The Middle East’s pace of change in progressing the digital economy has been notably quicker than most of the world. Clear strategic initiatives such as the UAE Digital Economy Strategy, Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Programme

The Middle East’s pace of change in progressing the digital economy has been notably quicker than most of the world. Clear strategic initiatives such as the UAE Digital Economy Strategy, Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Programme, to name a few, are helping establish the region as the global digital hub. And central to achieving this is the development of the regional talent pool.

The digital industry globally, and in the Middle East, is suffering from a significant skills shortage. One of the most critical elements affected by the skills-gap has been cybersecurity.

As cyberattacks become more frequent and costly, with no industry sector or geography remaining unscathed, it is clear that organisations need to focus as much on protection as they are on digital transformation. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue as it propelled the digital transition into overdrive, leaving our digital health increasingly at risk of being compromised, and cyber experts issuing stark warnings about the growing risks of cybercrime.

The latest PwC Middle East CEO Survey highlighted cyber-threats as the number one concern for Middle East CEOs – with 57 per cent of those surveyed believing that cyber risks will have a negative impact on their business. Despite cybersecurity being a top- of-mind concern for the majority of business leaders, the lack of capable talent available means organisations remain vulnerable to cyber exploits.

The issue is further compounded by the disproportionate investment committed by Middle East organisations to digitalisation over protection. It’s not that business leaders do not recognise the importance of cybersecurity. Traditionally, regional businesses have, and continue to invest heavily in cybersecurity software. The real challenge arises because technology advancement is outpacing talent development.

For real sustainable change, there must be an alignment between the government, the private sector organisations and individuals. The regional governments have been strong in their response – Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority, established in 2017, centralised the country’s cybersecurity risk management, the UAE’s National Cybersecurity Strategy 2019 laid the foundation for the cyber landscape to become better protected – as an example.

The stage has been set and the onus is now on organisations and individuals to drive the progress. Organisations must look to secure their investments in digital infrastructures, as they would any other investment. This begins at the top, and it is here where a common problem is found – only 30 per cent of executives believe their CEO provides significant cyber support. To improve this, cyber upskilling must become a part of the organisational culture, encouraging the workforce to learn and develop to collectively face the challenge.

The pace of change across the technology sector has put a strain on learning too. Traditional degrees, that span several years, can leave eager graduates with obsolete skills. With the global cybersecurity industry requiring 3.12 million more people, according to the World Economic Forum, individuals need to be encouraged to explore other avenues such as professional qualifications and practical skills-based learning to become qualified and skilled.

The pace of digital advancement will only continue to increase, so businesses and individuals must speed up their cyber-evolution too. Tactical measures on educating employees to s phishing emails, and creating general awareness about cyber-threats is not enough. Developing an organisation-wide robust cyber defence needs to go beyond this. Since the root cause is a shortage of talent, upskilling and reskilling are the most practical, achievable and impactful solutions.

The good news for both public and private sectors across the region is that training programmes can effectively provide teams with the skills to identify, manage and safeguard organisations against cyber threats.

We proactively contribute to the cyber upskilling journey of our clients using new technologies, including gamified learning and simulation-based training, that ultimately results in financial savings, increased productivity and greater peace of mind. This approach, when applied firm-wide and on a sustained basis, will truly empower organisations across the region to cyberproof their organisations in the long run.

Gavin Aspden is a PwC partner and PwC’s Academy Middle East professional development head


This article was originally published in Gulf Business


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