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Educators Embrace Digital Transformation at HCT’s 8th International Conference on Information Technology Trends – ITT 2022

The inexorable spread of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies, and their impact on all aspects of society, was scrutinized as the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) hosted its 8th International Conference on Information Technology Trends (ITT 2022), under the theme of Industry 4.0: Technology Trends & Solutions.

ITT 2022 conference delegates considered the latest applications, innovative methods & trends, fueled by disruptions from the 4th IR, that are enabling academicians, educators and innovators to adapt education delivery models, so as to empower future generations to operate successfully in a globalized economy.

Industry 4.0 encompasses the automation and data exchange in technology and processes within the manufacturing & production industries, enabled by technologies, such as IoT, Cyber-physical systems (CPS), Cloud computing & Cognitive computing, AI, Machine Learning and Blockchain.

Dr. Alex Zahavich, HCT Chief Academic Officer, opened the conference, saying it would feature a range of diverse academic research papers, which had been produced during a challenging time of economic and global challenges. The result saw HCT students being involved in the many academic projects, he noted.

He added the education and technology sectors had gone through “profound changes”, with the past 10-15 years seeing a progressive increase in knowledge growth, discovery and exchange. “We are now moving into a period of disruptive discovery. It is the very essence of disruption that advances things, moves things forward and creates better standards of living,” Dr. Zahavich said.

He noted that the knowledge growth has seen the hybrid model of delivery being embedded in the education sector and workplaces, with HCT now developing the “hyper hybrid model”, creating a visionary image of the campus of the future.

Conference keynote speaker, Prof. Samir El-Masri, Chairman of Digitalization, in his presentation Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation and the Digital Economy provided valuable insights into the extent of digitized economies in the Middle East and globally.

He noted that digital technologies, including AI, Blockchain & IoT, will generate $60 trillion by 2025, which is two-thirds of the global economy. He said this represents a significant move away from oil and gas and towards the technology sector.

“Technology is invading everywhere. We’re not just saying information technologies, we’re saying digital technologies – AI, Blockchain, Big Data, Cloud Computing, IoT – emerging digital technologies. They deal with data and wherever you have data you have a potential of digital technologies to convert your needs into a digital economy,” Prof. Samir said.

“Data is the driver, it is the backbone of a digital economy, but 96 percent of data is unstructured, but we need technology to deal with and process this unstructured data.Wherever you have data you have the opportunity to be innovative and to challenge what is currently being done,” he added.

He also noted that the UAE’s digital technology strategies had enabled it to become a leading nation in the sector, including it being placed at number 10 on the global Digital Competitiveness Index.

Prof. Samir provided a useful definition of digital transformation, which he saw as the umbrella encompassing digital technologies and economies. He said it was “the organizational change through the use of digital technologies and business models to improve performance”.

In order to facilitate the digital transformation of organizations, Prof. Samir stated there was a need to have an innovative culture and adaptive mindset in all aspects of an organization in order to the relevant capabilities, starting with the Human Resources departments to hire people with proven industry and academic experience.

In the higher education sector, Prof. Samir said universities need to build and enhance strong relationships with the industry sector and find out the market needs for new graduates. Coupled with this there needs to be opportunities for students to work and learn from the industry sector; to have real-world experience and be encouraged by industry-experienced faculty.

Prof. Kassem Saleh, Computer & Information Science Professor at Kuwait University, in his presentation Integrated Management Systems for Business Excellence in Industry 4.0, considered a number of salient points which enhance business excellence in Industry 4.0, including the challenges to overcome, and the skills needed, in order to flourish.

In terms of the challenges faced by the rise of Industry 4.0 technologies, Prof. Kassem saw revolving around data security, sensitivity, ownership, governance and privacy as being of paramount importance. He also highlighted a gap in the skillset required of graduates, as well as the needs for sustainability, resilience, and ethics in the control and use of data, in order to “survive this big wave of digital transformation”.

With respect to the skills required for Industry 4.0 operatives, he saw a marked increase, over the past five years, which now included emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility, in addition to the existing needs of critical thinking and creativity.

“With cognitive flexibility we now want our graduates to be jumping to many areas, to be open-minded and flexible. We want resilient graduates, resilient workforce that works in this very competitive environment; to also be emotionally intelligent,” he said.

He said there was a growth for students and academics to be adept at project management. “Now it is in most ABET accredited programs in Engineering they require a course in project management, because there is a need for fresh graduates with an idea about project management,” he added.

He also discussed the growth of Industry 5.0, which sees universities and society in general as integral parts of industry. “We are moving towards ‘industry and society 5.0’,” he said. This in turn will lead to an extension of Industry 4.0 with more customization and personalization in medicine, 3D printing and more.

Day 2 saw Ms. Sheila O’Hara, Global Industry Solution Center Sustainability Lead at IBM France, discuss her presentation entitled Technology Supporting the Transition to Sustainable Business Models And Practices”.

Ms. O’Hara explained how information technology plays a vital role in supporting nations deal with urgent global issues as food production, distribution & waste, air and plastics pollution, carbon emissions and the United Nations’ 17 SDGs, particularly the environmental, social and governance aspects.

“There are innovative technologies and solutions to address these issues and our mission is to turn sustainability ambitions into action and reality,” she said.

Ms. O’Hara said Big Data, AI, IoT, Blockchain and other technologies can be used across multiple industries, such as agribusiness, to tackle growing societal problems, related to food, pollution, transport, human exploitation, energy, carbon emissions and others, in more productive, efficient and faster ways.

She added that at IBM a responsible computing framework has been implemented to reduce the impact of information technology, including its digital CO2 emissions, by taking into account the ethical use of data, data privacy and security issues, the positive impacts of information technology and code optimization.

Mr. Tarek Naghaway, Managing Director of The Learning Curve Training & Consulting in Jordan, in his keynote speech discussed Digital Transformation, which he saw as a current buzz word for many, but which could be simply defined as the use of any form of technology that helps to improve, or enhance, a business or industry, which is driven by customer needs.

“Companies and organizations are transforming very quickly, as technology is moving at break-neck speed and they need to be on top of their game to follow what is happening in the tech’ world,” he said.

“Digital transformation is not just related to digitization, robotics or AI. It can be related to anything that caters for your needs as an organization. It is about employing technology to enhance you processes to become more efficient,” he added.

He noted a number of major trends of digital transformation in the higher education sector included greater collaborations between learning institutions and also with private enterprises, blended learning, open educational resources, personalized, adaptive learning platforms and smart textbooks, providing individualized learning opportunities.