Dell’s merger with EMC has allowed the company to strengthen its presence in Egypt, where it established its Center of Excellence in 2009. Magued Mahmoud sits down with the Worldfolio to discuss the company’s activities in Egypt and how it is contributing to the creation of a culture of innovation.
The ICT sector over the last two years has seen impressive growth. Last year, for instance, growth was 12.5%, and its current contribution to GDP is 3.5%. What’s your current evaluation of the ICT sector in Egypt, and what are your expectations for the next 5 years?
Well, first I’ll talk about our perspective in the company. We’ve had many changes over the past couple of years with the integration between Dell and EMC. Our Center of Excellence was established back in 2009 by EMC, and since then it has been growing, but Dell didn’t have a large organization in Egypt before the integration. And that’s why we had many new stakeholders from Dell coming to check if Egypt was the right location to continue expanding. They were looking at what’s happening in the IT sector in Egypt at large, and the availability of the relevant talent pool. As a result of that, Egypt was classified as one of the “best” locations for growth globally, and that was reflected on our significant expansions over the past couple of years. Last fiscal year, we had more than 30% year on year growth in terms of headcount while adding many new functions and business units in our center in Cairo.
What’s happening in the IT sector globally now is very exciting and creates huge opportunities. The digital transformation is impacting every sector and industry, and it’s driven by new Technologies. It was clear for us that if we develop skills in these modern technologies proactively, and by working with the government and the universities to expand the relevant skills sets in the market, we can be better positioned, and we can seize the opportunity and play a bigger role in the digital transformation. So, preparing the relevant skills at scale was a key enabler for our growth and resulted in an increase of IT services exports out of Egypt.
We’ve seen many universities really leading the way in developing new technical skills; On the other hand, the government, represented by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and the Information Technology Institute (ITI), are taking many initiatives to bridge the gap between the skills developed at the universities and the latest requirements in the IT job market.
Of course, the economic reforms in the country, which started in 2016, also helped significantly in positioning Egypt in the global IT outsourcing market because the cost per head became much more attractive, especially if you look at the quality of IT professionals and their soft skills and languages capabilities.
Besides developing the IT industry and enabling more IT exports, which helps Egypt’s economy by creating more jobs and increasing the foreign direct investment, the government has been strategically positioning Information Technology at the center of the country’s development, to enable the success of many projects and initiatives across different ministries and government institutes. We are now seeing larger IT projects with the government than we have ever seen before in Egypt.
So, right now you work with 56 universities?
Yes, we partner with more than 50 universities and academic institutes in Egypt, and we also work with hundreds others across the Middle East and Africa as part of our regional role. We started this partnership back in 2009 by introducing our academic alliance program. In this program, we provided content, lab materials as well as Train the Trainers sessions about new technologies’ concepts and principles to universities professors and teaching assistants. The idea was to introduce the latest technologies in Information Storage Management, Cloud infrastructure, Data Science, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation to university students so that they have the latest required skills in the market when they graduate.
Besides this, we had many other initiatives and programs at the universities including Internships opportunities, establishing labs, jointly working on research, introducing a master’s degree in Cloud computing, delivering technology updates sessions, organizing hackathons and boot camps, as well as managing an annual regional graduation projects competition. This competition encourages many students across the region, as they compete to win awards, to have more hands-on experience on latest technologies as they prepare their graduation projects. This year, we had more than 350 graduation projects participating from 28 different countries.
In today’s very dynamic IT market, we believe that we have an important role to play in talent development, besides what the government and universities are doing. As we are well-positioned to provide access to the leading-edge technologies, and practical use cases that will enable the expansion of the relevant and ready talent pool. And with that, we can find the right skills at a sustainable cost as we grow our business, we can support our ecosystem and enable the success of IT projects in the region, as well as giving back to our community and driving human progress.
So, it’s very clear the role that the private sector is taking in maximizing the talent pool in Egypt. I would like to go back to the public sector now. The minister of communications launched an initiative called new technology leaders, in which it seems its inception will hopefully target 160,000 young Egyptians. What is important for these programs from the public sector?
That’s a great initiative as it provided access to a huge library of online courses that cover modern technologies. Many young IT professionals in Egypt benefited from this, and they had the opportunity to learn in study groups and to get proper coaching and mentoring. I think this type of program is very important as it help IT professional in developing their careers while acquiring the necessary technical and non-technical skills. It represents a big investment from the government, but this time it’s linked to performance and that gives good incentive for the individuals to put the efforts so that they can succeed in the courses. Many of our employees at Dell were interested in this program and participated over the past couple of years.
If I’m correct, the center of Excellence has the highest number of ideas per head, with 8.2 per head.
We’re very proud that we managed to create a culture of Innovation in our Center of Excellence in Egypt. Most of our employees are millennials and many of them joined as college hires. They bring a lot of energy, ambitions, ability to learn fast and to deal with modern technologies, they work naturally in teams, and can easily adapt to changes. With these great qualities, we wanted to help them to develop deep understanding of the business while also picking their brains to learn from the fresh perspectives they bring to the workplace. And as they learn about the business every day, we wanted them to challenge the status quo, and to always try to find better ways of doing things.
In 2011, we decided to introduce an innovation program which was the best platform to achieve the above, to unlock our team members’ potential while increasing their level of engagement. We defined multiple challenges and encouraged as many team members as possible to try to find ideas to addresses the challenges, and we helped them through awareness sessions, ideation sessions, getting them to work in groups, helping them in preparing the business case and develop the pitch. Two years later, the result was that we had the highest number of Innovative ideas submissions across the company coming from Egypt, which reflected the innovation culture and that our team members believed that they can make an impact and drive change. After creating this momentum of engagement, we decided to focus more on the quality and to increase the impact of the ideas. In 2015, we had 14 finalists in the global innovation competition and we won the “best in show” idea across the company. After that we took the program to the next level by focusing on the incubation of the top ideas, and also by expanding the program externally and working with customers and startups in the market.
Our success in innovation helped us be more successful with the higher level of employees’ engagements. It also changed the perception that an offshore center can only have a hub-and-spoke model, as we demonstrated that we can drive change and make impact at a global level.
Now, moving on to the future, you’ve been selected by senior executive to be one of the best locations for investment and growth. So, can you walk us through your future strategies as COE in Egypt?
First, one aspect I’d like to share is that we’re very proud that we have one of the highest levels of gender diversity in the market and in the company around the globe. We have 48% female in our center while around 80% of the jobs are technical. We believe that the foundation for our success is the people, the culture and the environment that we create. Our journey started with the selection of the right people with the skills, energy, integrity and positive attitude. After understanding very well the business and delivering the expected performance, we try to focus on innovation, process improvement, automation, analytics, and cross functional collaboration.
Our future strategy is to expand our portfolio, and lead with latest technologies, to create value and drive significant impact for our customers, team members, shareholder and community.