Kuwait’s homegrown tech transformation Zain _Hamad-Al-Marzouq

Zain has always been at the forefront, fostering the adoption of technology and investing heavily in new solutions across multiple sectors.

Hamad AL MARZOUQ Chief Enterprise Business Officer ZAIN KUWAIT

Kuwait’s homegrown tech transformation

March 21, 2024

Hamad Al Marzouq, chief enterprise business officer of Zain Kuwait, talks to The Energy Year about developing tech solutions for oil and gas companies and the company’s strategic commitment to digital transformation in Kuwait. Zain Kuwait is a provider of innovative technologies and digital lifestyle communications with operations in eight markets across the Middle East and Africa.

How would you assess ongoing developments within the domestic IT sector?
Last year, the Kuwaiti government inked a strategic alliance with Google Cloud for data centre expansion. This is a landmark agreement that will streamline processes and boost the adoption of technology in the country. This partnership is just one step, as many other hyperscalers have shown interest in coming into Kuwait.
For companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, the energy industry is a top priority because it is mature and open to exploring technologies such as cloud solutions, AI, big data, and cybersecurity. The investments pumped into the digital sector will pave the way for digital transformation and further stimulate our industry.

What is Zain’s role in Kuwait’s digital transformation, particularly when it comes to offering services to K-companies?
Zain offers an extensive portfolio of solutions, including cloud computing, cybersecurity and 5G, that serve the needs of public- and private-sector institutions and the community.
We are a main enabler of Kuwait’s digital transformation and a key promoter of the Kuwait Vision 2035 agenda. Our company has always been at the forefront, fostering the adoption of technology and investing heavily in new solutions across multiple sectors.
The latest example of this is our early investment in upgrading and enhancing our network to prepare for the shift towards the 5.5G era, which will bring limitless opportunities and open new horizons for businesses and consumers alike.
We recently conducted a successful 5.5G trial on our award-winning network, becoming the first operator to achieve speeds of 10 Gbps on 5.5G in Kuwait.
Energy is the leading sector in Kuwait. Large investments are expected and Zain is the perfect technology partner for the K-companies, since they already trust us as a homegrown brand. We understand local and regional dynamics and we have solid relationships with hyperscalers, which enhances our position for delivering the innovations that the K-companies require in their highly demanding and capital-intensive sector.
In addition, we proudly own the biggest fibre network in Kuwait. 5.5G will enable us to provide clients with more bandwidth and to meet growing demand for cloud computing, AI, VR/AR and big data, and to increase connectivity in industrial settings.


Can you give us examples of your recent undertakings in the local oil and gas sector?
We have been carrying out many successful initiatives for the oil and gas sector, and a prominent example that comes to mind is utilising drones for downstream inspections. After an incident at a refinery, we were asked to explore the use of drones in areas where gases might pose a risk to human health. The trial concluded successfully, and performance specifications are now being defined. Concurrently, discussions are underway with various international entities to determine the most effective configuration.
We also provided oil and gas companies with 5G private networks to improve surveillance and security, with the main aim of speeding up response times in emergencies. As you know, refineries are very sensitive assets, and access to them is tightly restricted. Building any setup within the facilities is subject to long approvals, so we devised a simple innovative system that greatly improved security with minimal integration points. The setup worked perfectly, and the solution is completely private and remotely accessible by the client only.
These successful solutions and POCs [proofs of concept] were positively received by the K-companies and other oil and gas players. We are now moving towards testing so we can commercialise these solutions across facilities and refineries, and even expand into petrol stations.

What are the main challenges in Kuwait to the adoption of digital business models?
A common trend in the region is that companies are reluctant to adopt new technologies when the ones they have invested in become obsolete. The best way to overcome this is to link technology with services, to help companies understand that they need to delegate aspects that are not related to their core business to partners like us.
Our collaboration illustrates our capabilities. We established the network, conducted tests and developed a POC. This process highlights the complexity and time-consuming nature of developing surveillance solutions for refineries that meet security requirements. Through digitalisation, we can expedite solutions to these intricate challenges. As digital service providers, our role is to streamline and accelerate this process, ensuring efficient and effective outcomes.
The adoption of outcome-based financing business models has been slow in Kuwait, but the mindset is starting to change. The agreement between the government and Google, and penetration by other tech companies, is helping reshape the market.
The oil and gas industry is known for investing in technology, but with the government’s investment in digital infrastructure through its partnership with Google Cloud, there’s a new business model to be implemented in the country. We believe this will disrupt the market and Zain is ready to explore the new opportunities that will emerge. The key to becoming a new-era company is to be asset light. This is the strategy we have followed at Zain to make our business model sustainable in the long run.

Can you walk us through the company’s latest expansion and partnership initiatives?
In October 2021, we launched ZainTECH, which is the digital and ICT [information communications technology] arm of Zain Group. It focuses the Group’s ICT assets on developing and adopting new technologies, and it is built on four main pillars: cloud, cybersecurity, robotics and data. Through ZainTECH, we have become top-tier partners with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others in Kuwait.
Following Google Cloud’s decision to open a new cloud region in Kuwait, we adopted Anthos as our hybrid cloud management platform of choice. It is Google’s hybrid multi-cloud platform for running workloads on premises, in the cloud and at the edge.
In terms of expansion, ZainTECH has made some acquisitions in the past few years. The latest was in October 2023, when we acquired Specialized Technical Services, a leading provider of digital transformation solutions in Jordan with strong service capabilities.

How does Zain help to build a sounder business ecosystem and how do you engage with the local startup community?
Zain Great Idea (ZGI), our award-winning tech startup accelerator program, has embodied Zain’s vision to support the local startup ecosystem for over a decade. Through seven successful editions, the program has empowered, trained and invested in hundreds of creative and driven Kuwaiti and Arab youth, many of which now own thriving and active SMEs across local and regional markets. ZGI helped bring investments of nearly USD 100 million in startups. 30% of ZGI alumni now own businesses across local and regional markets, and 40% of these businesses have successfully raised capital.
In 2023, Zain signed MoUs with KFAS [Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences] and SACGC [Sabah Al Ahmad Center for Giftedness and Creativity] to join forces and help build skills in the private sector, grow R&D initiatives in technology and, ultimately, empower the local startups that form a vibrant part of the nation’s economy. Our partnerships have supported over 100 local startups so far.

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