Image: B. Online CEO Dina Al-Essa.
A version of this story appears in the July/August 2019 print issue of CommsMEA.
The world was very different in 1991. Smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. The Soviet Union was still a thing. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had only won a single NBA championship. Dubai was still a fairly small city not that much different than others in the region. Princess Diana and Prince Charles were still an item. You get the idea.
The point is, considering the pace of innovation today, 1991 feels like a lifetime ago. But that’s when Kuwait’s B. Online got its start – making it one of the Middle East’s oldest Internet providers.Chief executive officer Dina Al-Essa says one reason for its longevity has been its ability to differentiate itself from competitors.
“We are proud to witness the success and the competitive edge B. Online has achieved, amidst the high competition level in the market,” she explains.“Our customer partnership strategy has resulted in a long-term relationship with our clients – and not just your classic after-sale approach. We work with our clients as partners on any given project, where we provide individualised, tailor-made solutions and provide cohesive strategic approach. This has made us committed to continuously update and invest in our infrastructure and ensure we partner with the world’s leading solution providers.”
She says more.“As an example – and in a bid to achieve both goals – we have just finalised revamping our national network [in Kuwait] by installing the most advanced and state-of-the-art optical network that serves multi-gigabit transport throughput. [It is a] top of the line MPLS Network powered by Juniper Networks and ADVA Optical networking systems. Furthermore, we are continuously investing in our technical expertise, to ensure high standards are being delivered.”
Of course, being in business since the days before even Britney Spears or the Spice Girls means Al-Essa and the B. Online team are uniquely qualified to take a step back and examine the technological and societal changes they’ve witnessed – and to offer insights into how to possibly move forward in terms of development in the region.“The current evolution in ICT product lines, such as home automation, intelligent surveillance services and IoT-enabled sensor are all playing major roles towards ICT transformation,” she explains.
“To fulfil this transformation, agile communication services are required to provide high broadband and stable connections, to be able to meet the demand of such product lines and services.”Al-Essa is quick to point out that her company is also about far more than just making money and offering the latest tech products and services. There’s a fair bit of social good involved, too. One example: B. Online’s initiative for free public wireless Internet in Kuwait, known as SAMA.
As Al-Essa explains: “SAMA is the brainchild of B. Online via B. Wireless towards our corporate social responsibility agenda. As a market leader, we pledged to provide free Internet service covering major landmarks in Kuwait – and have already equipped public areas with heavy foot traffic with fast and reliable free WiFi.”
“SAMA is our contribution towards improving ICT in Kuwait as a partial fulfilment to His Highness the Amir’s Vision 2035 and the Kuwait National Development Plan (KNDP),” says Al-Essa.“On an international level, Kuwait has signed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that consist of 17 goals. We believe that SAMA is also contributing towards SDG 9 – ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’ – that calls for improving technological solutions towards national development in any given sector.”
B. Online is also helping to promote equality in the Gulf’s ICT industry. Al-Essa herself has been CEO of the company since late 2018 – making her one of the few female CEOs of a major ICT company in the region. Previously the director of operations and strategic business initiatives, she says she feels an extra sense of responsibility in being a good role model and showing young women that they, too, can be CEOs of large businesses.“Yes, of course I do,” she says.
“As much as it is a great honour and a breakthrough to be nominated for this role, we cannot deny that it comes with a burdensome responsibility. Globally, ICT is one of the most male-dominant sectors and as per the OECD 2018 report; women make up less than 30% across the board. So imagine the gender parity in our region within the tech organisations.“Therefore, I speak to fellow women in the industry when I say we need to be more present in terms of encouraging the younger generation and providing support, mentorship and some sort of community to empower women in ICT in the region.”
And just like B. Online has continued to innovate and push towards ever-greater success in a tough industry to crack, Al-Essa has some sage advice for young women thinking of a career in ICT or another STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) field.“To young women, I would definitely advise them to follow their passion and not to be discouraged or intimidated by any male dominant sector or industry,” she says.
“The barriers are diminishing with time – and soon gender parity will come to an end.”She has one last thing to add, too.
“The best advice I can provide the younger generation is to follow their dreams – and to continuously invest in themselves.”