing all these technologies to the younger generations and to the developer communities.

What are the challenges facing Egypt in the digital transformation journey?

Generally speaking, digital transformation starts from the business then goes to building the overall services and experience for citizens.
One of the most interesting things we see as governments seek to change citizens’ experience, or business, or seeks to change customer experience, is that data is at the heart of the work change process.
From what we see, the Egyptian government is on a good start and touching on different industries. So starting with the area of healthcare and the selection of the pilot model like the governorate of Port Said, I think they made the right choice and they will move to financial inclusion and financial industry in the next steps.

How would you create a culture of trust to share data through the cloud?

One of things our company is passionate about is that we always introduce our new technologies with a sense of trust and responsibilities.
We have strict rules about privacy of data. We have a firm believe that every job will change due to AI. There are new skills required and all around the world we have made a very large commitment to programmes where we bring younger people into technology in very meaningful ways.

Would you please elaborate on your collaboration project with the Ministry of Education?

We have announced the launch of the first model of Pathways in Technology Early College High-School, or P-TECH schools, in Egypt. With the aim to create technical and professional educational opportunities for Egyptian students and provide them with the skills and experience for tech-related ‘new collar’ jobs, the students will be qualified in five years for jobs in varied technical fields like cyber security, cloud computing, digital design, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

We do believe that the future jobs will depend on talented people who have skills and willing to learn and execute rather than graduates with academic certificates.

By next September, we will implement the P-TECH system at Al-Shorouq Advanced Technical School in collaboration with Al-Alfi Foundation, who will provide teacher training and development for the school, while we will be fully involved in mentoring the students, site visits, and planning project days at the school.

We expect students to benefit from professional workplace experiences through mentorships and internships provided by affiliated industry partners. The programme will offer a seamless pathway from high school to college completion and career readiness, with a clear goal to prepare young people for academic achievement and economic opportunity, regardless of their backgrounds.

What is your message for those worried about losing their jobs due to the AI revolution?

It's important to assure that that AI will not replace human capacities. What we witness today is a world committed to AI.

There is not a place on the planet that is not thinking of cloud computing. We are witnessing advancements like mobile payment and digitalisation of banking services happening, the merging of chat bots in call centre services, and more recently the adoption of quantum computing, which will be restricted to big countries.

With all these points in perspective, it's imperative that the private sectors along with governments invest in scaling new ways of education and training people and seek better outcomes from human skills.

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