Arabnet Digital Summit Wrap Up


The ArabNet Digital Summit kicked off on Tuesday March 27, 2012 at the Metropolitan Hotel in Beirut. The five day summit will tackle the latest in web and mobile with panels hosting top executives from the digital sector, numerous hands on workshops covering the hottest platforms in addition to highlighting the 20 most anticipated startups and ideas with the Ideathon and Startup Demo competitions.

Arabnet introduced a new day this year to its summit, the Industry Day. The day focuses on the way that web and mobile are transforming traditional industries, including healthcare, banking, travel, education, and government. Professionals from across the spectrum were able to gain a better understanding of the technological future of their industry and learn about ways to enhance their business and stay competitive.

The day started with a panel on Trends in Web and Mobile with Jawad Abbassi, Founder and General Manager at Arab Advisors Group, Ziad Matar, Head of the Middle East and Central Asia Global Business Operations at Qualcomm, Lisa Nyman, Strategy and Marketing Manager, Middle East at Ericsson and Sebastien Marteau, VP of Mobile at Integral.

According to Marteau, the MENA region lacks relevant Arabic apps, with almost 1000 Arabic apps developed. “The Saudi Arabia market, one of the largest markets in the region, prefers apps with Arabic interface”, Jawad Abassi said.

“The challenges we have ahead are that of creating local content, whilst ensuring telecoms make money to create sustainable industry,” Marteau said.

According to Ziad Matar, there are around 5 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, a number much larger than that of people who have access to water or the number of screens.

Nyman said that 75% of time spent on smartphones worldwide is not on voice or text, but on web and apps. She also estimated the average amount spent in mobile ads to USD 600 billion.

The panel highlighted the importance of mobile and web devices in connecting the world. In Tanzania, 190 babies were born last month using a special phone application, Matar said. “We can benefit from connecting devices such as a car or dishwashers in order to generate benefits,” Nyman added.

“We used to go to main sites to read content, today destination sites are losing importance, people are reading articles through their social feeds, or articles shared by friends,” Omar Christidis said. “Internet has democratized the concept of content and distribution.”

“We used to have excessive campaigns. Today push advertising is replaced by forums that add value to the clients and involve them in decision making,” he said. “New media can be a tool to build a relation between governments and their citizens, by creating initiatives to enhance transparency and communication channels.”

Omar Christidis, who moderated the session, had started with a quick review of stats: 77 % of users have liked a brand on Facebook, 50 % have received customer service via twitter, 100 million Youtube video are played every day and 85% of mobile internet users have downloaded apps before.

The panel also discussed the issue of mobile security and protecting the user’s privacy, which “some people are willing to sacrifice, to stay connected,” Christidis said.

“Smarter Planet: An industry view of turning Information into Insight” was the title of the second session, presented by Ali Munawar Zakaria, Director of Demand Programs, Middle East and Africa, at IBM.

According to Zakaria, we are all linked economically, socially and technically: economically via wars and oil prices, socially via uprisings, and technically via the web for example.

“We have become very empowered consumers and citizens and everything has some kind of technology build into it,” he said.

According to Zakaria, there are “1 billion mobile camera phones, 2 billion people on internet, 4 billion mobile phone subscribers and 15 petabytes of information generated every day.”

Zakaria highlighted the importance of introducing monitoring, analysis and action to smarter health, education and government sectors.

Zakaria’s “Smarter Planet” was followed by a short talk on Technology and Industry by Firas AlFanney, General Manager, Levant and North Africa, at Intel. AlFanney highlighted Intel’s programs in emerging markets. Intel is working with Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco and Watar on programs that give people access to technology, with a focus on education.

“In the 21st century, we should have the student center model, and the teacher should play the role of a facilitator,” he said. “Student can manage their own time; access the internet, do critical thinking, etc…”

AlFanney suggested developing special curricula which target students, help train teachers to adapt technology in the classroom, implement information communications technology and tablets for higher grades.

The session was followed by a talk on social media and consumer relationship with Fawzi Rahal, Regional Digital Director at Grey MENA and Mustafa Bilge, Founder and Managing Partner at Semanticum.

During the summit, Egypt’s Ideavelopers announced investing USD 1.3 million dollars in Dr.Bridge health care company.

The Developer Days started off with the “Mobile Hour” which gave an inside look at the hottest upgrades & tools in the mobile industry. Ahmed Adel, Developer and Platform Evangelism Sales & Operations Director at Microsoft, said “the average number of text messages (sms) sent in 1998 per person was 4. Today, 6.1 trillion text messages are sent worldwide.”  William Kanaan, New Business Development at Google, said mobile devices will outnumber PCs next year. Gilles Fayad, Director Products & Services, MEA at Qualcomm said that new devices will learn from users and that in the future everything will be connected.

The “Mobile Hour” was follow by “Trends in Mobile Consumption in the Saudi Market” by Mr. Sebastien Marteau, VP of Mobile at Integral. Marteau highlighted the best practices of developing mobile digital products and insights into the global app industry. According to Marteau, Saudi Arabia is a very young market with very high penetration rates, with 2 SIM cards per person in the kingdom. Marteau also said that 47% of people in KSA use apps provided they are in Arabic.

In addition to technical sessions on Google Web Toolkit, Developing Windows Phone Apps, SEO for web developers and “Mobile Phones getting Smarter”, “Developing with Security and Privacy in mind” and “UXHour”,  Amina Belghiti and Stephane Crozatier from Facebook, gave a talk in which they highlighted some key stats and figures regarding social media.

“It took Facebook 8 years to get to 850 million users and almost 4 years to get to 425 million mobile users,” they said. “Major problem facing mobile is fragmentation. Facebook approach’s is to concentrate on relative platforms: iOS and Android,” they added.

The day was followed by a night competition, “Overnight”, that aims to test the skills of developers and identify the best engineering talent in the region. The competition started at 8PM on Tuesday, till 8AM on Wednesday. Competitors were challenged to build a simple web application or a mobile app in just 12-hours. The winners of the competition are Hasan Arous (Syria), Bilal Itani (Lebanon), Abdelmohimen Alagha (Syria) and Ata Alqadi (Jordan). They all received prizes from “Integral”.

Following the Opening Ceremony, an interesting panel on hot trends in web and mobile kicked off with TechCrunch editor MikeButcher, National Net Ventures CEO Rashid AlBallaa, Angel Investor Hussein Khanji, CMEA’s Saad Khan and Hummingbird Venture’s Pamir Gelenbe.

According to AlBallaa, mobile youtube in Saudi Arabua is the second worldwide. “The Middle East market is hugely growing and most of start-ups tend to evolve around entertainment or e-commerce, entertainment because a huge percentage of the population in the Middle East is young.”

Kanji highlighted the issue of Arabic content, and said that it was the lowest indexed despite the huge demand.”

Khan described the consumption in the Middle East as “mobile driven”.

“iPhone penetration is growing in the MENA,” AlBallaa added. “Mobile penetration in Saudi Arabia is 200%, with 26% of phones being smartphones, a percentage higher than the UK (25%)”.

“However, we need more local applications related to the region, instead of copying international applications.”

According to the panel, Facebook has more than 35 million users in the Middle East, but has no region.

Regarding e-commerce, Pamel said the boom in e-commerce in Turkey happened in 3 years.

Khan explained that enthusiasm and creativity have unlocked in Egypt following the Arab spring. “If you support one another, you will achieve success in the next 5 years,” he added.

Barry Newstead, Chief Global Development Officer at Wikimedia Foundation explained why Wikipedia is important for future of Arabic language.

Wikipedia, according to Wikimedia stats, is the 5th most visited website worldwide. 10 million visitors per month come from MENA. Only 154,000 articles on Wikipedia are in Arabic, despite the fact that there are 374 million Arabic speakers.

Newstead spoke of a strong Arabic Wikipedia community, with over 600 active editors. “Half of the site’s Arabic content comes from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There other half comes from the rest of the world,” he said.

According to Newstead, Arabic is ranked at number 27 in terms of volume, with 280 languages available on Wikipedia. “We are excited about the potential for growth here, as more people come on to the Internet, to build an Arabic Wikipedia,” he said.

As part of the Industry Day on Wednesday, Arabnet organized four different tracks to discuss the latest trends in education, healthcare, banking and travel and tourism sectors.

Education Track

As part of the Industry Day, the education track highlighted 21st century integration, role of social media in class rooms & e-learning.

Dr. Michael Orey, Program Chair for the Learning, at the University of Georgia, portrayed the 21st century student as active, engaged, interactive and social. The real challenge he said lies in how the 20th century teacher can help a 21st century learners.

The latest trends in educational technology were discussed by panelists Wael Amin, President & CEO at ITWorks, Walid Tahabism, President & CEO at Integral Technology Group, Alessio Artuffo, Director of International Business Operation at Docebo and Josh Squires, Co-founder of MoWerks Learning.

The panelists said that technology will not replace how teaching is conducted, “it is just a tool for teachers to perform better in classrooms,” said Tahabism.

According to the panel, real change did not yet occur in the educational sector.

Talks on national e-education program, e-learning in higher education, distance learning, interactive whiteboard implementation, social media and education followed.

Lelia Khauli Hanna, Instructor of Marketing at AUB and Ayman Itani, Instructor at LAU, use social media to engage more with students.  According to Khauli, shy students connect and communicate more via social media. Khauli, who uses Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest for educational person says she respects her students’ privacy and does not follow them.

Healthcare Track

Several panels, talks and case studies highlighted the importance of technology in enhancing the services and performance of the healthcare sector.

The main challenges that face mobilizing healthcare and integrating technology in healthcare are privacy and accuracy, according to Asmaa Hosny, the Head of Business Development at Mobinil.

Melanie Clancy, Head of Content, Digital Arts, at TBWA/RAAD and Hani Chohan, Marketing Manager, Imagination Breakthrough at GE Healthcare highlighted the importance of building health-related communities through social media and content via a case study that women are the gatekeepers of family health in Saudi Arabia, but lack awareness. As such, GE used websites, Facebook and twitter to create a buzz, conversation and educational material as tools for an awareness campaign.

The healthcare track also included talks and case studies on health information systems with Youssef Ghosheh from Dimensions Healthcare, National e-Health programs with Ashrf Busila from Electronic Health Solutions, Telemedicine with Riad Farah from St George Hospital in Beirut, Electronic Medical Records with Ayman Ibrahim from the Children’s Cancer Hospital, The Business of Medical Content with Chris Schroeder.

Wassim Wazzan, CEO of Rafik Hariri University Hospital and Dr.Mounes Kalaawi, CEO of Clemenceau Medical Center also talked about their experience with integrating electronic medical records and their expectations for the future of medical technology in their hospitals.

Tourism and Travel Track

A third of the world’s travel sales will be booked online by the end of 2012, according to travel industry research firm PhoCusWright. As such, a panel to discuss the rise of the OTA (a trade group developing a common standard for the exchange of information within the travel industry) was organized. Panelists, Tarique khatri, SVP at, Elie Diab, Managing director at and Hani Dahlan, GM at Dahlan Tours and Travels highlighted popular places to book,  the markets that engage in online booking and reaching customers through social media,

According to Dahlan, Travel Agencies offer cheaper rates to encourage people to buy online. “Most online bookings are made in Dubai,” Diab said. “Lebanon is a very promising market for online reservations, and we are receiving much more feedback than Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Travel agencies keep an open eye on social media to monitor feedback. Elie Diab said “We were the first to have this kind of websites in Arabic and to cut the language barrier. Booking is mostly done in Arabic even when customers speak English.”

Don Stuart, Dan Stuart Managing Director ME at LivingSocial gave an insight on the performance of the company now spread in 23 countries around the world.

The track also included case-studies on e-commerce strategies for hotels, social media in the F&B business, augmented reality in tourism and establishing a mobile presence for your tourism company.

According to Safa rahal, e-commerce and revenue executive at Coral Suites Al Hamra, 57% of guests tend to go to reviews on internet. “A successful E-commerce strategy would include: exposure on all OTAs, social media exposure, building profiles for every hotel and mobile applications,” he added.

Ziad kamel, Founder and CEO of The Alleyway group raised concern over social media. “Be careful with social media because unhappy customers can quickly spread bad news on the web,” he said. “Although solving the problem can be quick and automatic through social media as the customer is in direct contact with the CEO.”

“If you are not on social media, you do not exist,” he added.

Hala Zawati from EasyInfo announced that smartphones are being used to replace traditional guides for tourists by using augmented reality tools and QR codes.

“We have created the application Dalili. The application sees where you are and what activities you are interested in. It’s free for tourists, but the venues who want their information displayed have to pay,” he explained.

Banking and Finance Track

SolidPass CEO Selahaddin Karatas raised the issue of online privacy, user’s identity, security of passwords and mobile banking.

On virtual banking, Raffy Karamian from Bank Audi highlighted the digital services provided by the bank, mainly the Novo technology. “40,000 banking operations and 19,000 video consultations have been conducted since the launch of Novo is citymall earlier this year,” he said.

Krystel Jaber, Head of Retail Communication at Blom Bank highlighted the bank’s experience on social media platforms, mainly, engagement with the fans and making them a part of the decision making process.

“Once banks adopt mobile banking, traditional operations will decrease by 55%,” Ubanquity Systems CEO Roy Zakka said.