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World-class start-up gives UAE nationals the Edge...

Posted 5 May 2020 · Add Comment

Edge, a new UAE-based defence and technology company, launched in Abu Dhabi on November 5 with a suitably explosive, high-tech and high-profile reveal. Jill Stockbridge reports.

The new company is a commercial entity, wholly owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi, established to develop disruptive solutions for defence and beyond.
Its stated aim is to bring innovative technologies and services to market with greater speed and efficiency, and with a priority on national security.
It is doing this by consolidating more than 25 existing companies, including subsidiaries from the Emirates Defence Industries Company (EDIC), Emirates Advanced Investments Group (EAIG), Tawazun Holding, and other independent organisations.
The new group already employs more than 12,000 people and enjoys an annual revenue of $5 billion, offering expertise in five core clusters – platforms and systems; missiles and weapons; cyber defence; electronic warfare and intelligence; and mission support.
Edge is led by His Excellency Faisal Al Bannai, CEO and managing director, who has proven expertise in both start-up companies and emerging technologies.
Al Bannai was the founder of Axiom Telecom, a $2.2 billion company established in 1997, that is today official regional distributor for some of the most prominent electronic consumer brands in the world. He was also founder and managing director of DarkMatter Group, an international cyber security organisation.
Speaking at the Edge launch, he said: “We have consolidated these companies in order to deliver a few key objectives. One is to help the UAE achieve national sovereignty on critical defence solutions, and to be able to protect itself; two, is to be an anchor piece of the UAE’s strategy of moving to a knowledge economy, so we are ready for the last barrel of oil coming out of the country.
“We will play a pivotal role in building local capability, which will be able to bring UAE nationals into the advanced tech sector, and also attract the brightest minds from around the world.
“The third objective is to build a national organisation that can play on the world stage when it comes to advanced technology, and be an exporter in this domain. By pulling all of these companies under one roof we give it critical mass, we give it focus and we give it the ability to be able to plan much more strategically, rather than small silos or businesses.”
The component companies have been taken from a number of different entities in the emirates, either wholly government-owned or joint ventures. The goal is to accelerate the research and development of new technologies by eliminating duplication, sharing knowledge and increasing specialisation.
Al Bannai explained: “As a general philosophy, our strategy in bringing all of these companies under one roof, and by grouping them into their specialised domains, is to help the CEOs and the cluster heads to better synergise how to leverage all the capabilities we have. So, if entity A has X capability and entity B has Z capability, rather than trying to duplicate similar efforts, we look at how we can make them more specialised. The aim is to leverage everyone’s capabilities to dramatically accelerate our capability growth, and that is one of the key strategies to be implemented among the clusters.”
While Al Bannai acknowledged that procurement in the defence sector is often slow and bureaucratic, he feels that this is changing within the UAE, and even in older defence markets, due to the influence of advanced technology.
He emphasised he would be concentrating on what he can influence and finding new ways to speed development of defence technologies.
“For sure, procurement is a big hurdle globally in this industry. I think, as a country, we are determined to dramatically accelerate the decision process,” he said.
“The key is what are we going to do and what is in our hands as a company? There will be many technologies that we need to create from scratch and many that we have to develop, but we can also look to the fast-moving commercial world.
“Recently, products that are commercially available and cost less than $10,000, were bought, assembled, and used to attack one of the largest oil developments in this region [Saudi Aramco] and affect the global economy. I mention this because, as an organisation, we will be ultra-productive in finding commercial solutions already available that we can take in. We will releverage what is out there, and not reinvent things.
“The commercial world moves fast compared to the large defence industry, and we want to adopt a lot of that mind-set in how we go about developing and delivering products. We can complain about how long the customer takes to do things, but the industry itself also has to fix how it delivers its products.”
This speed and agility is something Edge values highly and hopes to benefit from, being a new company in a young country, but with some serious foundations.
Al Bannai said: “Normally, when you are a very large organisation, you have a lot of bureaucracy and red tape in terms of how you move and how you operate, especially in the defence sector. We are benefitting from having a reasonable critical mass, with the size of the business today, but it is also a newly formed group, with the mind-set of a start-up – a mind-set that is saying, we need to shape ourselves to create a new type of a defence company, a new type of advanced tech organisation.
“We are now exploring every opportunity worthy of investment. We have already formulated a good deal of our strategy and, during this year, we will press harder on these initiatives. You will shortly start hearing about a number of developments we are putting in place in the region. I can’t say exactly where we will be in a year or so from now, but we are definitely looking to dramatically grow the capability and the size of this organisation.”
Al Bannai believes that growth will happen organically and he is looking to use the synergies between the companies to increase the range of products available, and improve the group’s capability to fulfil customer requirements. Growth by acquisition or joint venture is also possible, but only if the right opportunity presents itself.
He added: “I think that, instead of a goal by itself, it really depends on how everything fits as part of our overall strategic plan, and whether it can either accelerate our capability build or really add to the performance.”
There is a major focus on expansion into the space industry in the UAE and, while not a core strategy, Al Bannai believes that there will be a natural overlap with Edge capabilities.
He said: “Today, there is a whole organisation focused on our space exploration and missions. I am sure in the future, with the technologies Edge is evolving, the capabilities it is developing, and the talent that is being built when it comes to advanced technology, there will be a lot of areas where the country will leverage multiple resources to achieve multiple goals. So, wherever there are areas that we can support that mission, wherever there are areas we are needed to help explore that, we will. These are all national goals and all of us are available to achieve capabilities that we want to achieve as a nation.”
 

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