The Middle East Cloud Trust Problem: Cloud adoption curtailed by concerns around security and privacy

Posted by Leila Serhan

 When I am asked to sum up the most important technological developments supporting prosperity in the Middle East/North African region, of course I’ll cite growing smart device ownership, the spread of high speed wireless connectivity, and advances in data management and analytics. However, I believe that cloud computing has the greatest potential to fuel economic transformation, as it underpins mobile productivity, big data and serves as a game-changer for businesses looking to scale but who lack capital, and for public sector organizations looking to improve services during austere times. 

 Unfortunately, adoption of the cloud within the region has been somewhat restrained partly as a result of long-standing concerns about security and privacy.  I would argue that it is the responsibility of the ICT sector to assuage these concerns so that the region fully benefits from cloud technology’s remarkable promise, and that time is of the essence in terms of fostering this trust.

 In looking at the commercial sector, it’s fair to say that the success of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is absolutely critical to the region’s economy. In fact, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development they account for between half and three-quarters of all employment.  In Egypt, for example, 98% of businesses have fewer than 10 employees, according to the World Bank.

 And the cloud, arguably, has the greatest potential to impact small businesses above all others to truly catalyse growth in the region.  Effective implementation of cloud technologies creates a level playing field for business of all sizes, so that even the most fledging business can benefit from the same cloud-based software that big multinationals use – including anytime, anywhere work capabilities. This is a game-changer. Also, moving to cloud can also lift a significant burden off of smaller businesses who no longer have to waste time and resources maintaining IT infrastructure.  Further, cloud based solutions eliminate the need for capital expense, which is a huge benefit for cash-strapped businesses. 

 To illustrate this point, Boston Consulting Group research from 2014 has shown that SMEs adopting modern IT, like cloud, were rewarded with 15 percent faster revenue growth than those who didn’t. It also found that the businesses grew almost twice as fast in terms of job creation – delivering social and economic benefits to local economies in the region.

 Looking at the public sector, there is a tremendous opportunity for organisations to modernize through cloud implementation, improving services while optimizing efficiencies. With growing urban populations, the need for modernization is all the more pressing.

 The Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offer a great example of the cloud’s impact in the public sector.  Deploying Microsoft Lync, the Ministry attained productivity gains of up to 30 percent for among employees who were able to communicate via video conferencing, instant messaging and desktop sharing.  Further, municipalities across Turkey have moved the cloud to offer anytime, anywhere work capabilities for employees, and to improve communication and transparency with citizens. 

 And, yet, despite demonstrable success stories and third-party studies, trust in the cloud remains a fundamental impediment to wide-spread adoption in the region.  This is understandable.  When a company chooses a cloud service provider, they are divesting themselves of one of their most precious assets: their data.  So, concerns about security, privacy and compliance are absolutely appropriate. 

 How do I know my data is safe? Who has access to it?  Will it be exploited for advertising?  How can I best ensure I’m staying compliant with applicable privacy laws?

 These are all valid questions, and the impetus is clearly on cloud service providers to earn that trust. 

 Cloud customers deserve to know where their data resides at all times, who has access to it, and how it is used. Customers should also have peace of mind knowing their cloud service providers value the security and integrity of customers’ data as highly as their own, and work continuously to help keep them compliant with all applicable standards and regulations.

In terms of security, Microsoft offers customers five layers of security: data, application, host, network and physical.  The bottom-line: many customers, particularly SMBs, actually see markedly enhanced security moving to our cloud from on-premise as they get access to enterprise-grade security controls they otherwise would not be able to afford.

But, it must be said that earning trust is not about making bold proclamations that cannot be substantiated.  Cloud providers must be willing back up their claims with clear contractual commitments.  The onus is also on them to secure third-party validation, like the International Standards Organization, ISO / IEC 27018 which is designed to offer a single, uniform approach for protecting data saved in the cloud.

For both public and private sectors, the cloud offers tremendous promise – from  small businesses looking to scale internationally to local government looking to best serve citizens while cuttings costs.   The full potential of the cloud, however, will only be realized when people trust it. It requires a long-term commitment from cloud service providers to offer technical excellence, acknowledge that data belongs solely to the customer and offer contractual assurances. 

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