Thursday, 9 May 2019

Thales eyes investment in Egypt’s digital infrastructure

Thales eyes investment in Egypt’s digital infrastructure: Global defence giant Thales yesterday announced the appointment of Sherif Barakat to be its new country director for Egypt. The company has a long history operating in Egypt, providing solutions in the defence, space, transportation, aerospace and security sectors. Barakat takes on the role as the company looks to expand its footprint in Egypt, especially in the digital sector. We got the chance to chat with him about the company’s work in the country and what its future plans look like.

Enterprise: How does it feel to be made Thales’ country director?

Sherif Barakat: I feel good. It’s a challenging position because we are very diversified across a lot of sectors, all of which touch the lives of ordinary Egyptians. This means we need to deliver in time with the right level of technology, safety, and security. Decision makers in a country rely on Thales. This position also makes me proud because I see that my work and the work of my team is reflected in the improved quality of living of Egyptians.

E: Tell us about Thales’ work in Egypt. What sectors is the company involved in, and what has been its greatest achievements over the years?

SB: Thales has been operating in Egypt since 1973, for over 40 years. Historically, we have had a lot of projects in defence solutions with the Defence Ministry. We also have lots of projects in the civil domain, particularly in transportation. We are very proud to cooperate with the Transport Ministry to operate infrastructure for many railway lines in Egypt, especially the Cairo-Alexandria line. This is one of the busiest in the world, carrying around 25-30 mn passengers per year. On that line, our project is to upgrade the signaling system, which reduces accidents and saves lives.

We’re also proud to have been involved since the beginning of the Cairo metro in the 1980s. Our current project is Line 3, which will take passengers directly to Cairo International Airport. Speaking of airports, we’re proud to be a historical partner of the Ministry of Social Aviation and air traffic control and management. A lot of the control towers, runways, and course simulation and training facilities in Egyptian airports use or are based on Thales technology and equipment.

We also have a historical partnership with Nilesat. Since the beginning, Nilesat used satellites built by Thales, which makes us the main provider of media broadcasting in Egypt and across the Middle East and Africa.

This could not have been possible without the talented young Egyptians who built these projects in Egypt using tech from around the world. We have around 400 young employees, engineers, technicians, and workers involved in all our projects in Egypt.

E: What are your future plans for Egypt? What sectors is Thales prioritizing and how do you see its work evolving?

SB: Digital transformation is the future of our plans and cooperation with the Egyptian government. There have been many government initiatives in the last couple of years to digitize governmental activities and utilize new technology to make the lives of Egyptian simpler and easier. There are three main technologies that will shape our presence and cooperation with the Egyptian government. The first is definitely artificial intelligence. Thales invested around EUR 7 bn in the last four years building digital transformation technology, which we hope to bring to Egypt. The second is cybersecurity, which is crucial with all the digital transformation going on. Thales is uniquely positioned to secure such a digital transformation and ensure that hacking is being prevented and data is secured. The third is big data and big data analytics. So much data is being generated with the expansion of the ‘Internet of Things’ and connectivity solutions.

AI is a hot topic globally but imagine its application in inflight entertainment, which is a unique sector where AI can play a very important role. Imagine a passenger sits down and finds everything sorted for him based on his historical utilization of movies and games and communication and internet connectivity. This complete profiling of individuals for inflight entertainment is a technology driven by Thales that we are bringing to Egypt in the near future. Another important technology we’re keen to bring to Egypt soon is autonomous trains, which will reduce the human factor in train conduction and driving. Thales has around 30K engineers globally working on R&D in this area and is therefore is uniquely positioned to tackle these technologies and make sure that they benefit real people.

E: The company has been heavily involved in Egypt’s transportation sector. Apart from AI and automation, can we expect to see more involvement in this sector in the years ahead?

SB: Absolutely, we’re committed to bringing the latest technology in transportation to Egypt and we see a lot of cooperation with the Transport Ministry. Most of the railway accidents happening in Egypt are happening in intersections, so we’re building top notch technology to avoid accidents in the intersections. We are involved in the Cairo-Alexandria main line and recently we’ve been commissioned by the government to upgrade a 180 km line from Assiut to Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. Recently we won another tender to upgrade the Cairo-Benha line. It’s shorter but one of the busiest in Egypt. So between the railways and the metro, we are already fully loaded with projects that can take us a couple of years.

E: On a personal level, what would like to achieve during your time as the company’s country manager?

SB: As an Egyptian, I am proud to bring the latest technologies to my country, upgrading infrastructure, and transportation. Reducing the number of accidents and fatalities on the railways is one of my main personal ambitions. It will mean a lot if we can make the trains safer and it will be a big milestone for my colleagues in Thales once the upgrades are complete.

E: Over the past few years, the government has been embarking on a number of economic and fiscal reforms. How have these changed the company’s approach to working in Egypt?

SB: We are aware and supportive of the government’s reforms. They’re heading in the right direction and we’ve seen positive results and signals in a very short time. The reforms encourage our level of investment and signals to us that Egypt is the right place to be and expand. To give you an example of our commitment to Egypt and appreciation of the government’s steps, in 2013, we had 20-30 employees. Currently, we have 400.

E: What are the biggest challenges facing Egyptian infrastructure?

SB: From our main domain of transportation, I think the government is on the right track, operating with big companies like Thales to ensure that the latest technologies are coming to Egypt’s railways. Keep in mind that the railway was built 100 years ago and needs constant rehabilitation and updating. The speed of this upgrade is increasing day-by-day and we’re confident that we are heading in the right direction, with huge improvements in the near future.

E: What are the main challenges that Thales has faced on infrastructure projects?

SB: We’re very well-positioned in Egypt so whenever we’re facing an obstacle, we’re helped immediately on the spot by the proper authorities. The Egyptian bureaucracy has improved a lot and things are moving much faster. The ball is in our court and we have to deliver our projects on time with the right speed, quality, and safety.

E: One of the government’s major ambitions is to attract more foreign investment into the real economy. How do you think it could do that, especially into infrastructure?

SB: It’s a good question. The investment and foreign ministries already cooperate with major international institutions, which is the right direction when it comes to European institutions and European banks. We’re seeing more and more international companies willing to invest in upgrading the infrastructure in Egypt, not only in transportation but in aviation, aerospace, and media broadcasting.

E: From an ROI perspective, which specific infrastructure sector should the private sector look to get involved in?

SB: Smart cities are an area we’re proud to cooperate with the government on. We have been involved in smart city tech across the world in Europe, MENA, Asia and Latin America. We have a lot of experience in smart cities, which we’re bringing to bear on Egypt’s new capital and new cities in Alamein and Mansoura.

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