Is the Arab World Missing Out on Big Data Opportunities?


What is Big Data?  According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created everyday from various sources.  Every time we post something to a social media site, use the GPS functions on our mobile phones, make a purchase, collect information on the weather, or take a picture or video with a digital device the resulting data is what is referred to as big data.  And the analysis of this data is the key to gaining a competitive advantage, improving productivity growth, and driving innovation within organizations worldwide.

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in the Middle East are finally ready to adopt Big Data as a business tool.  Business leaders and CIOs in the region are keen to join the global Big Data adoption bandwagon.  This is clear from a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) survey of Middle Eastern CIOs, where 42% of the respondents claimed to be planning Big Data investments in 2013, up sharply from 11% in 2012.  Budget constraints and the lack of a clear business ROI case have been the key inhibitors to Big Data adoption in the region. 

However, Big Data adoption is accompanied by challenges  global and local  and service providers that can overcome these challenges will emerge as the winners in the region.  With a buy-in from CIOs and other C-level executives, Big Data has overcome the first key hurdle to adoption in the region.  But, its implementation will be accompanied by another set of challenges.  Some of these are global in nature, they include: dealing with variety (80% of enterprise data exists in non-structured and non-relational form), velocity (ability to analyse streaming data enabling real-time decisions), and volume (global digital content is expected to grow 50 fold between 2010 and 2020, and data storage is a key issue) of data.  Additionally, countries worldwide are struggling to build a skilled workforce with the necessary technical skills around Hadoop, MapReduce, Predictive Analytics, NoSQL, etc. which are all critical to Big Data implementation.  Yet, there are two challenges that are specific to the region, and that also present unique opportunities for Big Data service providers in the Middle East.

Low availability and usability of public data:  In order to generate meaningful conclusions, Big Data and BI tools need access to large volumes of information such as cartographic data, financial market data, socio-demographic data, regulatory data, and meteorological data.  However, as shown in the graph below, availability and usability of public information in the region is among the lowest in the world (MENA countries are beginners as opposed to the western countries, which are trend setters.)  Data portals in the region either do not have updated high quality data, or the government does not have the technology and the systems in place to share this data with companies and stakeholders. In both cases, there is an opportunity for service providers to educate — and work with — governments to improve the data capture, storage, and analysis processes.

For an infographic and a case study look at the source of this post at




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