Connected MENA speaks with Tariq UrRahman

April 1, 2021 0 Comments

Tariq has over 15 years of experience in data design, analytics, and business intelligence. He has provided insights that have enabled senior executives in companies such as Samsung, LG, and Uber to make superior strategic decisions.

With advanced expertise in the architecture and implementation of data strategy frameworks, he adds value through rigorous analysis, audience segmentation, marketing attribution, A/B testing, and data visualization.

As a leader of teams of data analytics and engineering specialists, he influences senior management through data-driven approaches that enable companies to address fundamental business issues. Through advanced communication skills, he presents complex information to senior stakeholders with varying levels of technical backgrounds to ensure that they are able to take the necessary action.

Intro about yourself – what bought you to the UAE and one fun fact about yourself.

My parents moved to the UAE shortly after I was born. I’ve been in Dubai for most of my life so I have enjoyed a front-row seat to the city’s transformation and growth over nearly four decades.

Fun fact: I’m working on a fantasy novel in my free time, which I plan to self publish on Amazon. If I ever finish it, haha.

Can you tell me a bit about the evolution of digital in this region, seeing that you have been here for over 10 years and seen it first hand?

My first job in the UAE (way back in 2006) was in digital. Ecommerce was still in its infancy – there were a handful of innovative players like Souq.com but most companies were yet to invest in digital. Ecommerce was generally considered a big risk due to the barriers of entry (and associated costs). The majority of consumers still made purchases in-store and offline, however, the appetite was always there.

Of course, things changed dramatically over time with names such as Rocket Internet and finally Amazon entering the market. Today, almost all of Dubai’s services are digital – whether it’s applying for a residency visa across its various stages or even parking fines – everything can be done from a mobile device.

We are fast moving into a digital-first landscape where on-demand availability and hyper-personalization are the prerequisites for any serious online experience.

Where do you see potential growth in this region in terms of digital and tech?

The future is promising; the UAE has more than 100% smartphone penetration and over 70% social-media adoption – these figures are higher than the United States, as a comparison.

However, the opportunities are still rife for businesses and governments to fully embrace a digital future. To do so, it’s crucial to:

  • Nurture a thriving environment for innovation and adoption of essential technologies, especially business automation, data enrichment, and machine learning.
  • Scale the amount of funding (VC or otherwise) available to start-ups and innovators
  • Increase the share of the workforce working in digital careers and industries
  • Attract and retain exceptional talent / skilled specialists in the region

These would ensure the right ecosystem to spur even greater investment in digital in the region and pave the way forward for more innovative technologies.

In your opinion, would you say there are enough faith and buy-in from the decision-makers in digital and tech?

It depends. There has been a lot achieved in the past few years with many businesses realizing the value of data-driven insights, but I would say that there’s still a lot of groundwork to be covered. Digital transformation is not just a technical exercise – it requires people, processes, and culture changes to be successful. 

Post-Covid, many brands are embracing digital in an attempt to remain relevant. But this needs to be more than just a stop-gap exercise; a comprehensive digital strategy is essential for organizations to empower their teams to make decisions based on data. This is true whether you are a multinational corporation or even a small business.

How do you think Covid-19 has impacted most brands’ plans for digital growth?

If anything, brands have had to accelerate their plans for growth. E-Commerce budgets are at an all-time high. Ironically, the pandemic has proven just how important it is to be digitally versatile; we’ve seen supermarket chains and retail outlets roll out online delivery options almost overnight.

Digital marketing budgets that were once difficult to sign off before the pandemic are now being accepted as the norm!

What impacts did it have on agencies here in the UAE? Do you think this will rebound anytime soon?

The past few months have been brutal for a lot of business sectors, especially aviation, travel, and entertainment.

Agencies have also felt the heat, as we are ultimately tied to the bottom-line of our clients – reduced (or entirely slashed) budgets have definitely become more common. It’s not all gloom and doom, however, as several segments have actually seen additional investment, especially eCommerce and retail brands. Many clients have also utilized this ‘down-time’ to focus on digital initiatives they had put off for a while, such as auditing their analytics/measurement capabilities as well as planning rebuilds of their paid media accounts with a more optimal and sustainable footprint.

Several clients are already getting back on track, with digital spends increasing over the last quarter of the year. We expect 2021 to be a growth year.

What are some unique skillsets you look for when hiring someone?

Problem-solving skills are at the top of my list, as well as my overall attitude and eagerness to learn. At Jellyfish, we greatly value learning – so much so that we’ve actually built a big part of our business around it.

Technical skills can be taught, but strong behavioral traits are harder to come by – positivity, the ability to simplify and communicate complex concepts and willingness to continuously upskill and “be the solution” are some of the best indicators of success we look at.

How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization/team?

We do this in several ways – we provide employees with a LOT of training opportunities, give them access to the best tools and technologies to do their jobs as well as our own internal knowledge base of client case studies from Jellyfish offices globally.

Most importantly, we don’t stifle our talent – we let them come forth with their own ideas and encourage building a forum around creative solutions and best practices. With more than 2000 experts around the world, the ideas never stop coming.

What are the biggest challenges facing leaders in the region today with the “new normal”?

The most important ones in my opinion are:

Communication

With the shift to working from home, both employees and employers are in uncharted territory. Effective performance measurement, management, and accountability are big concerns and they are all hugely reliant upon effective communication. Uncertainty can breed fear and confusion. 

Being available (and visible) to your team members is hugely important, as is frequent conversations, feedback, and transparency regarding the situation as it evolves.

Empathy and team spirit

A leader’s first priority is to take care of the team. It’s crucial to acknowledge that people are focused on caring for loved ones, managing children who are no longer in school, stocking up on necessities, and trying to remain safe and healthy, all while doing their jobs. It requires patience, empathy, and flexibility from everyone involved.

It’s also easy to feel isolated and left out while working remotely, especially if teams haven’t physically met each other for a while. Keeping everyone “in-the-loop” and aware of the big picture helps bridge this gap. A weekly team activity session can also help employees reconnect and improve overall team spirit.

Being ready for change

Organizations need to anticipate what’s next. In this critical time, it’s essential to reevaluate priorities, shift resources, and track progress on a day-to-day basis. Even after this crisis ends, it’s unlikely that things will revert back exactly to the way it was before the pandemic, so it’s important to be agile, flexible and ready for what the future may bring.

What qualities do you think would make an organization more attractive to digital talent looking to move to the MENA region?

I can highlight a few things which I personally value:

A culture of self-empowerment and constant learning

We need to think beyond just monetary benefits. A nourishing culture is absolutely essential to attract and retain top talent. 

Being measured on outcomes, not hours

It is important to motivate employees to deliver real value, instead of counting the hours they spent at work.

A clear progression path, as well as tools to self-evaluate

Every employee should have a vision of where they want to be in the future. Sometimes, it’s not clear what that path looks like within an organization, so a structured grade/seniority ladder can be a powerful tool.

You may be currently at “Grade 3” so how do you progress to “Grade 4” within your specialism? There should be tools that allow you to self-evaluate yourself before you apply for that promotion. We have a similar system here at Jellyfish.

Being given a ‘voice’ inside an organization

There is nothing more gratifying than having your concerns heard and brought to the table. It can be a creative idea, suggestion, or simply feedback – without continuous feedback, improvement is impossible.

A flexible “work from anywhere” policy

The current crisis has forced the world into long-term work from home situation, but we should consider what the policy should look like in a post-pandemic world.

It should allow enough flexibility to work from anywhere (not just home) while also making sure employees are able to maintain essential facetime and touch base regularly with clients and team members. A blended approach with a flexible remote work allowance could be a good solution.

Abdul-Rahman Risilia ARC Talent +971 50 535 1536 email