In the next few years we will reflect on the third annual Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF) this week and realize that 2015 was the inflection point for the Internet of Things (IoT) and digitization. Leaders from around the world convened in Dubai this week, all witnessed real solutions that are now fundamentally changing the way we will live and do business. It’s a dramatic change that will touch everyone.

Digital transformation – the connection of cities, companies, and countries to the Internet – has emerged as the most transformative means to ignite sustainable growth and improve society. Those countries and companies that get ahead and embrace the digital transformation will uncover limitless possibilities to drive innovation, growth and jobs of the future.

However, only 1 in 4 leaders* say they are being sufficiently proactive about digitization. And while 75% of businesses will become digital by 2020, only 30% of digitization efforts will be successful. The number one reason companies don’t succeed? They fail to innovate or reinvent. Those that don’t will be left behind.

It is fitting that this defining moment in the future of digitization is taking place here, in the Middle East. My discussions with its leaders on the future of the digital and the global landscape have only strengthened my admiration for their visionary approach but also the speed of change that comes through aligning all government smart initiatives together under one smart-city ambition.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision for Dubai to be the ‘Smartest City in the World by 2017’ is well under way. Sensors embedded throughout the city will connect everything from utilities to urban transportation, from entertainment to energy, and from policing to politics. All of it developed to improve the lives of citizens, reduce energy consumption and to capture the potential added value of US$ 4.87 billion (AED 17.9 billion) by 2019.

Meanwhile across the rest of the Middle East, Qatar has focused its attention on implementing its ‘Smart City’ plan. Qatar unveiled its National Vision 2030 to turn Qatar into a country that listens, learns, and responds to its citizen’s daily needs, making an impact in every field: education, healthcare, energy, security, and transportation.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has also invested in Smart Cities. The country has devoted billions of dollars to build four new ‘Economic Cities’ in order to diversify and move GDP away from its overdependence on the hydrocarbon sector. The Kingdom’s Economic Cities are expected to support the creation of a knowledge economy — one that will provide KSA’s younger population with the 21st century skills required to drive the country’s vision for a truly diversified economy.

These examples and investments will not only transform how people engage with their governments and each other, but also marks the beginning of a truly digital Middle East that will create new jobs, foster innovation and help ensure global competitiveness.

Digitization is dramatically changing the world. It will affect all of our lives, and no individual, company or country will escape its impact. Partnering with Middle East business and government leaders, for example, has shown that they are embracing this opportunity and stand at the forefront of this exciting new chapter where the information age has passed and the digital age is the future.

This new phase of the Internet will bring many opportunities to revolutionize the world, as we know it, as long as leaders are ready to embrace it.

*Cisco Digital Vortex: 941 leaders, 12 countries


John Chambers

No Longer with Cisco