Browsing 'ictqatar' News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

European Parliament/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s private sector remains relatively low-tech, despite government efforts to make businesses more innovative and entrepreneurial, a new report has found.

Many business leaders here said they see no need to establish an online presence in the form of a website or social media, or use software to help them manage payroll or employee work hours, according to the Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2016 report.

The survey, released by Qatar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, found that only 34 percent of business establishments have their own website.

An additional 5 percent have some other form of web presence, such as a Facebook or LinkedIn page, it added.

Missing out

Even though more people in Qatar are getting online, the ministry said business web presence figures have remained virtually unchanged since 2012.

However, there are significant benefits to getting online, the report said:

“Online presence provides business establishments a virtual 24-hour information center and an online showroom. Potential customers can research the product or service anytime, anywhere.

Online presence also … (helps) businesses build a credible brand, provide quality and timely customer service, and receive customer feedback.”

Larger companies in Qatar are more likely to be online, the study found.

Some 55 percent of local companies that have more than 10 employees have some form of web presence, according to the ministry.

By that measurement, Qatar ranks favorably against some countries in the region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, 48 percent of similarly-sized firms have a web presence.

However, Qatar lags far behind the UAE, where the comparable figure is 75 percent.

Qatar needs ICT

Much of the ministry’s report focuses on the performance of Qatar’s ICT industry, which it broadly defines as including any company that designs, manufactures, installs, maintains or sells information and communications technology.

It’s an important topic for Qatar, which is counting on an emerging technology sector to help diversify its economy away from oil and gas.

According to the National Development Strategy, “key economic sectors (must) use ICT innovatively and provide the people and businesses of Qatar with the skills and awareness needed to fully participate in the digital society.”

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Mohamed Nanabhay/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

By some measurements, Qatar is on the right path.

The ministry’s report states the the number of ICT professionals in Qatar is growing and reached 35,500 individuals in 2015, up from 26,900. That represents 3 percent of the people employed in the country’s “business establishments.”

To put that number in context, there were some 150,200 ICT professionals working in Singapore in 2014, representing roughly 4 percent of the southeast Asian country’s workforce, the report said.

Much of the sector’s growth is being driven by government spending, with more than four out of every five ICT companies saying they’ve worked on at least one public-sector project between 2012 and 2014.

Challenges

Despite strides made, the growth of Qatar’s ICT industry is stunted by low spending on R&D, which is hindering innovation, the report said.

Specifically, among ICT enterprises in Qatar, only 10 percent said that they invested in R&D activities in 2014.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

projectexploration/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And ICT business leaders told the government surveyors that they face several challenges in starting and growing their companies.

Some hurdles, such as the complexities of the country’s sponsorship system, are common across various business sectors.

“Finding a specialized employee with niche technical skills is not easy in Qatar. At the same time, it is difficult to source someone from outside the country due to the visa regulations,” a representative of a mid-sized multinational ICT enterprise in Qatar, was quoted as saying.

However, there are also issues unique to the ICT sector, such as difficulty importing equipment.

“Customs formalities are difficult to understand and follow. In addition, it also takes weeks to get clearance for the imported products in most cases. Because of these import issues, we always budget an extra 10 days to deliver the products to the customers,” another industry representative said.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

FutUndBeidl/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

With reporting from Chantelle D’mello and Heba Fahmy

Shopping online and receiving packages from Qatar merchants at home is expected to become easier once a new strategy aimed at increasing e-commerce in the nation takes effect.

The policy, announced today, involves permitting private courier companies to compete against state-owned Qatar Post to deliver parcels within the country.

Currently, major companies such as DHL, FedEx and Aramex are permitted to deliver goods to Qatar residents from outside the country, but cannot legally deliver from one Qatar address to another.

Dr. Hessa Al Jaber

IctQatar/Flickr

Dr. Hessa Al Jaber

This makes it difficult for startups and entrepreneurs in Qatar to reach their customers. Some work around the present restrictions by using private drivers whose primary business in transporting passengers.

Others use Qatar Post, but officials say the services offered by the company are currently unaffordable for some small businesses who do not ship large volumes of merchandise.

Speaking at Qatar’s e-Commerce Forum this morning, Dr. Hessa Al-Jaber – the country’s minister of information and communications technology – said adding more delivery options will help spur more e-commerce businesses:

“We will liberate the postal market and open it to competition,” she said during her speech. She did not mention a timeline for the implementation of the policy.

Challenges

In addition to providing shoppers and merchants with more professional delivery service options, it’s hoped that opening the courier market up to more competition will also reduce costs.

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

This is one of the challenges facing some local entrepreneurs, such as Buthaina Al Zaman, the founder of apparel firm Bothayna Designs.

She told Doha News that she often uses private drivers who typically charge QR30 to QR40 for a delivery within Doha. But if one of her customers lives outside the city, the delivery charge can run up to QR70 – almost as much as the cost of the clothing itself.

“That’s a lot to pay,” she said. “A lot of people are complaining about the prices.”

Qatar’s e-commerce consumer market is already valued at US$1.02 billion, some 40 percent of which comes from airline tickets and electronics, according to ictQatar.

The average resident spends $3,453 annually, which is the highest in the MENA region, the ministry added.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Supplied

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the government said the sector remains underdeveloped. It added that shopping online is a way to give consumers more flexibility and choice in the marketplace while enabling businesses to more efficiently bring goods to customers.

In addition to the hurdles currently involved in shipping physical goods, ictQatar said it wants to make it easier for consumers to pay for their purchases electronically and wean residents off their preference for in-person payments.

“Most people prefer using cash,” Al-Jaber said. She added that another stumbling block is that there are currently restrictions on using debit cards online.

Two years ago, Qatar Central Bank (QCB) closed a loophole in the country’s online shopping rules by reminding financial institutions that all transactions requires customers to enter a PIN code. This effectively banned the use debit cards for online shopping, but did not affect credit card transactions.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Neil Turner/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As an alternative, merchants who want to accept online debit card payments can enroll in QCB’s payment gateway, QPAY, which has a feature that allows customers to enter their PIN through an encrypted platform.

However, in its roadmap document, ictQatar said setting up an e-payment system remains a “costly and complex process.”

IctQatar wants new legislation to be introduced to regulate e-payments, with the goal of simplifying regulatory requirements and reducing fees.

Small business ‘gray-market’

There is also recognition that Qatar’s current business registration rules are impractical for many digital entrepreneurs who, for example, lack the formal office space or large financial reserves that are technically required to start a new business.

“Qatar hosts a significant number of ‘gray-market’ e-commerce enterprises that predominately use social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest to market their products. These enterprises are typically home-based and do not have a company registration, and thus operate outside the country’s legal, commerce context,” the Qatar National E-Commerce Roadmap 2015 said.

IctQatar did not offer any specific examples of how it would reduce the regulatory burden on e-commerce companies, but an official from Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce suggested the department is working to reduce paperwork requirements and cut red tape.

Speaking at the forum today, Yahya bin Saeed Al Nuaimi, assistant undersecretary for the MEC’s Commerce Affairs, said it now takes about an hour to register a new business in Qatar.

Thoughts?

For illustrative use only

Video still via ictQatar

For illustrative purposes only,

Qatar’s telecoms regulator has pledged to take stricter action against companies that bombard residents with unwanted marketing messages, amid ongoing complaints about spam on mobile phones.

The Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) is drafting a code of conduct that it said would beef up existing guidelines for companies that use text/SMS messages and applications such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype to reach customers.

This new code is still in the early stages of being drawn up and will take input from consumers and industry representatives before it is finalized, a CRA spokesman said.

The watchdog hopes to create a more rigorous set of rules for companies to follow, including introducing “compliance measures,” the CRA official added, although he did not comment on whether penalties would be involved.

Mobile spam has long been a source of ire for residents. In 2011, Ooredoo (then Qtel) began a spam-blocking service and at the time said businesses could face sanctions for spamming customers.

Mobile spam

Matthew Walker

Mobile spam

Then in 2013, it launched a feature on its mobile app that allows users to block senders by phone number or company name, although in the initial stages, it met with mixed success.

While the service blocked some senders, it did not stop new senders from contacting would-be customers.

Also that year, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar) put guidelines in place outlining what types of messages can be sent to an individual without their explicit consent. Under those rules, permission is still required even if the recipient has a publicly-available telephone number.

However, these provisions only pertain to messages sent by SMS and email, and they are not currently enforceable with penalties.

https://twitter.com/naqvi_aqib/status/595896949447884801

The CRA was established last April under Emiri Decree as an independent regulatory arm of ictQatar and is responsible for telecoms, access to digital media and the postal service.

Its remit is to enforce the Advertising, Marketing and Branding Code, introduced September, as a means of improving transparency in telecom marketing campaigns.

In its latest statement, the CRA said it is monitoring the level of complaints about mobile spam, and is looking at bringing in “additional mechanisms and regulatory enforcements that will further clarify the use of telecoms services.”

Blocking spam

The CRA said that it is in talks with Qatar’s two telecoms service providers to address the issue. Until it can roll out what it describes as “stringent measures,” the watchdog has reminded residents how they can stop spam messages.

Oooredoo customers can block numbers by doing the following:

  • Text “Unsub ServiceName” to 92600 or if you want to stop all bulk SMS senders, just send “Unsub all” to 92600;
  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Ooredoo’s mobile app.
  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Ooredoo’s helpline (111) or website.
  • Report cases via social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Vodafone customers who receive spam and scam messages can:

  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Vodafone’s helpline (111) or website.
  • Report cases via social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Residents receiving spam via Skype, Viber or WhatsApp are advised to report and block the offenders using the app. Repeat offenders can be blocked by contacting the service provider, CRA said.

Ooredoo has previously warned customers against giving out their mobile numbers in stores or when filling out questionnaires, which it said is a sure-fire way of getting added to mobile marketing lists.

“Customers go shopping, and when the cashier asks to fill in a form to either sign up for their loyalty program, be notified of discounts, add a phone number and email to account right before payment, customers give their mobile number.

If the retailer is part of a large chain, that number is then passed on to all their retailers. This is one of the primary ways customers end up getting Spam SMS from these companies,” a company spokesperson previously told Doha News.

Do you receive lots of spam messages? Thoughts?