US-based technology firm to focus on education and creating local content
Google will soon reinvest $2.5m back into the Egyptian internet ecosystem after signing a $10m deal with the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (MCIT) to promote domestic businesses in June 2009. The money raised is revenue from digital advertising and will be invested into three different streams – funding technology start-ups at angel level, digitising efforts and outreaching activities. “We want to take the physical Egypt and put it online. To digitise the libraries, the museums, artifacts and to add Arabic content,” says Wael Fakharanya, Google’s regional manager for the Middle East and North Africa.
The scheme is similar to the one in Jordan, which was introduced in December 2010. Strong government investment in education and technology in Egypt and Jordan has spurned a fertile environment for IT development and innovation in the two countries. Fakharanya says two or three other governments in the region are considering signing the same deal.
Digital advertising in the Middle East has been the fastest growing in the world, at close to 3 per cent of total advertising spending. Although still below the world average of 15 per cent, it has grown rapidly since last year when it was less than one per cent. With the region’s high mobile penetration levels, advertising on the mobile platform will soon become a valid distribution channel. “Ten per cent of traffic to Google’s search website comes from mobile internet, which is huge,” says Fakharany.
The firm is focusing on education and has established various programmes, funds and grants with universities. “We are interested in creating more Arabic content online through innovation and entrepreneurship and building relationships with the academic world,” says Fakharany. The company has a team in Cairo to liaise with universities. Google is looking to expand these ties in the region. It is already working with universities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco.
Most of these universities have also adopted Google’s cloud computing solutions, which is free for academic institutions. The trend is also reflected in the private sector. “We are seeing incredible uptake of our cloud computing services particularly among small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” says Fakharany.
Google has four offices that cater to the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, in Cairo, Dubai, Zurich and Dublin. Most of the engineering and product development takes place in the Zurich office as the resources and infrastructure are more sophisticated there.
Its engineers have localised much of its products of the Middle East market as well as developing products specific to the region’s needs including Google Ejabat – a question and answer engine and Google Ta3reeb, a transliteration tool.
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