The MENA region is in the midst of a digital transformation, which 2020 and COVID-19 have only accelerated. I asked five experts to share the technology trends they see influencing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) this year, with digital payments, increased investment in artificial intelligence and mobile devices, along with the need for a greater focus on cybersecurity, all with a mention.

A look at the great projects that lie ahead

Among the things to watch out for on the Middle East tech scene in 2021 is the Expo 2020 event, which will take place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for six months starting in October, says Matthew reed, Practice Leader, Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific, at Omdia.

“The event, which was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will still be known as Expo 2020, it is expected to showcase advanced technologies and applications including autonomous vehicles, smart city services and space exploration, the latter based on the UAE launch of an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. in July 2020.

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“Saudi Arabia also has futuristic plans and, in early January, unveiled the general lines of an important new city project, The Line, an urban development of 170 kilometers that will be powered entirely by renewable energies and will be “hyperconnected through a digital framework that incorporates artificial intelligence and robotics, according to the launch website.

“The Saudi authorities are also increasingly interested in encouraging investment and growth in the country’s non-oil business sector, and that is likely to accelerate efforts to improve connectivity and technology services for companies over the next year.” .

FinTech will be transformational

The fintech landscape in MENA is rapidly evolving from a focus on digital payments to expanding access to finance, both for consumer and SME loans, he says. Ayman ismail, Jameel Chair of Entrepreneurship, The American University of Cairo.

“The last three years were mainly about establishing infrastructure for digital payments. We saw numerous startups offering digital payment services via mobile wallets, credit and debit cards, acceptance methods for both online and retail merchants. Banks also expanded their online presence, acceptance offers, and began building digital banking subsidiaries. Governments promoted digital payments for their services, payroll, and social support. They also introduced numerous regulations to support the industry that allow for data protection, electronic know-your-customer (eKYC), and interoperability.

“On Egypt, the number of mobile wallets has surpassed 15 million, with double-digit month-over-month growth, and the number of point-of-sale (POS) machines doubled over the past year, allowing more merchants to accept digital payments. . . COVID-19 acted as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of digital payments among consumers, businesses, and governments alike.

“Having established this payment infrastructure, the next big trend in the region is to grant loans, both for consumption and for SMEs.

“Numerous startups are introducing solutions for consumer loans, ranging from payday loans, application-enabled nano-loans, to buy-now-pay-later retail solutions. Supply chain financing in partnership with manufacturers.

“Startups are also introducing enabling technologies like credit scoring, AI-enabled Arabic chat bots, and digital integration solutions. Markets are visibly thirsty for more credit that’s easier to access and technology-enabled. .

“Banks, private equity funds and large investors are looking to these new digital channels to deploy capital and are looking for investments or acquisitions of successful players in this space, even at an early stage. Regulators are responding by updating many of the regulations. for non-bank financial services and launch of new licensing opportunities.

“This space will grow substantially in 2021. Digital payments and loans are at the core of this transformation and are likely to grow exponentially over the next three years.”

The mobile phone continues to transform all areas of life

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how critical digital connectivity is to societies and economies around the world. With social restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus, many everyday activities, including work, learning, shopping, and social interactions, have moved online, he says. Jawad J Abbassi, Director of the Middle East and North Africa at GSMA.

“A recent GSMA report underlines the role of robust broadband networks in connecting students and teachers for distance education. In Saudi Arabia, 55% of the population bought groceries online in April 2020, compared to just 6% before the outbreak.

“Governments also rely on connectivity to disseminate vital information in real time, thus enhancing efforts to combat the disease. In Sudan, Zain has sent more than 60 million SMS to communicate advice provided by the Ministry of Health. In addition, Some governments have introduced sound policies to improve mobile broadband services, including providing additional spectrum to operators and allowing technology neutrality.

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“This trend will continue in 2021, helped by continued investment by operators in high-speed networks and the increasing adoption of smartphones.

“Today, almost 300 million people in MENA (47% of the population) connect to the Internet through a mobile network, predominantly 4G, which now represents more than 40% of mobile connections.

“However, 5G adoption will gain momentum this year and into the future, as individuals and businesses shift to improved connectivity solutions to support new ways of working and living in a post-COVID era. There are now 15 networks. 5G commercials in seven countries in the region, and more are expected in the coming years. “

The pandemic and the events of 2020 will have a long-term impact

We can expect the tech ecosystems of the Middle East and North Africa in 2021 to be shaped by some of the ongoing themes and unexpected changes brought by 2020, he says. Carrington Malin, entrepreneur, marketer and writer focused on emerging technologies

“Last year, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continued to develop, invest in and promote technology ecosystems, particularly those that support open data and the adoption of artificial intelligence.

“Saudi Arabia is ready to reap the rewards of the groundwork done by Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA). During its first year, the authority merged 83 government data centers creating ‘DEEM’, the largest government data cloud in the region. This combined with its powerful National data and artificial intelligence strategy Announced in October, it provides the impetus for a wide range of public and private financing data, innovation, technology and technology initiatives by 2021.

“With its recent successes in making government data more open, its great investment in smart city technologies and a greater focus on growing your startup ecosystemsIt appears that the UAE will continue to be the technology hub of the region through 2021. “

Time to prepare for cybersecurity

The past year has driven more digital business transformation than all the decks and dollars spent on consultants in the previous decade. While this is exciting news for the digital industry, we should take a step back and assess what this means for our digital footprint, he says. Ghamlouch streak, innovation and business advisor, co-curator of MENA’s digital summary.

“Vital data about our healthcare, children’s education, business communications, personal information, and all aspects of our lives are now being obtained online. Governments have accelerated their digitization efforts and enforced payments. (in Saudi Arabia) and the use of a unified tax (in Egypt) and introduced telehealth solutions directly through the ministries of health (UAE). Unless you are insured, this is a recipe for a disaster the size of the Solarwinds Saga In the USA

“According to the IBM Annual Data Breach Cost Report 2020, the average cost of a data breach in the Middle East is the second highest globally at $ 6.52 million. We are also the most slowest in the world to identify a data breach, 269 days.

“By 2021, I think it’s time and I predict that startups and people need to be cyber cleansed.”