Xavier Anglada, Managing Director – Accenture Digital Lead in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, speaks about digital transformation, customer experience, data and why there is no stopping artificial intelligence (AI).
Xavi, as he is more popularly known, is a native of Spain. Having lived in four continents, he has led assignments in over 30 countries, and with more than 22 years of experience in strategy, consulting and operations in the FinTech, Media, and Telecommunication.
Where do organisations in the Middle East stand, when it comes to digital transformation? Is it being prioritised?
Digital transformation is playing a crucial role in shaping governments and economies around the world and the same rings true for the Middle East region. According to our research, 45 percent of Middle Eastern companies are feeling the impact of disruption today, and 44 percent are susceptible to disruption in the future.
As a result of this evolution, we have seen both the private and public sectors make major strides in the area. In the public sphere, governments in the region have launched several smart initiatives and solutions such as Smart Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program 2020 to enhance the quality of living. We are also seeing private sector companies aggressively pursuing the integration of modern solutions and technology such as cloud, drones, robotics and Artificial intelligence (AI) – fueling a new era of innovation.
We are in the middle of an industrial revolution, and the Middle East is welcoming it with open arms.
How can marketing heads of organisations influence the rest of the organisation on a brand’s digital journey? What are the challenges they face?
As we continue to move towards a technology-driven and customer-centric economy, the role of marketing heads is more important than ever. The battle to retain customers and communicate with them in a meaningful and relevant manner has intensified. Marketing heads are now responsible for designing digital processes and conceptualising digital communication channels such as websites, social media channels, and mobile applications to optimise customer interactions.
Having said that, marketing heads face challenges in building digital infrastructures and revamping operations. Many large companies do not have the agility to implement changes swiftly. Further, convincing management to revamp operations completely and see the value of integrated systems has been a major challenge. They have the added pressure of having to leverage technology in the right manner to generate a return on investment and revenue.
Will there ever be a post-digital era in the Middle East?
We are already inching towards a post-digital era in the Middle East. As ICT spending is expected to rise to $213 billion (Dh781.71 billion) this year compared to $208 billion in 2018, according to IDC, we will see new expectations emerge. As per our global Accenture Technology Vision 2019 report, companies will be presented with new levels of expectation from consumers, employees and business partners. In the next few years, the focus will shift from having the right technology to “how do I set myself apart” as organisations become digitally competent with time.
What, as per you, will be top MarTech trends in the Middle East in 2019?
There is no stopping AI. Like in the rest of the world, AI has been making waves in the Middle East. As it continues to be integrated across all sectors, it will gain further momentum. AI, chatbots and machine learning will once again be trending in the marketing field, enabling companies to predict what customers want and enhancing the customer experience accordingly.
Another top trend in 2019 will be mobile marketing. For instance, the UAE has one of the highest mobile penetration in the world at 173 percent. There is, therefore, a potential for companies to tap into mobile marketing, to reach their consumers if they haven’t already. Personalised mobile content and cross-channel marketing will be the key ingredients in driving this trend forward.
Video content will be a trend that will be carried forward from 2018 and will continue to be an effective medium, especially with such high mobile penetration in countries across the Middle East. Marketing heads will need to ensure that they include video content in their digital strategy. However, it is vital to ensure that the video is of high quality, relevant and compelling to engage customers.
Lastly, voice search will be a rising trend in digital over the next decade. It will change the face of marketing as consumers will rely on searching through voice search and recognition instead of a screen. People already have some devices that they use to control through their voice, but in the next few years, voice search will be a game changer. Marketing heads will, therefore, need to adapt their SEO strategy accordingly.
AI is quickly becoming a catchword in the Middle East. What are the core elements marketers need to work on an AI-driven marketing strategy?
Big data can help marketers aggregate and segment large sets of data with minimal manual work. As an essential part of a marketing strategy, big data can help ensure that the right message is being delivered to the right audience at the right time on the appropriate platform.
Machine learning platforms help marketers identify trends or problems and respond more rapidly and effectively, giving them more clarity than their competitors. Machine learning can also enable marketers to understand how their actions are contributing to revenue growth in real-time, thus allowing them to make changes to their strategy to improve results.
Are conversational AI and voice-based search going to disrupt the AI space? Do you see Middle East investing in conversational AI tech in 2019-2020?
AI is already taking a central role in consumer’s lives and has disrupted the sector. According to research, the region is expected to accumulate 2 per cent of the total global benefits of AI in 2030. While AI continues to thrive, we believe that voice-based search will be rapidly gaining momentum in the next few years.
For marketers, conversational AI presents a panoply of benefits. This artificial intelligence-driven customer service technology can be applied to everything from understanding a given fee on a bank statement, processing health insurance care claims or even handling payment arrangements.
Conversational AI can also move the customer service experience away from being purely transactional. Through technology such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Understanding (NLU), systems can understand vague questions or statements that would be more natural to how a person would normally speak- ultimately improving the customer’s experience.
Today, companies are overwhelmed by the volume, velocity and variety of their data. How can marketers use AI to overcome the challenge of dark data?
The increased volume of data has created a nightmare for companies over the last decade. They are unable to utilise it for competitive intelligence or business decision making. Not only has this increased their storage costs, but also exposed them to risks of security breaches. This is where AI comes in handy – to effectively manage and analyse data. AI collects, organises, and analyse tremendous volumes of data providing companies with insights to make informed decisions.
For marketing heads, data analysis will enable them to create customer targeting strategies, forecast business outcomes and risks, and draw intelligent insights on customer behaviour. The marketing department can tailor their marketing channels and content to enhance customer experience and optimise overall performance.
How do you define an experience-led business? Has CX received its due attention in the Middle East?
An experience-led business takes a 360-degree look at the customer journey and ensures that every touch point is designed with their customers in mind. This includes the website, apps, social media channels and other digital platforms.
The Middle East is improving its adoption of CX. We’ve seen the government, but also banks and retailers take major steps towards streamlining and improving their stakeholders’ online experience. It is now possible to set up a bank account in a few short minutes without ever having to step foot in a bank.
What, according to you, is the biggest challenge that marketers face with getting the customer experience right?
The biggest challenge for marketers is knowing your audience. You need to understand who you are speaking to, why you are talking to them, what your audience needs from you and ultimately, what experience do you want to deliver. From there, you can work backwards, to ensure that you have all the necessary elements in place.