Cisco VP highlights need for inclusivity when entering the 4IR
As the global health crisis slowly subsides, one cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic forced a brave new world onto all of us. Pandemic-infused conundrums have evolved from mere debates between both people and companies, are now being actionably championed by those looking to thrive within the fourth industrial revolution.
The future of work, digital transformation, cybersecurity, smart cities, privacy, and everything in between have been thrown into the limelight, as the decisions and regulations taken today will affect our relationship with tech for generations to come.
To everyone, it’s considered a whole new world of opportunity where organizations of all walks of life have been forced to convert to digital, not only to remain adaptable to the winds of change of technology, but to merely survive the data explosion to come.
A 2018 McKinsey survey showed that well before the pandemic, 92 percent of company leaders believed “their business model would not remain economically viable through digitization.”
While companies across the globe have invested their resources into future-proofing their organizations, not many have championed the 4IR as notable as California-based tech giant, Cisco, who has been pushing for a more digital future from the get-go.
Inside Telecom sat down with Reem Asaad, Cisco’s Vice President for Middle East Africa, to better understand the company’s focus and efforts for what’s ahead.
INSIDE TELECOM: Cisco has been a driving force in a number of technological avenues, most notably by championing both remote and hybrid working models; accordingly, how does the company view the future of work? And how will Cisco look to double down on this view?
Asaad: At Cisco we believe work is not where you go, it’s what you do. That’s why we’re flexible on the numbers of days in — or out — of the office. In fact, pre-pandemic only a third of our employees were in the office full time, so we’ve long been a hybrid-first company.
This puts Cisco, and our technologies, in a unique position to help other organizations advance their hybrid work strategies. We view powering hybrid work in two distinct ways: enabling a Hybrid Workforce and transforming Hybrid Workspaces.
Enabling a Hybrid Workforce means providing secure access and collaboration from anywhere, anytime. Transforming your Hybrid Workspace only happens when networking, security, and collaboration tools come together to enhance health and well-being, safety, and efficiencies.
INSIDE TELECOM: Remote working is considered as an important aspect of digital transformation with some calling it “a main pillar of the fourth industrial revolution,” with that in mind, how is Cisco looking to bolster digitization on enterprise-level with its offering?
Asaad: We’ve been taking significant steps forward in helping the industries unlock the potential of their hybrid workforces – providing with unique insights and studies, while enabling them to collaborate in new ways and drive inclusive experience.
Since the pandemic started, Cisco has launched more than 1,000 Webex innovations. At WebexOne 2021 that was held recently, we announced significant new innovations across Webex ecosystem, the industry’s first and most comprehensive end-to-end hybrid work solution.
Webex Suite’s new meetings and messaging capabilities help our customers empower equal participation, from everywhere. Similarly, our new collaboration devices enhance effective collaboration, and the new Webex Events portfolio powers hybrid events at scale. Additionally, Webex interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft and Google video communications platforms ensures seamless collaboration with customers’ preferred platforms and devices.
INSIDE TELECOM: As all aspects of life are quickly and fully transitioning into digital, the importance of cybersecurity grows along with it, how is Cisco applying a security-by-design approach to its products within its core industries of focus?
Asaad: We believe that security has to be at the heart of everything. Cisco is major player in the cybersecurity market, and we’ve been building security into all of our technology, including user and email access, device and endpoint protection, network security, and locking down apps and data.
We also made several product announcements recently, including SecureX enhancements that address integrating IT and security inventory and visibility, endpoint detection and response (EDR) to XDR transition functions, new cloud security features via its SASE offering, updates to its Umbrella cloud-based firewall, and a new cloud-native firewall for Kubernetes development environments.
INSIDE TELECOM: Companies, as well as people, are bombarded every day with a plea to become more secure online, yet cyber-attacks and breaches are dominating the news cycle week-in and week-out, giving the impression that these tips and pleas are not sticking. Since cybersecurity is considered one of Cisco’s fortes, what advice can the company give both groups to bolster their cybersecurity efforts?
Asaad: Whether we like it or not, cybersecurity is a topic that affects society as a whole. Security is the most important investment that a company can ever make. While it may be true that an investment in security is unlikely to generate new business, it cannot be denied that investing in security will prevent a company from experiencing serious resources losses and seeing its reputation compromised, perhaps irremediably. The damage can be so significant that even established companies have gone out of business after a cybersecurity attack.
Therefore, companies must secure every single component of the system: hardware, software, and network.
INSIDE TELECOM: As we’ve previously touched up, remote working, digital transformation, and cybersecurity are all intertwined in the development and transition into smart cities and communities; accordingly, could you briefly walk us through Cisco’s role within this transition?
Asaad: Digital technologies are the key driver to achieving social and economic good and powering an inclusive future for all. We at Cisco work closely with all public and private sector partners to develop an integrated vision, which reflects the leadership’s efforts to create community and aspiration-driven cities of the future, with flexible infrastructure that is capable to manage and deliver connected urban services.
From inclusive access to smart water systems, Cisco is a trusted partner in enabling cities to operate sustainably and meet the needs of their citizens.
INSIDE TELECOM: In your opinion, what have been the main obstacles within this transition?
Asaad: Many cities today have ambitions of becoming the smart cities of tomorrow. But to achieve this, they need to overcome the challenges associated with mapping out a complex strategy that involves public and private participants, direct and indirect stakeholders, integrators, network and managed service providers, product vendors and IT infrastructure providers.
Smart city planning is a balancing act that involves citizens, public organizations, state and local government and private enterprises. Once this balance is achieved, it creates huge opportunities for business, sustainability, disaster prevention, public safety, and quality of life improvements.
Investment must come not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in upskilling and developing digital competencies in the people who will operate and oversee various aspects of the smart city. With little margin for error, a smart city can only be enabled if the people bringing it to life are forward-thinking and fully knowledgeable of the tasks at hand. At Cisco, our Networking Academy (NetAcad) program is designed to do exactly that – build digital skills to futureproof careers and help nations advance their digital agendas. Since the program was introduced to the MEA region, we have trained in excess of 1.6 million students. Today, we have well over 1,600 active academies, in countries ranging from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, South Africa and Kenya to name but a few.
INSIDE TELECOM: How can Cisco, and other major tech companies offer assistance to governments to hasten the progression into smart cities in an efficient and secure way for all?
Asaad: At Cisco, we believe that technology is the ultimate enabler and unifying link which makes people’s ambitions a reality. However, in the context of a smart city, a city can only be classed as ‘smart’ if it truly works for its people. Top-down approaches to smart city planning often do not consider the idiosyncrasies which may occur on a more granular, grassroots level. This is a mistake. A smart city requires constant iteration between its leadership, technology providers, end users and the wider public to create improved outcomes which can benefit the masses.
To address this, at Cisco, we are proud to be running an initiative known as our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA program). The program is a long-term partnership through which we work alongside national leadership, industry, and academia to achieve a country’s vision for a smarter and more sustainable future.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are local examples of nations we work closely with in the region, via our CDA program. Sectors which we continue to work alongside local stakeholders to transform range from education and healthcare, to trade, tourism and energy. In each case, it is digitization which is key to developing a particular industry, and we think not only about how the city can be reimagined to for the benefit of the economy, but also to improve quality of life for all.
INSIDE TELECOM: Smart city development comes hand-in-hand with greener initiatives that are meant to foster a fiercer fight against climate; earlier in September, Cisco committed itself to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, could you briefly walk us through the company’s roadmap?
Asaad: For more than 15 years, Cisco has worked toward a sustainable future by reducing emissions, reducing waste, building more efficient products, and setting and achieving ambitious goals.
We recently announced our commitment to reaching net zero for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all scopes by 2040, 10 years ahead of when climate scientists say the planet must reach net zero to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Cisco’s net zero goal will be supported by ambitious near-term targets, including to reach net zero for all global Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2025.
To reach net zero include:
- Continuing to increase the energy efficiency of our products through innovative product design
- Accelerating use of renewable energy
- Embracing hybrid work
- Investing in carbon removal solutions
Exclusive – Global Health Tech Platform, Proximie Digitizes Operating Rooms
Digitizing operations and diagnostic rooms have become necessary as the world accelerates its pace to accommodate the global shift towards digitalization. Digital transformation in healthcare has become one of the main pillars driving innovation in the health sector. It creates a robust foundation that will positively impact technology on human lives.
Proximie, the global health technology platform digitizing operating rooms (OR) from all around the world, provides clinicians with the proper means to virtually interact with each other in a way that mirrors the same experience of collaborating under one roof. With the incorporation of live-virtual alliance with mixed-reality (MR) technologies by using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and augmented reality (AR), Proximie is delivering a reinforced approach to remotely interacting in a live protocol to furnish a solution tailored to accustom to the needs of high-end hospitals.
Inside Telecom sat with Proximie for in-depth analysis with founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram to highlight the company’s inception, the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in accelerating the healthcare sector’s needs of its technology, collaborations, and the role of the rising fifth-generation network (5G) will have its futuristic growth.
INSIDE TELECOM: Could you please introduce yourself, Proximie, and the Eureka moment that led up to the company’s inception?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: My name is Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, and I’m the CEO and Founder of Proximie. I am also a Consultant Plastic Surgeon and Head of Clinical Innovation at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.
There were two Eureka moments for me really; the first one came when I decided I wanted to become a surgeon. The second came when the idea for Proximie was born.
Growing up in postwar Lebanon in the early 1990s definitely shaped my desire to become a surgeon. Seeing the human impact conflict exacted on my homeland had a profound influence. You would see a lot of deformities, people with arms and legs injured and missing. Things that perhaps you shouldn’t see as a teenager. I look back at devastating events such as the Qana Massacre in 1996 as a pivotal moment. My Mum’s family is from Qana, and we used to spend our weekends and summers there. At that point, I started to get interested in the ability to help patients and to look for opportunities. Soon afterward, when I was 14, a family friend who was a plastic surgeon was going down to Sidon (a city 40km south of Beirut on Lebanon’s Mediterranean Coast) to do some reconstruction for some young trauma patients who had deformities in their legs from burns, contractures, and blast injuries. He was probably a bit surprised I wanted to go with him! But he was willing to take me, which was great; I owe him everything for that. I still remember the day. I saw him operating on these children, and I think at that point, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. I was mesmerized. After that, I wanted to see what was going on any time I could get into an operating room. Even now, I still love it. It’s very humbling when you are in an operating room, the patient is asleep, and you have a team around you trying to make a positive difference in a patient’s life.
Once I became a surgeon, I spent ten years working on global health initiatives around the world. During that period, I definitely found myself feeling like I simply wasn’t doing enough. You start to look back and see what impact you’ve had and how much you’ve actually been able to scale expertise or support independent delivery of care locally. When I looked at the Lancet Commission that revealed five billion people in the world lack access to safe surgery, I realized that we were only scratching the surface. That it was really about building scalable, sustainable models of support and delivery, so I started to look at technology, and the idea for Proximie was born.
I founded Proximie based on the ethos that shared knowledge leads to accelerated learning and better patient care. Proximie was built to allow experts to virtually scrub into operating rooms and cath labs around the world, to support, coach and mentor each other, and to really look at the continuum of expertise throughout a surgeon’s career. I had been exposed to early-stage telecommunications platforms, but all of them are anchored to one moment in time. One meeting, one call, one conference, but then it’s gone. The options available did not enable a continuum of sharing knowledge and expertise, and they were too passive. You can’t do remote surgery in 2D. It has to be more immersive than that. What we wanted to do with Proximie was to create a multi-sensory experience that was a catalyst for collaboration and could digitize a surgeon’s footprint.
We wanted to extend the geographical reach of a surgeon and create the effect of a borderless operating room that could empower physicians to remotely share knowledge that could ultimately reduce variation in care and help save lives.
INSIDE TELECOM: Not many people, companies, and industries can say that the pandemic was an accelerating force in their development; based on that, you could give us some highlights of how the global health crisis affected Proximie? What were some of the challenges faced during the pandemic?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: There is little doubt that the complexities posed by COVID-19 have been unprecedented and that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the way healthcare is and will be provided. It has tested the capabilities of healthcare systems all over the world, which has compelled pragmatism, collaboration, and innovation in order to try and meet the varied challenges presented by this viral pandemic.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we have seen how COVID-19 has forced innovation at a pace that was previously unthinkable. The urgency that was needed to try and combat COVID-19 has been a catalyst for incredible collaboration. We have seen the blurring of lines between the private and public sectors for the greater good. This has certainly been the case at Proximie, where we have been deployed around the world to remotely connect surgeons and healthcare workers in the battle against COVID-19. As a frontline NHS surgeon, myself, I’m immensely proud that we have been able to help in the acute phase of the pandemic.
One of the key facets of why our platform has been used all around the world to battle COVID-19 is due to the way we designed Proximie. It was designed from the outset so that it would never be a siloed product. It has now been used in every surgical specialty and can extend across the whole surgical industry or ecosystem within a hospital. That software-first approach has enabled us to quickly layer on really exciting new technologies, and to the broadest user base possible, at a time when people have desperately needed to work efficiently, remotely. The key is accessibility. Proximie needs to function in a wide variety of geographical areas, social contexts, and environments, but also be malleable to innovative ideas, technologies, people, or hardware companies.
The pace of innovation tends to be quicker in software than hardware. It’s important to remember that a software-first approach means that we can continue to innovate and adapt quickly to the needs of our customers, delivering value on a continual basis. This doesn’t preclude us from integrating into existing hardware in the operating room, and this is no mean feat to be able to integrate with older pieces in some parts of the world and the latest machines like robots in others.
That software-first approach means we have been able to form the basis of a responsive approach to some of the challenges being posed by COVID-19. Due to the virus, there has been an urgent need to incorporate integrated technologies into routine or complex practices because of the requirement to find ways to seamlessly maximize healthcare resources, scale the delivery of expertise and reduce the transmission of the virus.
In many respects, Proximie was built for a pandemic of this nature. From enabling self-isolating clinicians to remotely support colleagues on the front line to virtually connecting MDTs for hand trauma and cancer management so that every clinician can connect and collaborate off-site during COVID-19. We are finding new ways to apply our technology to amplify the skills of frontline clinicians. For example, at the tail end of last year, at the height of the Omicron variant, a globally respected interventional radiologist from the University Hospital of Strasbourg virtually scrubbed into proctor a series of Cryoablation procedures that took place at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Was it not for Proximie, and these important cancer procedures would have been postponed? To read about some of the innovative ways clinicians have harnessed Proximie, read here.
Proximie has also been used extensively for training purposes, to democratize surgical skills and techniques remotely, while access to travel and operating rooms has been restricted.
A recent paper, published by Dr. Albert Hajj in The Journal of Urology, concluded that Proximie “allowed more flexibility in patient scheduling and reduced travel costs with similar outcomes” compared to face-to-face, and I think we’re increasingly seeing this during the current pandemic. Proximie is being used to enable surgeons to stay connected, stay safe and collaborate from a distance. This is obviously critical as we continue to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. Surgeons have been looking at ways they can limit physical numbers in operating rooms yet increase clinical expertise.
I think COVID-19 was a catalyst for the rapid adoption of Proximie and many other technologies, but what’s most exciting for us is that our platform is now being hardwired into clinical pathways all over the world, and that is only going to benefit the patient.
It’s certainly not going to dissipate once the world has successfully battled COVID. If anything, their use will become more habitual as we layer on new technologies.
INSIDE TELECOM: 2021 has surely been a positive hectic year for the company, as Proximie partnered with Vodafone UK on a 5G remotely assisted surgery trial with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. Could you tell us about the benefits of this partnership?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: Having the best connectivity is imperative for delivering digital health services at scale. This was one of the main motivations for partnering with Vodafone – Europe’s leading mobile network provider.
Building on our existing partnerships with digital infrastructure providers in the operating room, the Vodafone partnership has increased our access and allowed us to provide complete, connected surgical care to a wider audience.
INSIDE TELECOM: How will 5G continue to impact the company’s core technologies positively?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: In this space, we know we can’t be static, and we’re always looking at new and innovative ways to serve our surgical community better. One area of perpetual focus is connectivity, which is a central theme to everything we do at Proximie. Today people die unnecessarily without access to simple surgery, in both the Global North and the Global South. If you can solve the global connectivity issue, we know we can redress the inequities in healthcare that exist all over the world. We know that today people die unnecessarily without access to simple surgery; in both developing and developed nations. By solving the issues that can compromise a surgery in any area of the world, such as not being able to access the right clinical skills or the right equipment, we can help to ensure that the 300 million-plus surgeries that happen each year can be delivered in a consistent way, and in a way that helps to save lives.
We need to increase our capacity to deliver better, quicker care and further than ever before. It’s incumbent on us to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in an operating room and harnessing the power of 5G will certainly help us do this. For example, our recent partnership with Vodafone Business enables us to layer on the best of their innovative technologies – from 5G, IoT, and Edge Computing – onto our software, allowing us to play an even more proactive role in democratizing access to safe surgery.
We believe Proximie is perfectly positioned to harness the powers of new technologies, from 5G to SpaceTech, and channel them directly into operating rooms all over the world. To empower physicians with real-time insights and data and enable them to create better patient experiences. The ingredients for better-connected healthcare systems are right in front of us.
5G undoubtedly has a huge role to play in creating better-connected healthcare systems. It has the power to ensure the best technologies and innovations are made more freely accessible to patients all over the world, eradicate low latency, and continually improve patient outcomes.
By integrating connectivity technologies such as 5G and Space Technology, we can revolutionize healthcare and make it more efficient, effective, affordable, and, most importantly, accessible. Proximie is ideally positioned to harness the power of 5G and direct it into operating rooms all over the world to do just this.
INSIDE TELECOM: How many countries is Proximie dispatched in? Is there a specific market in which you’re looking to grow other than the U.S. and EU?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: Proximie has conducted tens of thousands of surgical interactions and is deployed in 500 hospitals in 50 countries on five continents. We have also continued developing partnerships and contracts with over 40 major medical device companies and have access to 90 percent of operating rooms and diagnostic suites in the UK, US, and EU.
INSIDE TELECOM: According to your company, the software is provided free of charge to charities. How are you looking down on these efforts and spreading the use of Proximie’s technology to countries with a weak medical landscape?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: The important thing for me is that access to safe surgery is not the reserve of a specific region in the world. Variation in care happens in high-end hospitals in the US, as it does in rural, one-bed hospitals in the middle of the desert; I think sometimes people think this is a Global South problem. It really isn’t. The Lancet Commission revealed that five billion people in the world lack access to safe surgery, so everything we do at Proximie is about accessibility. What we’re really talking about is building scalable, sustainable models of support and delivery and getting our platform into the hands of as many people as possible. We want Proximie to be as ubiquitous as a scalpel, with the ultimate goal being the Operating System of the Operating room. That means in every single healthcare system on the plant.
Leveraging private-public partnerships bring together powerful innovations and well-designed delivery models that are critical to addressing gaps with inequitable access to safe surgical care; we are incredibly proactive about trying to find the right partners to collaborate with in order to help provide better access to our platform. In addition to working with the NHS in the UK, in December 2021, we were proud to announce a new partnership to transform Kenya’s safety and quality of surgical care. We teamed up with Jhpiego, a global health non-profit and Johns Hopkins University affiliate working in +40 countries, to implement the Johnson & Johnson-funded Obstetric Safe Surgery Project in Kenya.
The aim of the project is to support the Kenyan government’s commitment to reduce maternal and newborn deaths and obstetric-related injuries by improving the quality of caesarean sections. In Kenya, 71 percent of facility-based maternal deaths are associated with caesarean sections, and 90 percent of maternal deaths are linked to poor standardized care.
Our technology is helping to expand and enhance the learning by obstetric surgical teams and provide mentorship in Jhpiego’s project, which is now underway in five hospitals in Makueni County. By helping to virtually train and mentor surgical teams in Kenya via real-time, remote consultation, we are feeding best practices into Kenya’s health ecosystem and providing better patient outcomes.
INSIDE TELECOM: Earlier in September, Proximie partnered up with Teladoc Health to connect operating rooms globally; what was the incentive that led to this collaboration? And are there more partnerships on the horizon?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: Teladoc Health is the global leader in whole-person virtual care, so we were delighted to announce our partnership in September 2021. It forms part of our wider partnership program to strengthen the health ecosystem and further our ambition to connect operating rooms globally.
It is a global agreement, focused initially on the US market, which sees our software integrated into Teladoc Health’s Solo platform for hospitals and health systems, enabling an integrated experience for surgeons.
By layering our software into Teladoc’s platform, we are delivering a connected surgical care experience where operating room devices can communicate effectively with each other and capture valuable insights that will provide feedback to both surgeons and the broader health ecosystem.
We are continuing to explore and develop partnerships and trial new technologies. Collaboration is central to driving meaningful and impactful change. From the outset, we wanted to ensure Proximie was not static or a siloed product. We are keen to involve the best thinking from other sectors to support our mission and expect to announce some exciting partnerships throughout 2022 – which we kicked off with our partnership announcement with Vodafone’s Centre for Health with Deloitte.
INSIDE TELECOM: As Big Tech companies look to continuously invest into virtual reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities to foster a metaverse. What can Proximie take from these endeavors to further develop your offering?
Dr. Hachach-Haram: I think Proximie is at the epicenter of some fascinating developments, specifically how technology is being harnessed in order to provide better care. Surgery is adapting and evolving before our eyes, and Proximie is playing a central role in its evolution, both now and in the future. As a practicing surgeon myself, that’s hugely exciting. We wrote the commission on The Future of Surgery a couple of years ago, which looked at what it is going to look like in the next 5–10–15 years, and we’re already seeing how it is becoming more connected, more data-driven, and increasingly amplified through different technologies and mechanisms that exist. The patient surgeon interface is changing so quickly, and as we layer on AI into different applications, having access to real-time insights will improve patient care.
I’m really passionate about innovation in healthcare and how we can leverage technology to improve the care our patients receive all over the world, so I would always encourage anyone with a good idea to follow their instinct and go for it. But the key thing for me is the purpose behind the technology. What are you trying to achieve, and what problem are you solving?
Disruption in healthcare has many challenges, but I can say with experience that if it is really solving a problem, then adoption can be swift and decisive.
I think there are a number of ways the technologies you mentioned can have a positive impact, but equally, I’m always quite wary of new technologies that can be overhyped and fall into that ‘tech for tech’s sake’ category. I think we need to ensure that any of these new digital health technologies have a clearly defined role and purpose in relation to the patient.
To be honest, I’m really not that interested in imagining a dystopian future that has been visualized in science fiction books, particularly if it’s going to replace real-world experience, patient experience, and patient-centric care. This is one of the reasons that from the very beginning, we wanted everything we do to be evidence-based. Proximie has been clinically and scientifically validated in 20-odd independent research papers.
We have moved past the novelty phase of a lot of these technologies, so now is the time for any existing or new entrants to the market to show genuine, real-world usefulness. Not a gimmick or fad, but tangible evidence that the technology can help us create more efficient and scalable models of healthcare delivery.
It’s one thing to have a great piece of technology, and it’s another thing to have the necessary skills to implement and integrate them into complex healthcare settings, which can be incredibly varied worldwide. Proximie was born out of a need, and my ambition as a surgeon was to find a solution and scale it is using technology. I wanted to try and create a solution that could empower surgeons to collaborate in real-time in a very visual and engaging way. We talk a lot about “by surgeons, for surgeons.” So, we designed the platform to be used in austere environments, which is why we are currently used in developing nations and by the UK military, connecting field hospitals with NHS surgeons to provide better care for front-line military personnel. Accessibility, affordability, working at low bandwidth with existing or easy to resource hardware, all of these elements were factored in with the end environment in mind, which is crucial. Proximie can secure approval for use in a new hospital within three weeks because we know and understand the environment. I’m not sure that is the case with every mover and shaker in the VR, AR, and MR space. I think having our mission and purpose at our core has been integral to our subsequent growth.
Exclusive: How Will MontyPay Facilitate Global Payment Collection?
As the digital world evolves, companies all over the globe strive to make their way into the digital realm. Although payment gateways have been present for years, they keep upgrading their operational ways and features to remain at the top of the industry. MontyPay, a digital payment gateway, provides a seamless and global payment experience, giving it an edge over the competition.
Inside Telecom has met with Noel Moukheiber, MontyPay’s General Manager, to discuss the latest product features and benefits.
What is MontyPay, and when was it launched?
MontyPay, a subsidiary of Monty Finance UK, is a digital payment gateway launched in 2021.
We offer a smart platform that helps merchants collect their payments effortlessly and securely. Our team is focused on helping our clients run and grow their businesses by enhancing the user experience and resolving their pain points.
Being an innovative payment service provider, we aim to position MontyPay as one of the Fintech leaders in the world.
What are the vision and goals of the company?
Our vision is to become a payment hub for all merchants worldwide, providing the most advanced platform with the latest features and various payment methods. We develop our solution based on our customers’ needs, and we constantly strive to exceed their expectations.
Most of all, we believe in building long-term relationships with our acquirers and merchants, in order to keep growing.
What are the different services and products MontyPay provides?
At MontyPay, we combine the online shopping experiences with the digital world by connecting payments to our gateway platform.
We offer a wide range of features, including but not limited to:
– Smart Routing and Cascading: We boost our merchants’ transactions approval rate. We support our international merchants in their different countries, and we route their transactions through foreign acquirers based on many factors such as currency transaction amount, payment scheme, etc.
This feature helps minimize the transaction costs and increase the acceptance rate.
– Online and mobile checkout: We provide a consolidated platform that supports numerous plugins and SDKs for both online stores and mobile apps, allowing merchants to manage all their online payments with a single login.
– Pay by link and QR Code: Merchants can now generate more revenue by collecting their money quickly and immediately. They create an invoice in just a few seconds and send a payment link or QR code by email, WhatsApp, or social media platforms.
– Recurring Billing: Our platform supports tokenization, which helps merchants to create recurring billing such as membership or subscription simply once and then collect payments seamlessly and securely.
– Installments: We offer easy payments facilities to our merchants’ clients by providing a win-win solution. Customers can convert their purchases into installments without going through a bank, which will allow the merchants to sell even more.
–Crypto Payments: Our merchants can now accept crypto payments and get paid in Euro. We allow merchants to accept payments in Bitcoin and 30+ other cryptocurrencies. This can save a business up to 80 percent in payment costs.
On top of that, we are building a Merchant Mobile App providing our customers with a seamless experience. They can access their dashboard, analytics, and transactions details directly from their mobile. The app will be launched in the second quarter (Q2) of 2022.
In which countries does MontyPay operate? Do you have any expansion plans soon?
In a brief period, MontyPay gained the trust of leading banks and financial institutions. We are currently live in the European Union (EU) countries, UK, Australia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Nigeria.
Our business development team is working aggressively to cover more countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and North/South America.
Our strategic acquiring partners are selected carefully to provide merchants with a broader selection of payment solutions. We build relationships based on trust and professionalism.
Given that the Payment Gateway is an already existing business, how do you plan to differentiate yourself from the competition?
Our strengths are our TEAM, our TECHNOLOGY, and our TRANSPARENCY.
We differentiate ourselves from the competition through the tailored services that we provide to our merchants, a dedicated account manager and a one-to-one technical and operation support. Moreover, we offer a live chat feature to our merchants so they can communicate with our team directly from their platform.
On the other hand, our technology is both advanced and user-friendly. It’s built to be intelligent. Our research and development (R&D) team is keen on implementing the latest payment trends and features to improve our platform.
Transparency is one of our core values. Not just on the pricing level but also in terms of integrity and trust which are the foundation of our relations with our customers, employees, partners, and investors.
What customer base is MontyPay aiming to target?
We are open to working with all kinds of businesses, from startups to large enterprises, and we treat them all equally. Our focus is on online stores, education, travel agencies, insurance companies, and other merchants looking to accept cards or any other alternative payments.
International businesses and companies pertaining to same group will have one platform and integration for their different entities, which is why we will be their preferred partner. In other words, they will be able to manage all their payments through MontyPay.
How is the market responding to this industry? Where do you see the payment services industry heading?
With the pandemic and global lockdowns, businesses and consumers increasingly went digital, providing and purchasing more goods and services online. We are observing growth as we move towards less cash to more digital and contactless payments.
Cross-border transactions are increasing. E-commerce broke the traditional local shopping habits and exposed SMEs to global markets.
We also enable the acceptance of new alternative payment types such as digital wallets, crypto, etc.
Countries worldwide are moving towards adopting the Alternative Payment Methods (APM), which will soon be the norm.
How are monetary transactions secured through MontyPay?
MontyPay’s platform is fully compatible with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) security standards (version 3.2.1) to ensure the safety of the cardholder’s data.
The platform’s advanced risk management system utilizes a premium fraud management tool to detect, analyze, and prevent potential fraudulent transactions.
Apart from the in-house security team, we work with the best risk scoring services to identify suspicious transactions. Our operation team immediately informs the merchant of any red flags.
Our platform also supports 3D Secure 2.0 to deliver a smoother and more integrated user experience.
What are MontyPay’s strengths and the main challenges that it is facing?
MontyPay is part of Monty Group, which paved a very successful path with Monty Mobile, established in 1998. We are leveraging this success to gain our partners’ confidence and trust.
The platform focuses on the merchant. We are a lifetime business partner that stands by our clients by facilitating the process and providing a fast onboarding, settlement, and installment option to their users.
Our challenges are to keep up with the local market regulations and introduce solutions that enable merchants to meet these regulations and accept different types of payments that are most secure. The key for businesses is to understand the payment preferences of each country, as they vary widely.
Define MontyPay’s relation with financial institutions like Banks, as well as the company’s current runway and future funding plans?
MontyPay has secured the required seed funding from its sponsor, Monty Mobile Group. From now on and in line with its product roadmap and expansion plan, we are planning to go for its Pre-Serie A fundraising round by Q2-Q3 2022.
The early-stage financing will be mainly deployed to gain organic clients through marketing campaigns, hire staff in key positions, and enhance its technology to offer new advanced features.
As the General Manager of a startup, what makes you believe that MontyPay will turn out to be a success story?
MontyPay will succeed because of our visionary Chairman, Mr. Mountasser Hachem, who’s seeking to build the most advanced digital payment gateway, and because of our dedicated and strong team who’s working hard to make this happen.
Our objective is to empower our customers with a solid omnichannel experience. We know that there will be many challenges, but we look forward to working with our partners and clients to achieve great success.
Salt Edge looks to steer digitalization of EU’s banking sector
The global financial sector is witnessing an ever-growing change shaping Europe’s banking infrastructure into an increasingly competitive market. Open banking proved to people how it can alter financial services to accommodate their needs; all while fostering a continuing digitalization of modern life as Fintech companies set the stage for simplified yet optimized solutions to deliver reliable economic efficiency.
These changes have brought companies such as UK-based Salt Edge into the limelight as it supports customizable services for customers, by synchronizing banking services with users’ needs. Since customer loyalty and satisfaction sets the main pillars for the financial sector, the merger between technology and finance delivers Salt Edge with the needed tools to comply with consumers’ expectations with the immense rise of digitalization on all fronts.
Inside Telecom dives deeper with Salt Edge’s CEO, Dimitri Barbasura, to highlight the Fintech’s conduct of meeting customer demands in compliance with the regulatory authority. As well as delivering elaborated insights regarding open banking and its role in addressing the needed support for the UK as it embraces a modernized approach in its banking sector.
As one of the big names in the industry, piloting the ever-changing effect of the rise of Fintech on the European Union’s financial sector, the CEO elaborated on how the company is assisting in enhancing consumers’ financial status in the UK and on a global level. In addition to the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) duty in delivering high-quality services in coherence with governmental regulatory footprint.
INSIDE TELECOM: As the financial sector takes a bigger leap into a digital ecosystem, how do you think open banking will affect the European Union’s take on its current financial sectors?
Barbasura: From our position of open banking and open finance, PSD2, which is already two years old, is changing the world for the better. There are new products and solutions occurring, targeted towards the wellbeing of society – in general, individuals and business – in particular. Take, for example, on-the-go carbon emissions calculators based on personal expenses or the fairer credit assessment occurring from unified aggregated data, translated into financial insights. Especially in COVID-19 times, this has proven to be very helpful, allowing creditors to approach their activity more responsibly. Open banking increases security and decreases overall expenses by changing the instruments we use for paying. As these new payment instruments and solutions are being created, economic efficiency rises and makes what was previously accessible to bigger corporate clients – now available for SMEs. What used to be available for SMEs is now accessible for retailers, and so on. Budget planning, financial advising – all these solutions lead to open finance, which we hope will soon be consolidated by payment service directive (PSD3). Thus, data access will involve more than current payment accounts, including investment, lending, mortgage, and unveiling the full potential of the financial sector.
INSIDE TELECOM: The company’s API has been seen as one of the leading banking solutions for over 5 years, can you elaborate on some cases where the company’s API helped in consumers’ financial health and sustainability?
Barbasura: There are plenty of use cases among our clients showing how open banking works for the general well-being. Businesses like Credit Hero and Lendex have turned to Salt Edge for open banking solutions to ensure a wider financial inclusion for their customers. This is probably the domain where open banking has the most noticeable impact, allowing individuals and businesses access to funds otherwise unreachable to them. Using open banking data enables lenders to give a second chance for credit approval to potentially great loan applicants who have initially been rejected simply due to lack of credit history (first-time borrowers, migrants). Besides, open banking cancels potential manipulations in physical bank statements while helping financial institutions save on fraud detection, underwriting, or credit risk-related issues. Lenders see the authentic financial picture of potential borrowers and tailor their offering to the real-time status quo.
Another interesting use case is how open banking-based public financial management (PFMs) contribute to more responsible financial behavior. We live in a consumerist era. And, while most of us don’t even realize it, PFMs like Spendee, Toshl, MoneyWiz, and Planner Bee, manage to comprise all bank data based on open banking capabilities and transform it into a picture detailing the users’ financial behavior and the areas that need adjustments. Thus, end-users can shift from reckless expenses to a more rational, sustainable lifestyle.
What we’ve carefully observed throughout our clients is that, by leveraging open banking possibilities, their companies become more viable. This is obvious since open banking contributes to preserving ecological balance by:
● Stimulating behavioral changes.
● Cutting down on unjustifiable consumerism.
● Enhancing green finances (green lending & investing).
● Improving financial inclusion for underserved categories by simplifying bank data sharing even across continents, for ex-pats, and introducing alternative reliable data sources for credit analysis for people with thin credit file.
● Reducing plastic cards and cash use.
INSIDE TELECOM: In August, the company collaborated with software company Finastra. What was the incentive that led to this collaboration?
Barbasura: For most banks, especially those which are not tier 1, the legal and technical requirements concerning opening API’s access to their infrastructure are far from being crystal clear. They need to invest a lot of effort in understanding what vendor suits them best, what legal provisions they must respect in accordance with to become compliant, what assessments they must conduct, and the mechanisms they need to have in place. All this is very costly for businesses to accomplish. Add that to the expenses involved with opening APIs, making them usable, safe, sustainable, and integrable, with high availability and security requirements.
Finastra is a core banking vendor supporting multiple banks in the EU and beyond. They chose our solution as it includes a variety of options banks can choose from when building their digital banking puzzle for becoming PSD2 compliant. Prior to pre-integrating our solution into Finastra’s platform, Salt Edge has successfully passed all due diligence audits, safety systems, and data services checks, so that banks can choose our solution with peace of mind.
Our collaboration with Finastra is that happy situation where there was a market request, we had the perfect solution to answer it, and Finastra is the right partner to scale up the solution’s availability.
INSIDE TELECOM: Currently, the banking sector is enduring immense pressure to heighten its competitiveness to stay in the league. What approach does Salt Edge support to help banks optimize their profitability while reducing businesses’ time to market for new products?
Barbasura: First of all, Salt Edge helps banks become PSD2 compliant, which enables them to save time and effort resources and invest them in creating open banking-based products. In this perspective, our company acts as a technical service provider (TSP) for regulated institutions. Therefore, we cover all the above-mentioned for banks, due to our expertise, knowledge, and experience. Here are some of the ways we help banks and diminish their go-to-market:
● We know and advise which use cases are viable for payment initiation, how to adjust the merchant proposition to it, what complications may occur on the way and how banks can overcome them and bring their project to realization.
● We automatize a lot of processes. Out of 6,000 banks across Europe, some of them still require manual onboarding. In these cases, we either automate the process, where dynamic onboarding is supported, or we perform the entire manual onboarding process for the bank thus decreasing the timeframe required for the solution to go live.
● We cover all the necessary components – technical implementation, connection to thousands of banks, highest security standards, consultancy for PSD2 strategies, and others. This way, we help banks to do everything correctly from the beginning.
Another advantage is that our clients work with one single vendor covering all the EU, which is very critical for payments. Imagine that a merchant works with a bank and sells its products all over the EU. In this case, the bank needs a vendor who will support payments across the EU for a seamless process. In other words, Salt Edge exceeds the notion of “go-to-market”. We literally help clients reach different markets from the EU, thus diminishing their expenses.
I’d also like to mention the value-added services provided by Salt Edge. Being one unique vendor, with one standard security model, one high-quality standard, helps us aggregate and provide all data, from various countries where our client is present, in a unified form to credit bureaus, for example. We use AI, machine learning algorithms, which again, saves lots of money for the client, and we are always adjusting and improving the algorithms upon our clients’ requests and feedback.
INSIDE TELECOM: Where do these approaches stand from a regulatory standpoint?
Barbasura: First, it all revolves around compliance with the open banking regulations from regions around the world: where data is kept, how it is encrypted and transmitted, who has access to this data, or how it gets anonymized. Take for example one of the value-added services provided by Salt Edge – financial insights. One of its components is data categorization. You cannot categorize something if you don’t know what you are categorizing. As a Technical Service Provider, Salt Edge works purely with information. Therefore, our activity is focused on safety. We perform regular penetration testing, vulnerability scannings, cyber security – and data privacy-related audits and certifications. We are always open to showing our clients and regulators our offices, our data centers, and demonstrating the operations and safety systems we have implemented. Maximum transparency and delivering exactly what we promise – this is what governs our relationships with the clients.
INSIDE TELECOM: What additional plans does the company have to enforce the role of small banks in accommodating the market’s needs, as Central Banks are working globally to issue their CBDCs?
Barbasura: We at Salt Edge are agnostic to underlying payment schemes and currencies since we work with any data set that can be presented as an account and set of transactions. As for CBDCs, we see lots of potential in it related to instant payments. It would be way cheaper (or even zero cost), which is directly benefiting small banks, end customers, retailers, and other businesses.
Actually, I believe that not having a stable digital coin in the 21st century, when all the premises for its existence and functionality exist, is rather strange. This is the future. It is safe, controllable, the source of money and the expenses are easily traceable, which is especially important for Anti Money Laundering (AML)/ Counter-terrorist financing (CTF) practices and terrorism-sponsoring prevention. CBDC is something that should have happened yesterday.
INSIDE TELECOM: To what extent will the company go to help these small banks defend themselves from any potential fraudulent scenarios?
Barbasura: We do work with data, but we are not specialized in fighting fraud, however, Salt Edge provides rich information for fighting fraud. We have very limited access to the interaction between the user and the bank. Nevertheless, we always promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking as critical components of the aforementioned interaction. Besides these two elements, using a combination of security measures like possession, inheritance, and knowledge combined in a user-friendly way enhances security utmost, decreasing risk.
When I say “user-friendly”, I mean that every integrated safety measure must be maximally client-oriented and thoroughly explained, in terms of why it is important, how it protects the end-user and how to use it.
We believe the most effective defense is when the bank and only the bank control authorization of the payment and end-customer pays using the WYSIWYP principle (What You See Is What You Pay).
INSIDE TELECOM: The UK’s historical role in the financial sector could potentially shape the Fintech industry’s future outline in the country. What solutions could the company implement to help heighten the UK’s role in Fintech on a global scale?
Barbasura: In this manner, Salt Edge can promote two things that are already going well in the UK. The first one is the Open Banking standard, which is very well compiled and, with the right support, would diminish the market’s fragmentation. We have developed the payment service directives (PSD2) Compliance Solution at Salt Edge and already tailored it to the particularities of existing open banking standards around the world, like Berlin Group, Open Banking in the UK, or CDR in Australia. We see the financial institutions from different regions struggling with these differences and believe that unifying these standards will simplify a lot of things. Second, we can promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking – elements that are significantly increasing safety. We’re already doing that through Salt Edge’s mobile Strong Customer Authentication, which considerably enhances the security of the payment experience, minimizes fraud risk, and guarantees customer protection.
Next, the UK has CMA9, the country’s 9 largest banking group. It is constantly introducing progressive initiatives, such as VRPs and we think that, from the UK’s point of view, it would be very useful to have it supported not only by these nine banks but also by all banks that can ensure it technically. This would be an example to the EU and other countries looking at the effectiveness of open banking.
Using fintech solutions for paying, investing, saving, and other operations must become a norm, just like we’re using apps for any other needs. It should be a norm, not a privilege.
Another way that Salt Edge is contributing to the UK consolidating its role in open banking is by opening up markets outside the country for local businesses – offering access to 5000+ banks across the globe. Many companies need various geographies to grow bigger in spite of the UK being one of the most innovative markets.
Therefore, I really hope that regulators from all countries, including the UK, the EU, and others can unify all legal approaches in one unique regulation so that once a business gets licensed in one region, it gets the occasion to passport it in other regions as well. Besides other advantages, it would decrease expenses, and this is the direction all should strive to.
INSIDE TELECOM: Under which regulatory umbrella could Salt Edge implement these solutions to augment the UK’s presence in the industry?
Barbasura: To answer this question narrowly, Salt Edge Limited is regulated in the UK, with an EU entity in the process of becoming regulated in the EU at the moment.
In a broader manner, PSD2 has been transposed into each country’s legal framework with local adjustments which need to be taken into consideration when entering the market. And we always do it. As mentioned above, one of the ways Salt Edge contributes to the UK consolidating its leadership position is by helping UK businesses upscale within the country and further across the globe based on our solutions: Open Banking Gateway and Open Banking Compliance Solution.
From our point of view, we often act as technical service providers for regulated entities. In terms of general data protection regulation (GDPR), these entities act as data controllers, while Salt Edge acts as a data processor – processing data according to their instructions. Now, considering this, Salt Edge solutions are implemented in many regions, including the Middle East, Australia, LatAm. We are agnostic to regulation since we act by generically approved principles of security, data privacy, compliance, and governance of the data. Yes, there are details deferring from one regulation to another related to data storage, for example, but we always find satisfactory compromises with our clients.