People power: how digital is transforming workforces in MENA's public sector

The public sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is at the forefront of innovation and is driving forward on major digital transformation initiatives. In recent years, the region has experienced, and overcome, a number of socioeconomic and political challenges, placing added pressure on public sector and government bodies. A large public-sector workforce base requires a lot of management, and systems and ways of working need to meet project needs. What is MENA doing to transform its public sector and workforce?

State of play today

In many MENA countries, the public sector is the largest employer: public sector bodies employ between 14% and 40% of workers across the region, with government job wages comprising 9.8% of GDP and the ratio of public to private-sector workers at 1.3. Both these figures are higher than in other regions around the world.

Public sector jobs have long been attractive to job seekers in MENA, as they carry the prestige of working for your country and contributing to everybody’s overall success. An estimated two-thirds of young Gulf Arabs still look to governments for jobs. Why is this? There is a pride involved, and furthermore, public sector jobs offer benefits like good, reliable wages, high job security and low risk of dismissal.

There are challenges to be overcome in MENA’s public sector, however: workforce transformation is needed to keep up with the rapid rate of growth in the region, and that means new skills and tools to help employees work more productively. Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government is at the cutting edge of innovation and has ambitious projects underway, and this, too, carries challenges with it. It is essentially the price of being a trailblazer, the UAE government’s digital ambitions are so high that the public sector workforce needs to be as enabled as possible to continue achieving them.

There are many other exciting, ambitious projects underway across the MENA region: from Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity Neom to Kuwait's plan to create eco-friendly Saad Al-Abdullah to Qatar's goal of making Lusail the first smart city under Project Qatar 2020. With these in mind, how can MENA's public sector ensure workers are engaged and productive?

What influences can MENA's public sector draw on?

It is my view that public sector organizations across MENA can continue to benefit by replicating the thinking of private-sector companies and take a digital-first approach to enabling public-sector workforces. Employees who are organized into self-managing teams, under the umbrella of digital transformation, tend to be more engaged; and because of it, they are better equipped, better trained and better able to deliver on major projects.

Collaboration is a central pillar of worker engagement, and it is an area where MENA’s public sector can benefit. It can help both in terms of collaboration between project teams and workers and also in how the public sector works with third-party private-sector partners. MENA is currently home to several smart city initiatives, and these projects cannot be delivered without collaboration in the form of public-private partnerships that deliver external expertise, for example.

Collaboration between employees in public-sector workplaces can also bring significant advantages. Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools, typically comprising voice, IP telephony, instant messaging, desktop sharing and presence, plus web, audio and video conferencing, drive engagement and higher productivity between office and non-office-based workers and project teams. They can also help public sector workers develop new skills and learn from colleagues, creating a net benefit of an upskilled organization in general. In addition, they have a short learning curve thanks to employees' familiarity with the UC&C tools – they are very much like the apps those workers use in their personal lives for social media, instant messaging, and so on.

A Deloitte survey of European private sector workers found workers are 20% more satisfied with workplace culture when they have access to collaboration tools that empower them to work in teams. In the same survey, workers also said they are 34% happier with their workplace when collaboration is encouraged. Public-sector organizations should emulate this approach: UC&C tools are ideal for public-sector organizations in MENA, where project teams are often geographically scattered and productivity can be enhanced.

The role, and rise, of co-innovation

If public-sector bodies and employees find they lack particular skills to progress projects efficiently, the right partners can help. Co-innovation is a philosophy that Orange practices and an approach that is designed to help companies draw on a diverse ecosystem of expertise. Ecosystems can comprise start-ups, established technology companies of various disciplines, and in the case of MENA's public sector, other government bodies and teams within the same public-sector entity. The intention is to bring fresh, new ideas to fill in any knowledge and skills gaps in the project team and drive successful outcomes, faster.

For example, MENA governments that co-innovate in ecosystems with the right types of partners will be able to drive enhanced digital services for their own citizens. They can also further increase synergies between their government agencies by using innovative technologies and co-innovation projects. The result is a more productive organization, more engaged employees (who are more satisfied in their jobs), and ultimately, an enhanced digital experience for citizens.

Forward-thinking

Digital can provide the tools and the thinking that can help MENA public-sector organizations get workers more engaged and make projects even more successful. But they are just enablers. To keep workers more engaged, you must foster a continuous culture of engagement, collaboration and innovation. If you do, your fully-engaged employees working in teams will drive higher productivity, successful projects and business benefits.

Arthur Mickoleit, Senior Principal Analyst for Digital Government at Gartner, says of the MENA region, “Agile by design, collaborative innovation, citizen experience management – these are things that governments in the Middle East are putting money and human resources into, as opposed to just technology development.” Engaged workers, encouraged and powered by digital thinking and tools, can help MENA public-sector bodies be best placed to continue succeeding on ambitious, major projects.

In my next blog, I will talk about how effectively running a smart city requires the right planning, strategy and partners in place – the right ecosystem.

If you would like to talk about the topics covered in this blog or anything else to do with digital transformation in MENA, please contact me at: sahem.azzam@orange.com.

Read more about how Orange Business Services is helping organizations with their collaboration and co-innovation efforts and how to think differently.

Sahem Azzam
Sahem Azzam

Sahem Azzam is VP Middle East & Africa at Orange Business Services. He is an experienced senior business leader with extensive experience in the Middle East region and emerging markets and a strong track record of achievement in the information technology and services industry. Sahem has developed special interest and expertise in business and sales management leadership, partner management, go-to-market strategy development, infrastructure services, IoT, Big Data, Smart Cities, Blockchain and IT service management.