Sunday, December 06, 2009

Manufacturing on the Rise


The quiet industrial revolution which has been transforming Oman’s manufacturing sector over the past decade will be entering the limelight at a major international conference later this week.

Organized by PEIE and held under the patronage of HE Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce and Industry, manufacturers from across the sultanate will be joining PEIE’s annual Smart Manufacturing conference - to share the secrets of success from those who have been leading the way.

The event at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on 7 December is part of PEIE’s annual outreach program and is supported by Reem Batteries, Oman Cables, Al Mudhish, Origin Oman, Business Today and Times of Oman.

Delivered by Dr. Abdullah Al Zakwani (pictured), Director, Industrial Innovation Centre, the Smart Manufacturing Conference keynote address will focus on innovation and its role in manufacturing.

“Local manufacturers have to continue being better than anybody else. Many of our customers are in Europe, Asia and the US, so we’ve got to overcome that physical separation by being better at what we do and turning the geographic disadvantage into a source of competitive advantage. Innovation plays a critical role in achieving that,” argues Al Zakwani.

Ibtisam Al Faruji, PEIE’s Marketing Director and organizer of Smart Manufacturing said: “This one-day event is an opportunity to discuss the challenges industry faces today, whether that’s accessing finance, attracting talent, exploring new export markets or changing the public’s perception of the sector. Given the state of the global economy this conference comes at an extremely important time. Indeed, it’s crucial that we continue to build upon our current position and strive to increase the sector’s productivity and international competitiveness.”

“Given that we’ve over 20 presenters from Europe, Asia and the Middle East participating we firmly believe that delegates will gain valuable insight that will make a marked difference to their businesses and help them prepare for what we expect to be a bumpy 18 months or so,” adds Al Faruji.

However, we have to be careful not to paint too black a picture and talk ourselves into something far worse than what we’ve weathered before, comments Al Faruji. “For example, orders to US factories rose in October, the sixth gain in the past seven months. This is further evidence that the manufacturing sector is beginning to recover.”

The US-based Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its manufacturing index read 53.6, slightly lower than October's 55.7. But any reading above 50 indicates growth.

Economists were especially encouraged that new orders in the ISM report jumped over 60 for the third time in the past four months. The last such streak was in 2005. Of the 17 industries surveyed, 13 reported higher orders.

“These US figures bode well for a pick-up in global economic activity. With lowered inventories, new orders will need to be filled by increasing production with eventual increases in employment. In fact, the overall picture is looking a lot more healthy,” suggests PEIE’s Marketing Director.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Monday, November 09, 2009

KOM & Royal Visit


Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) rolled out the red carpet recently when His Royal Highness the Duke of York visited Oman's flagship technology park.

The Duke of York, who was visiting KOM in his capacity as The UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, was met by His Excellency Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce & Industry and presented to key KOM Management personnel.

Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General commented: “KOM is home to 60 hi-tech firms and over 3,000 undergraduates, we've a marvellous mix of multinationals, SMEs, start-ups and students – this is a unique combination and one that can't be found on any other technology park in the region. We were very proud to welcome His Royal Highness and delighted that we were able to update him on the Park's progress.”

KOM is expanding its offer with the construction of a 40,000 square metre office facility – and according to Al Maskari, the new development represents a significant investment by the government in the sultanate's ICT sector.

“The new building is a testament to the success of KOM and the interest the Park has generated in both domestic and international ICT circles,” remarked the Park’s Director General.

Minister Maqbool held bilateral trade talks with the Duke of York and joined him in a presentation delivered by KOM and the Serious Games Institute (SGI) where both men were briefed on two high profile virtual world projects being created by a KOM – SGI team.

“Our partnership with Coventry University’s SGI involves the digitization of the new KOM building and its placement in Second Life. We're also digitizing and creating a virtual Bahla Fort. Given that the fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site the project will be of substantial value in marketing the sultanate particularly in the tourism and heritage space,” smiled Al Maskari.

Responding, The Duke of York congratulated KOM on its partnership with SGI, its expansion and success in attracting international technology firms to set-up in Oman.

Al Maskari concluded: “The Duke of York's visit was recognition of the role KOM plays in Oman's technology community. We’ve world class facilities that provide a fantastic working environment. Having His Royal Highness here is recognition of not just what’s being achieved on KOM but its contribution to Omani society at large.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Business Idea Competition

This is a copy of the speech delivered by Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat on the ocassion of the TKM - Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition Gala Dinner, held at the Muscat Grand Hyatt Hotel on the evening of Tuesday 13 October 2009.

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome you to the final of the 2009 TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition.

May I say first of all what a privilege it is to be here this evening and to speak before such a large audience of people who are changing Oman’s business community both by what you do individually and collectively.

It is now four years since Knowledge Oasis Muscat, in partnership with Ernst & Young, launched the Big Business Idea Competition. And I firmly believe it is initiatives like this that are helping introduce and spread awareness of the enterprise culture amongst the nation’s youth.

Indeed, it is clear from the quantity and quality of competition entries we receive each year that the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is flourshing in Oman.

However, the challenges we face today are by no means small. Climate change, population growth and tougher global competition require adjustments on many fronts. Moreover, the world is experiencing the worst economic slump for decades. But despite this, innovation and entrepreneurship continue to thrive in Oman and drive the nation’s economy forward.

We need people who can identify a business opportunity, find and motivate the right people, and organise the production process. And these are exactly the people you will see tonight. Innovation and entrepreneurship in action.

I cannot stress strongly enough how determined an entrepreneur has to be as the road to success is neither short nor easy, as the following global statistics reveal:

Only 1 in 6 million hi-tech business ideas become an IPO;

Venture capitalists fund fewer than 1% of the business plans they receive;

Founding CEOs of hi-tech firms typically own less than 4% after an IPO;

60% of hi-tech companies funded by VCs eventually go bankrupt; and

It takes 3 to 5 years after their IPO for most hi-tech companies to finally succeed.

Clearly, it is not easy to be a successful entrepreneur. Many will fail at some point, and you must learn to overcome heavy doses of frustration, burnout and disappointment along the way. Chances are, the problems you encounter will also be faced by others and the more people impacted, the greater the opportunity. This is how new entrepreneurial businesses are formed - by searching for problems that currently lack solutions.

All of tonight’s finalists are in their twenties – and young people have an important role in taking Oman’s enterprise culture forward. Bear in mind that Google was founded by students; Facebook was started by a student; and even Microsoft was created by Bill Gates as a student.

Today’s new economic realities and changes are profound. No one can claim to know what the future might hold. But one thing is sure. The ones who will win from the new realities will be those who see them as opportunities and not threats.

And if I could give the start-ups presenting this evening some advice it would be this:

Learn how to network;

Don’t chase money, chase opportunities; and

Don’t be afraid of failure – it’s probably your greatest teacher.

Let me end by expressing my gratitude to Ministers Maqbool bin Ali Sultan and Sheikh Abdullah Al Bakri as well as to Mr. Philip Stanton and his team at Ernst & Young for their continued support and guidance. Indeed, without this important input, we would not be here this evening.

Thank you.


Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Speed Meets for Local Buyers


The first Origin Oman Meet-the-Buyer ‘speed meeting' event for local suppliers and buyers will take place Monday 19 October at The Wave Muscat.

The event, organized by Origin Oman - the Government's think and buy local campaign - and sponsored by The Wave Muscat, will bring together over 50 organizations from the public and private sector to focus on building potentially lucrative relationships and generating new business leads. The ‘speed-meeting' format allows firms to make the most of their time at the event by meeting a wide range of prospective buyers, sellers, partners and collaborators.

Speaking about the event and the opportunities on offer to local companies, Hamida Al Balushi, Origin Oman Co-ordinator, commented: “The business networking event, using scheduled appointments with key government buyers will give local companies, from a variety of business sectors, their first opportunity to meet one-on-one with public sector purchasing directors with the potential to win meaningful business. We’re confident that many of those in attendance will develop strong business opportunities and open doors to new trading opportunities.”

This latest initiative is part of Origin Oman’s campaign to help support local businesses through the global recession, and is being held at The Wave Muscat on 19 October from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Early signs indicate that this is going to be a vibrant event, where over 16 key ministry buyers will have the opportunity to have one-to-one appointments with 35 local suppliers.

According to Al Balushi: “Local businesses have a vital role to play in our economy and Origin Oman is committed to delivering the kinds of supports and assistance which will help those enterprises thrive and endure. Meet-the-Buyer assists in this sphere and is an excellent opportunity for all concerned.”

Shatha Abass of local luxury soap and candle manufacturer, The Nejd and Meet-the-Buyer participant said: "The Origin Oman initiatives I’ve attended have exceeded my expectations ten-fold. We’re very excited about the 19 October event - being able to have face-to-face speed meets with nearly 20 government buyers is a fabulous opportunity and one that we’ll be grabbing with both hands.”

Ibtisam Al Faruji, Marketing Director for the Origin Oman campaign said: “The Meet-the- Buyer concept is proving to be very popular with both government departments and local businesses. It’ll provide excellent networking opportunities as well as enabling businesses to discover potential new markets and clients. I’m confident that the success of the event will be a result of its singular focus on bringing together like-minded companies and private sector organizations from across Oman, to foster meaningful business relationships. I fully expect us to run this type of event again in 2010.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Big Ideas Final


An SMS service, website templates and accounting software solutions make up the new ventures shortlisted for this year's TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition Final.

The TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition, the largest such competition in the region, has selected three potentially high-growth businesses, drawn from entries from around the sultanate, to compete on Tuesday 13 October at the Grand Hyatt Hotel for the prize of RO5,000 plus 12 month’s rent free office accommodation in The Knowledge Mine (TKM) business incubator based at Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM).
According to Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Marketing Director: “The three finalists are in the early stages of setting up businesses based on innovative science, technology or design.” The finalists are:

Abdullah Al Shuraiqi, Said Al Abri and Ghalab Al Abri of SMS Search Services; Hafidh Al Jufaili and Mafoud Al Jufaili of Twin Link; and Salim Al Mushaifri of Smart Accounting.

Finalist Hafidh Al Jufaili said: “I’m happy and excited about Tuesday evening’s final because it’s a dream come true. It's been fascinating to work with everyone involved in the competition. In fact, we hope to come out of the process with a budding business, so we’re feeling very positive toward the whole experience at the moment”

In the earlier rounds, entrants presented their business plans to an audience of experienced investors and consultants from leading local firms. They considered each plan based on three criteria: whether the plan identified a market opportunity that could realistically be met; whether the team offered a competitive advantage, should the plan become a business and simply, whether local investors would be prepared to invest in that company.

“Everyone involved in the competition congratulates and commends all entrants and finalists for their hard work throughout the competition process,” said Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General (pictured).

The competition already has an impressive track record for creating new ventures. Last year’s winner, Mazoon Environmental & Technical Services, which develops environmental solutions for oil spills has according to Al Maskari: “had a fantastic 12 months.” Indeed, the company’s CEO, Rayan Al Kalbani will be the master of ceremonies at Tuesday night’s gala dinner.

The environmental entrepreneur said: “The competition gave us the training to prepare a top quality business plan which has been invaluable in our search for business and the prize meant we were in a stronger equity position than would otherwise have been the case. I’m very excited about Tuesday night, it’s going to be a marvelous event.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Green Technology Seminar Big Hit


A panel of local environmental experts concluded Monday night at a Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) Digital Nation seminar that drastic changes in energy-consumption are necessary to avert a global crisis.

Energy use in business and in the home was put under the microscope by panelists from Total Alignment; Five Oceans Environmental Services; Sultan Qaboos University; Oman Botanic Garden; and Mazoon Environmental Services.

According to the panelists, climate change and the need to manage diminishing fossil fuel reserves are today two of the biggest challenges facing the planet. “In order to secure the future for ourselves and generations to follow, we must act to reduce energy consumption and substantially cut greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. It’s in this regard that renewable energy and green technology are assuming greater importance. I think that came out loud and clear during tonight’s discussions,” comments Total Alignment’s Raza Ashraf and moderator of Monday night’s Digital Nation seminar.

There is now a scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is being caused by human activity. Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, along with deforestation and land-use changes, are increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. These gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO2), are absorbing heat from the sun, causing average temperatures to rise.

“Investment in green technology is essential if our economy is to be developed for the future,” says KOM’s Director General, Mohammed Al Maskari. Adding: “I think Oman is well placed to take forward the application of green technology and critically to continue to develop a manufacturing base to support renewable energy. We have the potential and a role to play in terms of the development of wind turbines, wave and tidal energy and photovoltaics. Indeed, KOM is looking to attract companies working in these important areas.”

“I think local busineeses have a big responsibility,” says Dr. Abdullah Al Zakwani of the newly-launched Industrial Research Centre. “We speak to a lot of executives, and find that most are concerned about the impact their business is having on the environment. Many of them are interested in the economic benefits of being more energy-efficient. Over the long-term, green technology costs will become less expensive. In fact, in some cases, they’re already cheaper. Resistance to greening your business in general is temporary and futile.”

Mohammed Al Hinai (pictured) of the KOM-based business incubator program, the Knowledge Mine, said: “The most obvious benefits of renewable energy are that it is less polluting than conventional energy and won’t run out. Renewable energy can also be produced more locally. This means that it can help local and national economies by using local resources and creating jobs.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, October 04, 2009

KOM Talks Renewable Energy


Knowledge Oasis Muscat (www.kom.om) will host its quarterly Digital Nation Seminar, Monday, 7:45pm, 5 October at Muscat's Grand Hyatt Hotel, Al Afrah Ballroom.

The topic for the evening is: Renewable Energy and Green Technology. The panel line-up includes: Rayan Al Kalbani, Mazoon Environmental Services; Raza Ashraf (moderator and pictured), Total Alignment; Craig Tucker, Oman Botanic Garden; and Dr. Simon Wilson, Five Oceans Environmental Services.

We've mapped out below some of the questions the panel will be discussing.

If you'd like to attend this free-of-charge event, then e-mail your name and contact co-ordinates to: ibtisam@kom.om

What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy has been defined as “Energy flows that occur naturally and repeatedly in the environment and can be harnessed for human benefit.” Put simply, it is those forms of energy production that do not deplete the earth’s resources nor leave long-term waste products.

How much renewable energy do we use?
Globally the world uses renewable sources for about 10% of its energy. The EU average is about 7%.

What is the future potential for renewables?
Good question. When you think about it, we’ll have to have wholly sustainable energy supplies in the future, either because we’ll have used up the fossil and nuclear resources, or because we’ll recognize we can’t use them without destroying the planet. That means achieving 100% renewable energy (just like it was 200 years ago).

1.How would you persuade Oman-based people that climate change is a problem and win support for policies to tackle it?

2.You clearly accept that climate change is a major and potentially catastrophic threat. What action should we be taking to reduce this threat?

3.What are your views on the perceived ‘red tape’ surrounding the construction and implementation of renewable projects?

4.Can Oman really be powered entirely from renewable energy in the future?

5.It’s widely accepted that a challenge as great as climate change will need a combination of changes in regulation, business responsibility and consumer behaviour. What do you consider to be the most important measures / decisions we should be taking?

6.Which country’s approach do you most admire in relation to climate change?

Footnote: There’s a lot of good practice to choose from. The Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Japan, California: all provide examples of pioneering policy, whether it be in energy efficiency, working with business or in facilitating the development of renewable energy. However, if I had to pick one country, Sweden’s commitment to being fossil-fuel free by 2015 is genuinely inspiring.

7.What renewable technologies should Oman be focusing on and why?

8.Businesses across the world are nervous about making the huge investment necessary to shift to a low carbon society. What would you do to provide the right conditions for long-term investment?

9.What advice would you give to Omani companies looking to enter into the renewables market?

10.What advice would you give to a company that wanted to go carbon neutral?

Footnote: There are generally three steps involved. The first is energy efficiency, and that really should be the first on anybody's list. Second thing is to deploy renewables as widely as you can. Third, once you’ve done everything you can around energy efficiency and renewables to reduce your emissions, for example, investing in offset projects that eliminate methane emissions from landfills or agricultural waste.

11.Are offsets the last resort?

Footnote: Probably - many would describe offsets as something that if that's all you do, then it’s tantamount to green-washing.

12.Would you like to see companies having to declare their total energy and carbon footprint? If so, how would we go about this? What good would it do?

13.More and more technology companies and leaders are getting involved in the energy sector. We see Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla promoting ethanol and IBM investing heavily in green technology, for instance. How would you explain this crossover between the digital revolution and the clean-energy revolution?

Footnote: This is motivated by two issues. One is that people see a huge problem that needs a solution: growing emissions are contributing to climate change, which could have a devastating impact on many parts of the world. Two, that problem presents an enormous opportunity to innovate and develop solutions that then can make a lot of money. The amount of money in the energy sector is enormous, so even if you can only solve a small part of the problem, you can still make a lot of money.

14.What are you doing personally to reduce your carbon footprint?

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recession Breeds Start Ups


As the worst global downturn since the 1940s forces companies around the world to cut staff, more and more people are thinking about starting their own business.

Mohammed Al Maskari (pictured), Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) and organizer of the annual TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition says: “Striking out on your own in such times might seem risky but if you’re sitting on a great business idea then perhaps you should give it a go. In a downturn, competition dwindles and office space, stock and advertising become cheaper. In fact, downturns often encourage creativity. For instance, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook were all recession start-ups.”

Launched four years ago, the goal of the annual business plan competition is to encourages ground breaking innovation and problem solving – challenging Omani entrepreneurs to make a real difference through developing new markets and making a sustainable profit.

Working on developing accounting software for the finance sector; creating SMS search engines; and developing web page templates, this year’s selected finalists, will deliver five minute elevator pitches to an audience of 150 invited guests at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on October 13. “The gala dinner is always very exciting and highly entertaining,” smiles KOM’s Director General.

The winners of this year’s competition will take about six months to get their business up and running, by which time the world is expected to have climbed out of recession and consumers should have a new-found confidence. “It’s a great time to strike out with a new business,” suggests Mohammed Al Hinai, TKM Co-ordinator.

Surprisingly, a recession can provide opportunities for business start-ups. “When the recovery begins,” suggests Al Maskari, “people and companies start to spend and look for suppliers. Those new businesses that have made their names known through good marketing during the downturn will certainly be noticed."

Rayan Al Kalbani of Mazoon Environmental & Technical Services and former winner of the Big Business Idea Competition says: “It’s important to keep things simple and not to get carried away with your plans before you know they’re going to work. During the start-up phase, it can be easy to make over-optimistic forecasts, and there can be serious consequences for your business if your projections aren’t realistic.”

The young entrepreneur goes on to say: “Starting a business in an incubator like TKM is a marvelous opportunity. Since winning the competition and setting-up, the incubator staff have been amazing. They’ve arranged a series of mentor sessions for me, they’ve been brilliant.”

As far as advising local entrepreneurs, Al Maskari believes: “It’s all about getting thoughts onto paper and looking at the viability of the business idea. This is where business plan competitions like ours play such an important role.”


Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Origin Oman's Meet the Buyer


The Origin Oman campaign run by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates is working with The Wave Muscat on a Meet the Buyer event to bring local buyers and suppliers together to optimize both present and future local business opportunities.

“The Origin Oman Team is keen to support local and small businesses and where possible create tender and business opportunities, which supports the economy,” says Ibtisam Al Faruji, Origin Oman’s Marketing Director. Indeed, Origin Oman organized events have proved to be very popular with local business with survey results illustrating that 94% rate the 'buy local' events as very good or excellent and, more importantly, 63% said they had a good chance of resulting business from the events.

This latest initiative, which is being organized to help local businesses through the global recession, is being held at The Wave Muscat on 19 October from 9am to 3pm.

According to Al Faruji, the “supplier speed dating” theme - involving approximately 15 major buyers and over 25 suppliers – will offer buyers, in both the private and public sector, the chance to get in touch with local suppliers. The buyers will benefit by meeting suppliers on a one-to-one basis to increase their knowledge of what’s available locally, sourcing new suppliers for current and future projects, and being able to benchmark against existing ones. Suppliers will also benefit, by introducing their company and unique selling points to buyers face-to-face.

Al Faruji continues: “The event concept is proving very popular. Local suppliers and buyers recognize that it provides them with an excellent networking opportunity as well as enabling them to discover potential new markets, clients and suppliers. I would encourage local business and government organizations to register now, so that they can take advantage of this exciting free event. Indeed, the development of local businesses is vital to Oman’s economic future.”

“Meet the Buyer matches buyers and sellers and provides them with the ideal environment in which to do meaningful business. It’s all about saving people a valuable resource, their time,” comments Zuhair Al Zadjali (pictured), Origin Oman Co-ordinator and Meet the Buyer organizer.

“We invite the buyer and the supplier and schedule individual appointments that bring them together for 20 minute meetings. We also ensure that ‘both sides of the table’ are carefully matched by providing a detailed profile on each delegate. This maximizes the potential of each meeting,” adds Al Zadjali.

“We selected The Wave Muscat as the venue for Meet the Buyer as it offers the ideal combination of good access from across the capital, and it’s an exciting development that has excellent facilities,” smiles Al Faruji.

To participate in Meet the Buyer e-mail Zuhair@peie.om

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunshine Industry


Oman’s manufacturing industry is easy to overlook. “Perhaps we’re better known for our beaches and world-class resorts than we are for our industrial estates,” says Ibtisam Al Faruji, Marketing Director at the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE) and organizer of Oman’s annual Smart Manufacturing Conference.

Yet manufacturing brings two important things that most other sectors do not: high-paying jobs and major inward investment. “Manufacturing is the protein that feeds the Omani economy,” smiles Al Faruji.

However, the manufacturing sector right across the world has suffered since the global recession began in December 2007. The US has lost about 11% of its manufacturing jobs, while the Japanese have lost 16% of theirs. Even developing nations lost factory jobs: Brazil has suffered a 20% decline and China has experienced a 15% drop. But according to PEIE’s Marketing Director, Omani manufacturing jobs may be starting to grow again. “We’ve over 600 manufacturers based on PEIE estates and this number is expanding each year. In fact, we’ve seen substantial growth in Sohar, Rusayl and Al Buraimi. And our tenants are working in diverse areas - operating in food production, construction, pharmaceuticals, automotive spare parts, glass, textiles, through to aluminium. Indeed, a large proportion of our tenants are export-driven making them important base industries. It’s this type of industry that attract outside money. Moreover, it’s estimated that every manufacturing job brings in about 2.5 other jobs, such as retail, insurance, IT, real estate and other services.”

But what does a post-recession manufacturing sector look like? What are the growth areas and opportunities? Nasser Al Rahbi, PEIE’s Media Manager suggests future industries could include solar and renewable-energy manufacturing. He believes that Oman should have an edge because of its abundant sunshine, proximity to the growing Gulf and Indian markets and the high number of engineers graduating from Oman’s universities.

“The key”, Al Rahbi argues, “is to establish synergy, or enough companies making and researching renewables that encourage more companies to join them – creating a critical mass is really important.” He continues: “It's a question about who gets in early, about who builds a concentration. And the big difference in solar and renewables is that not every country can produce a demand like we can. Given the Gulf region’s population growth, the demand for energy and environmental concerns, we’ve a marvelous manufacturing opportunity to exploit renewables and green technology and create jobs for the future.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training is Key to Oman's Manufacturing Sector


A major skills survey of manufacturing companies has highlighted the clear link between productivity, profitability and training. There is widespread acceptance of the link between a more highly skilled workforce and improved performance, with two thirds of companies saying improving productivity was the main reason for increasing training. Manufacturers also cited the global recession and the need for higher levels of innovation as a reason for increased interest in training issues.

Held under the patronage of HE Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and led by world-renowned British manufacturing expert, Professor Steve J. Culley, Head of Design, Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bath University, the importance of skills and training to manufacturing will come under the microscope at this November’s Smart Manufacturing Conference, organized by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE).

According to Dr. Abdullah Al Zakwani of the newly-launched Industrial Innovation Centre based on PEIE’s Rusayl Industrial Estate and conference panelist: “High-level skills are needed to maintain, strengthen and sustain Oman’s manufacturing position. Unless employers and training providers work together to address this need the sultanate’s competitive advantage could be lost.”

Smart Manufacturing’s Upskilling Manufacturing: 21st Century Style panel includes: Mark Hobbs, Shaleem Petroleum; Abeer Al Jasim, Knowledge Horizon (pictured); Dr. Mohammed Al Mugheiry, The Research Council; Jody Chatterjee, Ososim; and Mark Eaton, Annis.

According to conference panellist Al Jasim: “An industry is only as good, or as bad, as the people who work in it. More people with better skills who understand manufacturing will mean a stronger industry – one that’s more competitive and able to compete in the global economy.”

The Knowledge Horizon GM went on to add: “Traditionally, manufacturing hasn't had a particularly strong dialogue with education. There has been, and there remains, a gap between what people learn in school and university about manufacturing and what they then hope to go and do in the industry. Unless manufacturers help education to understand it better as a place for young people to work in, and also take time itself to understand education better, then we're not going to give young people the relevant skills to enable them to work and fulfil their professional ambitions in this economically important sector.”

There is sound evidence to suggest that manufacturers who invest in staff training and development enjoy lower employee turnover, higher productivity and improved staff morale. “All of these elements affect a company's financial performance and can make the difference between business success and failure. However, I do question whether local manufacturers are aware of what’s on offer in the local training market,” says Salwa Al Shukaili, PEIE’s Head of Training.

Al Jasim doubts whether they do. “We need to address the hit and miss skills landscape Omani manufacturers have to navigate. There are some excellent examples of professional training programmes out there today — and there are manufacturers that are implementing world-class skills, and training providers are delivering outstanding content through quality assessors and trainers. But they’re islands of excellence. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad out there and separating the two can be daunting for the uninitiated.”

According to Shatha Abbas, Director of luxury candle and soap manufacturer, The Nejd: “Training products and services have to be driven by local manufacturers. Too many existing training programmes haven’t been developed with Oman’s industry needs in mind. This makes it even more difficult for companies to find courses and services that fit their needs. The problem isn’t that manufacturers don't want to improve through education, but they’re simply confused by what confronts them when they look for high quality training.”

PEIE’s Ibtisam Al Faruji says the fact that the conference will attract over 200 delegates is a reflection of how many manufacturers have a serious interest in skills and training. “Part of PEIE’s role is to raise awareness of manufacturing, promote Oman as a centre of industrial excellence and help its tenants achieve their commercial goals and excel in the market. In my view, PEIE’s annual Smart Manufacturing conference goes a long way towards achieving these objectives.”



Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sustainable Manufacturing - Mission Possible


Carbon-footprint reductions, design-for-manufacturing, lean and green, accessing finance, zero waste, the industry’s media image and supply chain management are all on this year’s Smart Manufacturing Conference agenda. Scheduled to be held 2 – 3 November at Muscat’s Grand Hyatt Hotel and organized by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE) the two-day event will focus on the industry's need for a multi-functional approach to sustainable manufacturing practices.

Held under the patronage of Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce & Industry, the conference will cover choices in manufacturing methods that support and sustain a renewable way of producing products and/or services that are non-polluting, conserve energy, economically sound, as well as safe for employees, communities and consumers. “In my opinion, this is an important event for any company concerned with reducing its environmental footprint and looking for the smartest and best practice way to do so,” says Mark Eaton of UK-based Annis and conference presenter.

According to PEIE management, the development and implementation of environmental policies are top of the list for many Omani manufacturers right now, but many are unsure about where to start. There is a focus on supply chain management which is facing one of its biggest challenges since motor manufacturers used the concept to force their suppliers to deliver more cheaply. A new link in the shape of the carbon footprint is exercising the business and consultancy mind, driven by political, social and cost pressures. “Climate change, global warming and carbon emissions will undoubtedly change supply chain thinking in the manufacturing sector,” comments Eaton.

Manufacturing may appear to offer the better supply chain route to achieve a reduced carbon footprint and cost savings. Not so, argues Eaton. “Some of the most advanced supply chain practitioners are in the service industry. For example, banks are leading the way in sourcing and procurement and moving to a digital supply chain. There's a saying in the trade that the lettuce you buy from the suprmarket came through a more efficient supply chain than the plasma TV screen you've got in your living room. So if Omani manufacturers want to reduce their carbon footprint then perhaps they should be looking to the service sector for ideas and inspiration.”

But according to PEIE’s Marketing Director, Ibtisam Al Faruji, the fundamental issue facing Omani manufacturers is a basic misunderstanding of the principles of sustainability. “The majority perceive sustainability to be synonymous simply with climate change, environmental protection, reducing resources and recycling. In fact sustainability is about taking these issues and challenges and turning them into business opportunities that will differentiate companies from their competitors. Those firms that are doing this are seeing real benefits, but at the moment they’re the exceptions to the rule.”

Alya Al Hosni (pictured)of the Oman Brand Management Unit, sees the environment and a host of other socio-economic issues influencing manufacturing career decisions for the next generation of Omani managers. “Today’s '20 something' generation are looking around for a career and a company they can work with and trust. I believe that manufacturers that put the environment and sustainability at the top of their agenda will attract the best talent.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Nejd Backs Smart Manufacturing


International delegates from Europe, the Middle East and Asia will converge on Oman to attend the 4th annual Smart Manufacturing Conference organized by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE).

Held under the patronage of His Excellency Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce & Industry and with the theme of 'Survive and Thrive’, this year’s conference will take place 2 – 3 November at Muscat’s Grand Hyatt Hotel. The focus of the conference is on contemporary and emerging trends, developments and problems in manufacturing.

Professor Steve J. Culley, Head of Design, Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bath University and the conference keynote speaker said: “Omani manufacturing today must adjust to the current global recession and the demanding markets facing international businesses, both large and small. I believe this important event will give delegates an unrivalled independent insight into current best practices and state-of-the-art manufacturing.”

PEIE’s Mulkie Al Hashmi and Conference Co-ordinator is equally upbeat: “We aim to help local industry in a time of economic downturn by bringing together expertise within the manufacturing environment to look at production improvements in the next decade. For example, we want to help generate new markets and expand on established communications by networking between suppliers, producers and designers. I’m looking forward to showing the delegates Oman’s industries and establishing a vital network to help local firms.”

Supported by Reem Batteries, Al Mudhish and Oman Cables, and now in its 4th year, the Smart Manufacturing Conference and is very popular with Oman’s industrial sector. “This is the conference and networking event at which to find out the answers to the key questions affecting manufacturing,” says Shatha Abbas (pictured) of local luxury candle and soap manufacturer The Nejd, adding: “The innovative two-day program not only offers a top notch keynote session and panel discussions but important networking opportunities, it’s a must attend event for companies like mine.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Park Inn Hotel Joins Origin Oman


The Park Inn Hotel has joined the Origin Oman portal (www.originoman.om) and is striving to lead by example.

Launched in September 2008, the Origin Oman campaign urges consumers as well as corporates and government agencies to buy local.

Francois Galoisy, General Manager (pictured) at the Park Inn Hotel, said: “We definitely support the Origin Oman campaign. Why buy from the other side of the world when you have quality on your doorstep? In fact, more and more people want to know where their food is coming from.”

The newly-launched hotel is sticking to the company’s responsible business principles by purchasing as much of its fresh meat and produce from local suppliers, and describes the arrangement as a win-win for everyone involved.

“If I spend my money in Oman it’s helping the local economy. From my point of view, that’s vital. It’s so important to buy local if you want to be part of the local community,” suggests Galoisy.

“It doesn’t matter how good your chef is, at the end of the day you need good produce to start off with, and locally we can get the very best. Indeed, we’re keen to work with local suppliers and they’re keen to work with us; it’s a good deal for everyone,” says Sandeep Kamal, The Park Inn’s Executive Chef.

“We’ve a wealth of good, local produce - from meat, vegetables, fish, milk, crisps, yogurt, bread, tea - the list is endless, all produced by people who care about the quality and taste of the food we eat,” remarked the Park Inn General Manager adding: “Not only does local taste better but the food is produced in an environmentally friendly way with less use of chemicals, less distance to transport the products and more emphasis on animal welfare. We need to 'think local' whenever we buy food and encourage schools, colleges, businesses and government departments to do the same.”

“The Origin Oman campaign is an excellent way of promoting what we’ve got here in the sultanate and the more we can do to support local producers the better. In my experience, hotel guests would much rather eat something with a local flavour than something they know they can eat anywhere,” smiles Galoisy.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Origin Oman's Consumer Survey Results


The National Products Campaign was re-launched in September 2008 under a new name and brand mark - Origin Oman.

Origin Oman is a think local business initiative driven by PEIE. The campaign aims to preserve and enhance the economic, human and natural vitality of Oman’s communities by promoting the importance of purchasing locally made products and services.

The Origin Oman campaign recently carried out an online and face-to-face survey with 500 Muscat-based consumers. This is what they had to say:

1. Have you heard about the Origin Oman campaign?
Yes 79.45%
No 20.55%

2. If so, where did you first hear about it?
Magazine 30.70%
Newspaper 9.77%
Radio 0.00%
Word-of-Mouth 22.33%
TV 4.65%
Other 32.56%

3. Have you seen the Origin Oman logo? (without visual prompt)
Yes 69.96%
No 30.04%

4. Do you recognize the logo? (with visual prompt)
Yes 71.65%
No 28.35%

5. Where did you first see the Origin Oman logo?
Newspaper 29.22%
Magazine 11.42%
Supermarket 10.05%
Packaging 1.83%
Other 47.49%

6. In general, do you know where the products you buy are produced/grown?
Yes 47.62%
No 7.54%
Sometimes 44.84%

7. When buying a product, do you consider the importance of whether it's locally made/grown?
Yes 52.55%
No 14.90%
Sometimes 32.50%

8. When buying a product, would a label saying Origin Oman have
A positive impact 76.82%
A negative impact 3.16%
No impact 20.55%

9. On average, how often do you buy locally made/grown products?
Weekly 60.32%
Monthly 30.54%
Yearly 3.17%
Never 3.9%

10. What stops you from buying locally made/grown products?
Lack of availability 17.37%
Don’t know what’s locally made/grown 5.67%
Too expensive8.04%
Poor packaging 14.99%
Quality is low or inconsistent 20.48%
Would rather buy a brand I trust 14.99%
Don’t see why it’s important 2.74%
Lack of information 15.72%

11. Do you think shops in Oman do enough to promote locally made/grown products?
Yes 15.42%
No 84.58%

12. Are you interested in learning more about locally made/grown products?
Very interested 43.65%
Interested 39.29%
Not interested 17.06%

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Product Design Q&A


Following on from Origin Oman's recent Product Design & Packaging Workshop - here's a 5 minute Q&A with Peter Ford of De Montfort University one of the Workshop presenters.

How has packaging evolved?

Approaches to packaging are as varied as the products they contain. The nature of packaging has to relate closely to what is being packaged, in many cases there is little need to think beyond basic protection; the packaging of potatoes for example; however this is not always the case. New materials, new processes and new analysis techniques have revolutionized the industry, for example quadroseal foil packs can be much more effective for the packaging of many products (sweets for example) than cardboard packaging. For success stories look at Quadraseal packs and of course Tetrapak.

Does packaging push up prices?

'Clever, innovative' packaging should not necessarily push up the price. Poor packaging could however lower the perceived value of the product or conversely complement or enhance the perceived value of the product; you wouldn't expect to buy Chanel No5 in a paper bag.

How packaging conscious are consumers?

The level of the packaging should always complement the product; and iPod is a clever smart piece of product design, the consumer will expect an appropriate level of packaging. There may be some occasions when the consumer is more attracted to the packaging than the product contained (a sweet dispenser for example (PEZ)), but generally speaking, if the consumer is unhappy with the product both product and packaging are wasted. However, if the packaging is poor but the consumer still purchases the product and the product is good then the packaging will simply be forgotten. The shame would be if a consumer is deterred from purchasing a good product because the packaging is poor.

Is there a 'packaging matrix' that simplifies the packaging process?

Interesting; I don't know of one other than that gained through experience, although there are a growing number of eco-tools becoming available for designers, tools that provide a checklist to a designer to map the eco/carbon footprint of their creations.

Today’s consumer is more eco-conscious and price-sensitive. How is the packaging industry adapting to this change in thinking?

It is generally seen as an opportunity rather than a threat and is giving rise to quite a growth in eco-orientated packaging. It can be seen as a marketing tool.

Packaging adds to the waste stream. How major a contributor is it?

Again I don't know to be honest but it will be a significant proportion. Further to what I said earlier, 'eco' also relates to recycling, re use and sustainability. A healthy, global approach to environmental issues will reduce waste.

Toxic materials used in packaging, despite laws restricting the use of heavy metals, add to environmental pollution. How serious is the problem?

This also relates to one of the earlier questions on environmental issues, there has to be a responsible attitude to waste management, manufacturers must be made responsible for the disposal of their goods after their usable life.

Under-packaging isn’t good but over-packaging is worse. What’s the right balance?

The right balance is the most appropriate balance of the design criteria. This will largely depend on experience and measured approach to prototyping testing and evaluation prior to a product launch.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Top 10 Local Business Ideas


An attendee at a recent Big Business Idea Competition Workshop asked us for our top 10 local business ideas for the future. This is what we came up with.

1. Mobile lifestyle centres – these can be night-spot venues or gaming centres created out of old shipping containers that can be constructed at any location across Oman complete with electricity, audio-visual and hospitality equipment. It's all about surprising and entertaining consumers with fresh, engaging experiences in what many would consider to be ‘alternative’ locations.

2. Asset sharing - With more and more opportunities for leasing and other forms of partial or temporary ownership on the rise, how about a local website that offered Oman-based consumers an extensive asset sharing scheme ranging from handbags, watches, racehorses to classic cars to helicopters, all of which would be available in shares or time-slots.

3. New life-style magazine - Even as people spend more and more time online, they still crave the comfort of the printed page. However, given time pressure, most folk need help with keeping up-to-date with the ever-increasing number of print titles. A local bi-monthly magazine that brought together the best content from lesser-known fashion and lifestyle publications from around the world, enhanced by commentary from renowned creative figures would be an excellent initiative.

4. Hour-long MP3 audio guides to Omani cities - for example, Muscat, Salalah, Sohar and Nizwa - designed to give tourists a vibrant portrayal of Oman. The hour-long tours would blend walking instructions with historic story-telling, accompanied by the signature sounds of each city. They should be made available in Arabic, English, French, German, Russian and Japanese.

5. Finding the right teacher or course - A local portal that would help people find classes taught by Oman-based teachers, trainers, tutors, instructors and coaches.

6. Kids, the web and local issues - There are government-run websites aimed at collecting feedback and generating involvement among local residents, but we don’t have any aimed directly at Oman’s youth - nationals and expatriate. Operated by ITA or KOM perhaps, the site would be geared towards kids aged between 9 and 18 living across Oman, offering them local information and getting them involved in local community issues.

7. Green pedal-power – eco-friendly taxis have been around for generations, but what about introducing free eco-taxi rides throughout the streets of Muscat? The eco-taxi would be pedal-powered - but battery-assisted, when necessary - tricycles that could accommodate three people for emissions-free transit through Muscat. They would offer short-distance travel within Muscat from 10 am to 7 pm, seven days a week. Rides on the vehicles would be free, of course, through the power of sponsorship. Vehicles would be wrapped with brand-specific colours and imagery, and drivers could also hand out leaflets, wear branded clothing or target particular areas of the capital.

8. Locally funded Cultural Cafe - Get 12,500 people to pledge a donation of RO20. The pooled amount of RO250,000 will be used to launch a platform for local creative talent – from graphic designers, to musicians and artists. A coffee shop by day and a bistro by night, the Omani Cultural Cafe would be staffed by 12 trainees from low opportunity backgrounds, who would be trained by local businesses. Oman’s Cultural Cafe's RO250,000 investors will be able to influence the venture's development through an online community developed for the project.

If the initiative doesn't work out, not much is lost, since investors don't hand over their twenty Rials until 12,499 others have agreed to do the same. If it does work, this could be a model for other civic groups to follow to get ventures off the ground without relying on government subsidies.

9. Buy local - we’ve all seen the new Origin Oman, buy local campaign. Indeed, consumers right across the globe are demanding items that are produced locally, ethically and authentically. What about a locally manufactured range of logo-free clothing items and accessories for men, women and children with the goal of creating Oman-based jobs and promoting local creative fashion talent. Everything from design, fabric manufacture to dyeing, cutting and sewing would be performed in Oman, and through a wholesale service, retailers could customize items with the colours, fabrics and formats of their choice.

10. The Green Workout Room - a gym that generates a significant portion of its own electricity through the sweat-producing efforts of its members. Fully equipped with name-brand cardio equipment, a full weight room and a room for yoga/stretching, movement and core training, The Green Workout Room would uses a combination of solar and pedal electricity for a large portion of its energy needs. The Green Workout Room would aim to use less resources than the average health club. For example, floors would be made from recycled rubber, marmoleum and eco-friendly cork flooring; billing would be paperless; and the gym’s bathrooms would use non-toxic soaps and cleaning supplies.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Friday, May 29, 2009

Origin Oman Showcases Local Fare


Think about the last meal you ate. Where did it come from? Chances are it traveled further to get to your plate than you have over the last few months. “Just take a look at the labels next time you go shopping, asparagus from Thailand, chicken from Brazil, milk from Saudi Arabia, bananas from the Philippines, lamb from New Zealand, the list goes on,” says Origin Oman’s Hamida Al Balushi and organizer of the recent 150 Kilometre Meal held at Knowledge Oasis Muscat.

Al Balushi argues that food production, distribution and consumption patterns have undergone a major transformation over the past 50 years. Just between 1968 and 2008, world food production increased by over 90%. “Today, we’ve identical products being shipped backwards and forwards with heavy environmental costs. Moreover, changes in our food systems have been a contributing factor in climate change,” suggests the Origin Oman Marketing Co-ordinator.

But It is not just business that is responsible for increased food production and distribution, consumers also play a major role in pushing up food kiometres. Research estimates that the average adult travels over 300 kilometres each year by car to shop for food. In fact, over a 12 month period studies show that even a small family of four emits 4.2 tonnes of CO2 from their house, 4.4 tonnes from their car and 8 tonnes from the production, processing, packaging and distribution of the food they eat.

But according to Al Balushi: “Consumers can make a difference by simply investigating where their food has come from and buying food that has been produced locally. In fact, Origin Oman’s 150 Kilometre Meal clearly illustrated that great tasting food is being produced right on our doorstep and we should be encouraging people to buy it.”

There are lots of places where you can source locally produced food – ranging from fruit and vegetable markets through to the large supermarket chains. Supermarkets are becoming increasingly aware of the demand for local produce. The Origin Oman campaign works closely with many of the large stores who have a policy of sourcing local produce wherever possible. “For instance, Carrefour, Lulu, Khimji Mart and Al Fair all heavily promote local produce and feature Origin Oman prominently in their stores,” smiles Al Balushi.

“Our research,” continues Al Balushi, “revealed that the interest in local food is not confined to the well-heeled, affluent and emerging young middle classes. Origin Oman found that more than 49 per cent of consumers would buy local food if it were more readily available and easy to find. This is fantastic news for Oman’s food and drink sector.”

“Organizing a high profile event like the 150 Kilometre Meal brings us into contact with a variety of people and organizations,” says Ibtisam Al Faruji, Origin Oman’s Marketing Director, adding: “Given the initiative’s’ success, we’re keen to forge closer ties with Oman’s catering sector, particularly hotels and restaurants who recognize the value of promoting local food on their menus. Indeed, we encourage hotels and restaurants to promote their local sourcing by publishing the names of local suppliers on their menus and websites.”

Oman Botanic Garden’s Dareen Matwani and 150 Kilometre Meal diner believes: “Choosing local food is a great way for consumers to increase the circulation of their Rials. By supporting local farmers today, you can help ensure that there will be farms in our community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing, tasty and abundant food.”

As local food becomes an increasingly popular concept there are signs that many producers, including farmers looking to add value to their produce for perhaps the first time, believe that creating a ‘local’ product is enough to guarantee a profitable future. Sadly, this is not so and all those working in this sector must ensure that anything ‘local’ also has quality, proper provenance, traceability and, above all, good taste. “Labeling a vegetable ‘’Omani’ and selling it through a local outlet won’t ensure that it commands a premium, unless it’s produced to the correct specifications and has quality attached. A poor specimen won’t encourage repeat sales and will tarnish the special image of local food,” warns Al Faruji.

LOCAL FOOD SIDEBAR

What are the Benefits of Buying Local Food?

More nutritious and better-quality food. It is easier to monitor quality and freshness of supplies by buying direct from farmers and producers. Fewer vitamins are lost the less time food is in transit and the quicker it reaches the plate. Chefs can see how animals are reared, produce is grown and items like cheese are made if they are produced near by.

Increases a sense of seasonality. If a chef buys ingredients that are grown locally, then it is going to be seasonal and, therefore, bought when the items are at their cheapest and in peak condition.

Good traceability. It is easier to monitor production and welfare standards with food that is produced just down the road. It's more difficult to carry out checks with farmers and suppliers across the other side of the world.

It's cheaper. The shorter the distance food travels, the lower the costs in aviation fuel and diesel.

Green. Transporting food long distances uses enormous quantities of fuel, which adds to pollution and global warming. Purchasing local foods is generally more sustainable than buying from countries where rainforests are being felled to plant crops.

Economically friendly. Supporting the local economy is advantageous to all parties.

Interesting, tasty products. Locally produced foods are more likely to be made by artisans who put a greater emphasis on producing food with flavour than large manufacturers, who are generally driven by profit.

Great marketing opportunity. Chefs and caterers can promote local sourcing on their menus. Tasty local items like hamour, lettuce, lobster and tomatoes are enticing to customers.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, May 24, 2009

KOM Showcases Omani Talent at COMEX


Five Knowledge Oasis Muscat-based companies are vying to hit the ground running in 2009 as they pitch their innovative concepts to top executives and investors at COMEX – Oman’s annual ICT exhibition.

From concepts designed to help reduce the spread of CDC H1N1 Swine Flu, to building state-of-the-art WiFi networks through to virtual worlds, serious gaming, and GIS and GPS technologies, the five companies will be “pitching technology with market disrupting potential to local and international companies attending the five-day exhibition,” remarks Mohammed Al Maskari (pictured), Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM).

“The standard of the five young Omani entrepreneurs is incredibly high and we’re very proud to be able to put these companies in front of top-tier executives and investors. I’m sure that any visitor coming along to the KOM pavilion will be impressed at our extremely vibrant and dynamic tenants,” smiles Al Maskari.

“It’s important that we spread the word about tech excellence in Oman,” comments the KOM Director General. “I can say that the talent we’ll have on show at COMEX is second to none. But we must bring together knowledge silos and develop joined-up strategies to promote the Sultanate’s ICT commercial potential. In this regard, events like COMEX play an important role,” points out Al Maskari.

Since its opening in 2003 KOM has adopted an innovative approach and a gateway policy to ensure that the Park becomes successful by attracting start-ups, early stage businesses and multinationals whose core activity is in the knowledge-based economy, science, technology, environmental, ICT and other such related activities to locate at the Park.

“In order to attract entrepreneurial initiatives with good growth potential, we developed a policy of offering flexible tenancy agreements and attractive rents for pioneering knowledge-based businesses. This allowed new initiatives that would not have previously had the means to get started with the opportunity to grow. Moreover, we assist these businesses to expand into a bigger space with equally flexible arrangements. In the process, KOM provides fledgling businesses with access to free business support to help commercialize their ideas,” remarks Al Maskari.

Alongside the business support it offers KOM nurtures innovation and enterprise in budding entrepreneurs of all ages by playing an integral role with its partners in initiatives such as The TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition.

The TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition searches the Sultanate for the brightest entrepreneurs. A RO6,000 cash prize plus an impressive business support package, including 12 months free space at TKM, KOM’s business incubator program, is offered to the winner. “Muscat Geosystems, one of the winner’s of the competition will be exhibiting at COMEX,” remarks Mohammed Al Hinai, TKM Manager. Adding: “Initiatives such as The TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition really demonstrate how KOM is encouraging and supporting enterprise in the community, going further than just creating employment opportunities.”

Since KOM opened its doors it has created an inspiring environment in which enterprise, business growth, job opportunities, education and skills initiatives are born, nurtured and allowed to flourish - turning what was barren land into a source of both employment and inspiration.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eat Local


Savour a slice of locally grown tomato and you instantly know it doesn't get any better than that. It may be harder to notice the differences between some other locally grown and shipped-in produce - carrots, onions and potatoes - but members of the Origin Oman Team, a government-run campaign dedicated to the economic, environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local say their campaign to "Think Local" goes way beyond taste.

Zuhair Al Zadjali along with Origin Oman colleagues Hamida Al Balushi, Nasser Al Rahbi and Bader Al Zadjali are co-ordinating the 26 May 150 Kilometre Meal project and he observes: “100 years ago nearly all the food we ate came from within 30 kilometres of our homes. Nowadays, we feast on the meat of the African Buffalo, or eat cheese made from the milk of the Tibetan Yak, but all this fine dining is having a huge environmental cost.”

The idea of living off locally-sourced food has fallen out of fashion only in the last few decades. But Al Zadjali says: “We’ve living in an age of any time, any place, anywhere food – this might work for telecoms but when it comes to food it’s an unsustainable way to live.”

Zuhair admits that choosing to eat from such a rigidly-defined area is a leap into the unknown for many city-dwelling Oman-based families but firmly believes that initiatives like the 150 Kilometre Meal can make a difference, as what we choose to eat is one of the few areas where we can independently reduce our carbon footprint.

People attending the 150 Kilometre Meal at Knowledge Oasis Muscat on 26 May will do so for very different reasons. Some will leave the event wanting to source 100% of their food locally while others will be saying: ‘OK, I've understood the concept. I can now cook an Oman-produced meal.’ “We're not trying to prescribe, we’re just pointing out that local produce is available and we encourage people to take advantage of it,” says Al Zadjali.

Research suggests that food grown in the community is generally picked within 24 to 48 hours of it appearing in the supermarket - it is crisp, sweet and loaded with flavour. Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to very large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could. “If you’re worried about eating bioengineered food, you can rest assured that locally grown produce was bred as nature intended,” observes Al Zadjali.

“We have to wake up to how important the carbon footprint of food is,” says Alya Al Hosni (pictured) of the Oman Brand Management Unit and confirmed diner at the May 26th event: "Individuals have real power when they act collectively. The food and beverage sector is a very competitive market, so it means that consumer choices, even at the margins, can make a difference to communities right across Oman.”

Alya believes there are a lot of win-wins out there for the 150 Kilometre Meal project: “Buying local creates jobs, develops the local supply chain, reduces our carbon footprint and creates a stronger local community spirit. By supporting local farmers today, we can help ensure that there will be farms in our community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing and abundant food, that’s got to be good for the local community,” smiles Alya.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Friday, May 15, 2009

Innovate

Listen up folk - investment isn't Oman’s scarcest resource - imagination is. What Oman’s future really depends on is innovation. Indeed, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of innovation. It drives productivity. Helps businesses improve the way products and services are made and delivered. Moreover, it reduces costs by increasing efficiency. In fact, research indicates that innovating companies sustain a higher performance and grow faster than non-innovators. However, it appears that not all Oman-based businesses are taking advantage of these competitive strengths.

Research suggests that one of the measures of innovative performance is the number of businesses that introduce new or improved products, processes or services. In this regard, Oman would appear to be lagging behind. The challenge is to improve on our performance. To be blunt, many of our businesses don’t see innovation as being relevant to them – this is probably due to the fact that they don’t understand how rapidly the world is changing. In fact, globalisation and the major advances taking place in science and technology make innovation essential to most businesses, irrespective of whether you’re operating in Nice, Northampton or Nizwa.

What Don’t You Understand?
The fact that many of our businesses don’t see innovation as relevant may also be due to the perception that innovation is just about science and technology. That’s just plain wrong. Innovation’s about anything that enables a business to improve the products and services it offers. Exploiting new technology may be one way of doing this. But it’s equally likely to come from adopting a new business process, using new management techniques or increasing the skills of your workforce. For example, one of the most potent sources of innovation is design. Design can play a catalytic role in the development process, bringing together all aspects of a business from research, through production, sales and marketing. Let’s be clear, innovation has to be for everyone, it’s just as relevant to service industries as it is to the more technology-driven parts of Oman’s economy.

Drucker...Again?
As most of you would expect, it was Peter Drucker who put innovation centre stage. A lot has been written about technological innovation, but Drucker had something else in mind - a new orientation to the concept of innovation and learning:

"Every organization - not just businesses - needs one core competence: innovation. And every organization needs a way to record and appraise its innovative performance." Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb: 1995).

On the media front, it was probably Fortune magazine that called it first in the business press:

"Innovation is the spark that makes good companies great. It's not just invention, but a style of corporate behaviour comfortable with new ideas and risk...Companies that know how to innovate don't necessarily throw money into R&D. Instead, they cultivate a new style of corporate behaviour that's comfortable with new ideas, change, risk and even failure." (March: 1997).

Simply put, and according to Mark Hobbs, GM, Shaleem Petroleum: “innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas. These ideas may be new, or simply new to your sector, industry or company. It’s a process that creates wealth from knowledge, reflecting the importance of the value of what you know.” I’d expand on Hobbs’ excellent definition to include: Innovation involves the creation of new designs, concepts and ways of doing things and their exploitation and subsequent diffusion through the rest of the economy and society. As such, defining "innovation" with precision is difficult. It can either be wide and embrace all aspects of business or it can be seen as something elitist, practiced by techies in smart offices up at Knowledge Oasis Muscat.

Its Many Interpretations
What folk need to understand is that innovation is interpreted and perceived differently, for example:

o To the business community – it means sustained or improved growth delivering higher profits for its owners and investors.

o To Bader Average – it means new and more interesting work, better skills, higher pay and importantly having a good working environment.

o To Joe Consumer – it means higher quality and better value goods, more efficient services (both public and private).

o For Oman – it’s the key to higher productivity, greater prosperity, higher standards of living and ultimately a more vibrant and flourishing domestic economy.

A survey carried out by Accenture and the Talent Foundation (Innovation - A Way of Being) showed that 61 percent of business executives believe that innovation has increased in importance since 2001. Moreover, it features in the top 10 issues list for 96 percent of all companies. Another telling statistic from the Accenture-Talent Foundation survey is that companies only commercialize 20 percent of their good ideas – now, this just isn’t good enough.

National Innovation Review (NIR)
Innovation is critical to the future success of business and wealth creation in Oman. This is a hard economic fact. Government, the private sector and education, need, therefore, to work together to create the best possible conditions for innovation in business and industry, to put innovation at the centre of corporate strategies and to covey to young people the excitement and challenges of the advances taking place today in science and technology.

We need to see government, industry, business, finance, tourism, higher education, schools and support providers come together. Such a gathering would play an important role in creating a network and co-ordinated structure that could improve the viability, growth and competitiveness of the Sultanate’s business community.

Partnerships must be encouraged, for example:

o Between businesses, using clusters and networks to pool their strengths and share best practice.

o Between businesses and universities to exploit research and provide the skilled people businesses need.

o Between government and the private sector to create the best possible conditions for innovation and provide the co-ordinated support businesses need to be able to innovate.

We need to promote strategies that focus on innovation in products, people and processes. If this could be accomplished, we’d raise productivity and higher level skills development within the economy. This in turn would lead to greater focus on:

o Business research and development – stimulating business R&D and increasing the pace of R&D commercialisation.

o Demand for higher level skills – in particular employees, who would see business innovation providing new and more interesting work, better skills and higher pay.

o Patents and Licensing – the number of patent registrations and licensing agreements is seen as a critical measure of commercialisation from the knowledge-base to industry.

Perhaps to achieve all of the above, we need to carry out a National Innovation Review – a review that would be clear and specific about where the government should invest public funds to build the infrastructure and provide the support that businesses really require. The review would help us gain an understanding of Oman’s current position and where its ambitions lie in terms of innovation. The review would examine Oman’s existing education, technology, industry, business, finance and tourism infrastructure and also consider how future investment could strengthen our ability to exploit new and emerging areas. The five cornerstones of an NIR would include:

1. Exploiting capabilities - Oman has a growing network of tertiary institutes and research centres at Sultan Qaboos University. We need to bring this innovative thinking into the workplace.

2. Collaborating to compete – we need to bring businesses together to exploit mutually advantageous innovative thinking.

3. Investing in innovation inputs - investing in the training, education and inspiration of Oman’s population.

4. Enhancing innovation culture and spreading best practice.

5. Providing business with an increasing array of 'innovation tools' e.g. finance, skills and market intelligence.

In brief, the principal aim of an NIR would be to improve living standards by promoting innovation and strengthening the economic base of the Sultanate.

Solid Background
Oman has a strong history of being down-to-earth and pragmatic. A country that sees an opportunity and grasps it. In this regard, it’s vital that we build on our many strengths, like the diversity of the people that live and work here. Over the past few years, much has been achieved on the innovation front, for example, the numerous e-Government projects rolled out by ITA – in areas such as health, education, trade (Ministry of Commerce & Industry’s One-Stop-Shop) and social affairs. PEIE’s work in establishing Knowledge Oasis Muscat, the country’s first Technology Park and base for over 65 hi-tech firms. It’s also home to a business incubator program that’s supported by Trowers & Hamlins, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Intilaaqah. In brief, there are some excellent innovative ideas being taken forward.

On a more practical-level, you’re probably wondering what you can do in your own business environment that’ll contibute to a more innovative Oman? Here’s some actionable advice:

1. Focus on making your customers' lives better. If they can't see that your innovation is going to make their education experiences better, their car hire experiences better, or their supermarket shop better, you may as well throw in the towel.

2. Encourage the dreamers, and have planners who can take the dream and put together a plan and then have executors who can make that plan a reality. Moreover, get these folk to interact and work closely together.

3. Some of the best idea people are most satisfied by seeing their ideas get out there. The really valuable ones are those who have been around the block a few times. Whatever you do, don't lose those people.

4. When you get up tomorrow morning, the first thing you should ask youself is: "Why do I believe what I believe?" Constantly examine your own assumptions.

5. We need to create a tangible new venture process inside organizations. Ideas need a home. They need a place to go. They need people to review them.

6. Do what you love to do and surround yourself with people who also love to do that thing and who are full of talent. If you do that, you’ll build a great business, you can build a big business, or you can build a small business. But be passionate about it and you’ll be innovative as a result.

The Way Forward
We need business to succeed. It’s innovative businesses that will create our national wealth - wealth for our citizens, our families and our communities. Indeed, in this global economy, Oman-based businesses must wake up to the fact that they will find it increasingly difficult to sell poorly designed, packaged and marketed products and services that just don’t cut it with increasingly-sophisticated and informed customers. Success will depend on their ability to compete by producing products and services that customers want on the basis of higher levels of knowledge and skills, new processes and ways of working. This is the route to better jobs and a more prosperous Oman.

Why is it then that many Omani firms aren’t innovative? If innovation is to succeed, lack of creativity is generally not the issue. It’s all about providing the environment, people support processes and organizational climate that stimulates and supports idea conversion. Only once we have this in place will Omani firms achieve higher innovation quotients.

Side Bars
“At KOM, innovation’s our lifeblood. To keep moving forward we need new ideas. One of the challenges that a lot of companies face is creating a culture that sustains innovation. We put aside time for free-thinking, where colleagues sit down together and talk about what we do and how we do it. That process includes everybody from customer care, maintenance, finance, marketing and communications to administration. Let people think; let people dream.” Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General KOM

“You hear managers saying: ‘give me ideas.’ Then they’ll say: ‘But I only want ideas that work.’ If we’re serious about innovation, then we need to be prepared to get things wrong. Since the only way you ever learn is by making mistakes, you have to let that happen in your organization and not punish it.” Raza Ashraf, CEO, Total Alignment.

“I know it sounds off the wall, but tension plays a role in the innovative process. I think for most people, productive days come when our backs are to the wall - that's when creativity really kicks in. If we combine tension with an environment that truly encourages us to take risks, we'll see some great ideas emerge.” Karim Rahmhtulla, CEO, Infocomm Group.

“An ecosystem of innovation has to be created in the organization, and that requires two key players: the idea person, and the internal backer. The internal backers are people who may never have an idea, but they provide the functional excellence that takes an idea, moves it on and up, and creates innovation out of it.” Mark Hobbs, GM, Shaleem Petroleum.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Monday, May 11, 2009

Origin Oman Cooks 150 Kilometre Meal


The demand for local food is on the increase. According to Origin Oman market research 68% of consumers want to buy local and 49% want to buy more local produce than they do at the moment.

“Given this demand, more local produce is going to show up on local supermarket shelves and that’s great news for farmers and consumers,” says Origin Oman’s Bader Al Zadjali.

According to Al Zadjali: “Local produce like, pomegranate, sea salt and goat sausage start out as exotic or niche offerings and then move into the mainstream based on consumer demand for variety, premium products and healthy foods.”

Organizer of Origin Oman’s 150 Kilometre Meal scheduled to be held at Knowledge Oasis Muscat on May 26, Al Zadjali and his colleagues have been studying the evolution of food popularity. "Stage one is something we see in fine dining or ethnic food," he says, adding that stage two is specialty-food-oriented retail and media channels, like the gourmet magazines we pick up in local supermarkets. Stage three finds the item in mainstream local restaurants and retail stores targeting recreational cooks and food lovers. Stage four finds such products getting general market coverage in family and women's magazines. Finally, by stage five the product would be showing up in supermarkets or on fast-food menus either as a stand-alone product, flavouring or functional food.

The key reasons driving the demand for local produce seem to be that consumers want to know more about how their food has been produced. They also care about food safety, traceability, provenance and animal welfare. “Oman-based shoppers also want freshness and to have a sense of food tasting like it should or used to do. In fact, if people made the effort even 20 per cent to eat local, it would have a huge impact on the environment, the local economy and their communities,” says Al Zadjali.

“With a season-less global marketplace at our command, it’s become easy to buy South American asparagus to go with this evening’s chicken roast” says Sami Al Asmi of the Oman Brand Management Unit. “But eating local isn't just about health,” adds Al Asmi: “The more time you spend eating really good food, your taste buds acclimatize. I recently had the greatest fillet of hamour at a local fish restaurant. It was unbelievably delicious. And it hadn’t sat on the back of a truck for three weeks, frozen.”

Al Zadjali agrees: “I always like to use the honey analogy when I talk about the taste of local food,” he says. “The bees visit the local flora. We smell the air and our senses and our taste buds are attuned, so when we buy local honey, it tastes better because we’re smelling and tasting something familiar. It's also good for allergies for the same reason.”

Al Zadjali and his Origin Oman colleagues are upbeat about the 150 Kilometre Meal initiative and the importance of sourcing produce locally. “We ran the same event last year and were overwhelmed by the response, it really captured the public’s imagination and helped us getting people to think local. It really focused their attention. I’m sure this year’s event will have the same result.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Monday, May 04, 2009

KOM's Brave New Media Talking Points

We thought you might be interested in a peek preview of some the issues that will raised at tonight's (4 May) Digital Nation Seminar:

1. Old Media is all about “push” while New Media is all about “pull”.

When you talk about the future of media we should be using words like ‘push’ and ‘pull’. The established broadcast and print media is a 'push' medium. In simple terms, that means a select group of producers decide what content is to be created, create it and then print it or push it down a pipe to an audience. The Internet on the other hand is a 'pull' medium. Nothing comes to you unless you choose it. You're in charge.”

2. The assumption of the old broadcast and print media model was that audiences were passive and uncreative but with the spread of Broadband Internet that is changing.

Take blogging for example, - the practice of keeping an online diary. What the blogging phenomenon suggests is that the traffic in ideas and cultural products isn't a one-way street. People have always been articulate and well-informed, but until now few have broken into print or broadcast. Blogging and the Internet has changed all that and given people the platform they needed.

3. Keeping secrets is another interesting media change.

If one of your products doesn’t work properly then it’s going to pop up on a blog somewhere. Today’s, consumers are better informed and have the tools at their finger tips to search for information on companies and their products. That kind of coverage doesn’t generally appear in your daily paper or on the local news, does it?

4. The other explosion has been in the use of digital photography.

For example, sites like Flickr.com allow people to upload their pictures and display them on the web. The most fascinating aspect of it is that users can attach tags to their pictures and these tags can be used to search the entire database. I looked for photographs tagged with ‘Oman’ and came up with 95,402 images. Ten years ago, those images would’ve ended up in a photo album – today, they’re on the Internet and viewed by millions. This is a perfect example of new media and it has tremendous reach.

We’re witnessing a remarkable change – the creation of news is being driven bottom-up rather than top-down and it’s the power and reach of the Internet that’s doing that.

5. What’s the difference between New and Traditional Media?

I see a couple of differences between New Media (that collection of network-based, computer chip-enabled electronic communication tools) and traditional media (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.).

The first is that communication is no longer one way. Sure, we had letters to the editor and in North America you could have your own public access television show, but for the average media consumer, there was no real chance of being heard before New Media. That’s definitely new for most of us.

Secondly, the time compression is phenomenal. For example, magazine editors would spend a month doing the work it takes to put out the publication and then wait two weeks for printing and shipping before anyone could even read their work. Today, you post it online and you get an immediate reaction. Being able to be heard quickly by people who are communicating with you is what sets New Media apart from traditional print and broadcast media.

6. What’s New Media got over traditional print and broadcst media? I think truly crucial is the combination of:

(a) universal access to simple publishing tools (meaming anyone can ‘publish’ content – blogs, flickr, facebook, YouTube, etc); and

(b) powerful social bookmarking and aggregation services - meaning anyone can be be heard if they publish something of interest and value.

7. Where are the New Media trends?

The answer lies within the Internet and people’s desire for fresh entertainment! Networking and video-sharing websites are the biggest thing happening within the web. These internet phenomenons have bet set-up to target consumer groups such as students and other young adults. Networking website like Myspace and Facebook have caught people’s attention day after day. From custom options to user programmed applications, these profile sites are where the audiance gather and share interesting entertainment, the latest trends and other media.

8. Let’s put things in perspective, shall we?

The Digital Dividend Organisation notes that there are more telephones in New York City than in all of rural Asia, and as much as 80% of the world's population has never made a phone call. The net connects over 100 million computers, but that represents less than 2% of the world's population.' (Caslon Analytics) From these statistics, it is clear that most of the world is being left behind, while 2% of the population slowly gains complete technological power.

9. What is the role of New Media in advancing social goals and economic development in developing countries?

Examples in developing countries include the use of cell phones by Kenyan farmers to market crops, the Internet as a job-finding tool for slum dwellers in India, educational radio soap operas for tribal communities in Afghanistan and social networking support for goods distribution in rural China.

10. What could we be doing in Oman to leverage the power and reach of New Media?

Come along to the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 7:30pm on Monday 4 May and let's us know what you think!

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE