A cornerstone of digital transformation, cloud computing enables the future-ready standards of flexibility, security, compliance and efficiency that the global business environment demands. Already home to large-scale data centres and leading international cloud service providers, Abu Dhabi promises to be at the forefront of this transformation.

Microsoft Azure arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2019, one of its first cloud regions in the Middle East, and the cloud platform is projected to generate $27 billion in the UAE by 2024. The government is leading by example, taking advantage of the power of Microsoft services to integrate its own operations, transforming the way citizens interact with government through TAMM, the smart customer support platform. Microsoft has worked closely with the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) to implement this solution and ensure that it remains compliant. This is only the beginning: the value of the UAE’s public cloud services is expected to grow at a double-digit rate this year and next.

Azure offers an extraordinary array of enterprise-grade services and tools to allow businesses and financial services institutions (FSIs) to enhance customer experience and accelerate innovation. The availability of such integrated and well supported cloud infrastructure is a key reason why future-focused businesses are choosing to be located in Abu Dhabi.

Sayed Hashish, general manager of Microsoft UAE, gives an insight into the transformative power of the cloud for businesses in the Abu Dhabi and the UAE and discusses what is to come.

Microsoft Azure has revolutionised how companies like regional trade hub Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT) and government services operate. Why is the cloud such a powerful tool?

Cloud is really the path to digital transformation, with the power to engage customers, empower employees, optimise operations and reinvent products, services, workflows and the workplace itself.

The pandemic has accelerated the world’s march towards a paradigm where the only viable business is a digital business. Businesses in the UAE and around the world have had to quickly rethink their resilience. Cloud computing offers unparalleled business agility and operational flexibility, along with a more transparent and controllable cost of ownership for the IT function. This has helped lots of enterprises to survive societal restrictions during the pandemic.

As remote working and distance learning become part of everyday life, enterprises look to the next trends. Survival mode has morphed into innovation mode. Technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT have become vital to both governments and businesses as they look to reboot and serve citizens and customers in new ways. These technologies will play critical roles in the years ahead as ambitious nations such as the UAE pursue economic visions that create prosperous, sustainable, knowledge-based societies. The cloud will be key to the implementation of these visions.

Access to the cloud improves the reliability, cost-effectiveness and trust of operations, allowing businesses to enhance their customers’ experiences and accelerate their pace of innovation. In the digital economy, in which customers can switch to competitors with a swipe or a click, the high availability and low latency of the cloud enables the always-on, responsive end-customer experiences which are needed to stay competitive.

Microsoft Azure is available in more markets than any other cloud platform, with over 60 locations worldwide. Microsoft’s data centres in the UAE are already helping enterprises and FSIs, including the digital elements of prominent banks such as Mashreq, to comply with local data-residency and governance requirements. We provide them with active cybersecurity monitoring and protection around the clock and more than 90 streamlined compliance offerings.

In sectors such as financial services and retail, organisations face customer expectations for greater personalisation. Retail group Al Futtaim has built an intelligent platform, fuelled by Microsoft Azure, to unite data across multiple touchpoints to deepen its knowledge of customers and enhance its decision-making process through advanced analytics. And the Microsoft cloud empowers enterprises to improve employee experiences by providing collaboration, productivity and mobility tools. The UAE government has created financial Free Zones to encourage these very innovations.

As the UAE looks to the future, with a vision of economic sustainability, Azure empowers enterprises to address environmental challenges. Cloud infrastructure allows organisations to reduce physical footprint and power consumption, reducing operating costs, improving efficiency and creating new business models that meet sustainability goals.

Microsoft and programs like Microsoft Reactor and Microsoft for Startups have worked closely with Abu Dhabi’s innovation accelerator, Hub71. What makes Abu Dhabi such a favourable environment for cloud adoption and innovation?

Abu Dhabi and the UAE are regional leaders in technology adoption and digital transformation, and bodies such as the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) and Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) continue to advise and support enterprises in their digitisation initiatives. In a prime example of how seriously the nation takes the role of technology, the UAE became the world’s first government to appoint a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence in 2017 and ranked first in the Arab world in the Global Innovation Index 2020. Abu Dhabi and Dubai were ranked the top two smartest cities in the Middle East. Government entities are fierce and consistent advocates for start-ups, creating incubators and accelerators such as startAD, which steers technology start-ups to launch, develop and scale their ventures. The UAE government has long recognised that start-ups will create the jobs of the future and has prioritised the creation of a nurturing environment where larger corporates can co-innovate with start-ups to reinvent their core business models.

Microsoft is closely aligned with the nation’s visions. Our cloud locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were introduced in direct response to the challenges of latency, availability and agility, as well as compliance issues such as data residency, faced by regional enterprises. By adding UAE locations to our global network, we also provided our Middle East customers with a bridge to the world and the international digital economy.

Our UAE data centres have accelerated digital agendas everywhere, paving the way for entrepreneurship, job creation and economic growth. Our investments over the past two years – including a joint initiative with LinkedIn and GitHub to deliver technology skills to 25 million people – have strengthened the region’s technology infrastructure and accelerated the adoption of technologies such as AI and IoT. Our local data centres have enhanced initiatives like Microsoft for Start-Ups, which delivers the technology and access to investors and markets for entrepreneurs to be successful, and AI for Good, which provides funding, technology and expertise to organisations as they address environmental challenges, aid humanitarian efforts, improve accessibility, preserve culture and enrich historical understanding. On top of this, democratising access to technology and resources helps tackle diversity and inclusion challenges.

Adopting cloud services leads to enterprise-level economies of scale, and our data centre services in the UAE are fuelling innovation and economic growth. Microsoft’s cloud locations are projected to generate $27 billion in the UAE over the next four years, according to a recent IDC study. They support ongoing accelerated digital adoption, combined with rapid economic recovery and future-proofed resilience in the wake of the pandemic.

As an early leader in cloud and 5G adoption, Abu Dhabi is becoming a global hub for cloud implementation and innovation. What is the key to success in cloud implementation?

Digital transformation is a journey in which culture change empowers a new way of looking at customers, employees, operations and business models and the parts they play in overall success. Microsoft champions “tech intensity”, encouraging organisations to embrace a change in culture that incorporates technology as a natural tool for problem solving.

In the new hybrid workplace, businesses face an increasing volume of data and evolving complexities in infrastructure. Set against a global threat landscape of escalating intensity and frequency of breaches, the Microsoft cloud remains trusted because our customers and partners are aware of our deep and broad investments in cybersecurity. We spend around $1 billion annually on cybersecurity R&D and have integrated some of the industry’s most advanced protection and detection measures into every layer of our cloud architecture. We continue to work closely with Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) and other local entities to ensure our cloud services are compliant with local certifications and global standards such as ISO 27001/27018, SSAE 18 SOC and GDPR.

What is the future of Microsoft cloud services in the UAE?

As the nation’s businesses aim for sustainable growth, they must juggle the priorities of digitisation, talent acquisition and building the workplace of the future.

Microsoft and its partner ecosystem will spend $2.3 billion on our data centres for services and products developed in the region. This will bolster employment, adding around 60,000 new jobs, 16,000 of which will be skilled IT roles. As of 2020, our partners have generated $6.01 for every dollar earned by Microsoft through our UAE cloud locations. By 2024, this downstream revenue will have risen to $7.76.

It’s clear that the UAE’s future is linked to the leverage of cloud solutions, from government efforts to improve services to private enterprises’ forays into tech intensity. We will continue to empower entrepreneurial excellence as regional innovators lay the groundwork for smart societies and associated services like telemedicine and digital agriculture.

To find out more about cloud investment opportunities in Abu Dhabi, download the Abu Dhabi Prospectus above.