Sowing the seeds of an ecosystem: Generative AI in the Middle East

Vasudev Telikicherla,

Senior Vice President Head of Middle East, Virtusa

Published: June 27, 2024

Generative AI isn’t a single entity. Neither is it meant to operate as one. Its reality lies in a collaborative environment that’s greater than the sum of its parts. An ecosystem.

The Middle East understands this value, and their scale appears to be a spectacle to behold.

According to Boston Consulting Group, nearly half of all organizations in the Middle East have already executed successful programmatic digital transformations, setting the base for generations of generative AI solutions to come. Their extensive health database gathered over twenty years has been the lifeblood of their AI-based diagnostic tools, and soon, generative AI solutions. They have strategically invested around US$1.2 billion in active data center projects, which could soon host several advanced generative AI learning models. 1 With investments from players like Microsoft in the mix, the Middle East’s growth in AI is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

But what will it take for this AI growth to evolve into a generative AI ecosystem?

Shifting sands in the ecosystem 

When the BCG AI Radar 2024 stated that 93% of Middle Eastern executives are planning to increase their AI/generative AI investments in 2024, we knew that their enthusiasm for the technology is undeniable.2 However, implementing generative AI will mean overcoming specific but significant hurdles. 

Over a year of research and working closely with enterprises in the Middle East, we have devised Virtusa Helio as a culmination of focused solutions and services to combat their unique obstacles. Our accelerators can help enterprises address everything from resource efficiency to security, while our strong AI-focused workforce delivers capabilities that can be otherwise challenging to acquire.

Rigid data regulations call for a sovereign cloud

The Middle East’s generative AI-first mindset can be a double-edged sword for enterprises. Most LLMs work on cloud infrastructure where all customer data is on a public cloud hosted remotely. However, Middle Eastern data residency regulations require data to remain within specific geographical boundaries. Enterprises will need a sovereign cloud, where even the last byte of their metadata can be stored within the country.

That’s why Virtusa Helio has partnered with a leading technology group in the UAE to enable clients to leverage cloud services from major providers like Google and AWS while adhering to data residency requirements. The goal is to ensure that data remains within the region while providing the necessary infrastructure and security measures.

Collaboration works best over a roundtable

A Western enterprise’s decision-making is typically democratic, resembling a roundtable. On the other hand, an average Middle Eastern enterprise is closer to a hierarchy, like a ladder. However, building successful AI solutions often necessitates a roundtable approach, with collaboration and a steady back-and-forth between the organization and its external partners. 

Helio Innovate addresses this challenge by providing a secure experimentation platform, fostering collaboration within the enterprise, as well as with technology vendors and research institutions. This accelerates innovation and facilitates knowledge sharing, bringing together diverse expertise to tackle complex challenges. 

Every trained engineer shall train another

The global talent shortage in AI is well-documented, and the Middle East faces the additional challenge of local shortages in advanced data science skills. To realize their generative AI goals, a well-trained talent pool becomes an absolute necessity on their journey. But how do you reconcile this technological ambition with talent shortage? 

While the challenge remains, the Middle East is progressing in addressing it. According to the BCG AI Radar, 11% of Middle Eastern executives report that at least 25% of their workers have trained on generative AI tools.3 And Virtusa is committed to steadily adding to those numbers. We have introduced a Generative AI Center of Excellence, comprising over 450 trained engineers that serve as valuable enterprise resources. Combined with our Helio Build accelerator, which provides access to pre-trained models and development tools, Helio helps clients bridge the talent gap and expedite AI development.

Investing in the future workforce

The world’s generative AI ambitions rest on the shoulders of a trained workforce. That’s why Virtusa recognizes the importance of talent development for the long-term success of AI adoption in the Middle East. Our Engineering First residency takes individuals with limited experience and equips them with the necessary AI skills through a comprehensive training program. This initiative allows us to invest in our clients, encouraging them with further offers such as the first three months being free and the next nine months being only partly billed. 

In line with our collaborative intent, we are also building cross-organizational teams with our clients. These teams will aim to co-create solutions, empowering clients to experiment freely and Virtusa helps them take the solution from idea to reality, accelerating the AI adoption process. By investing in the future workforce, we are building a sustainable AI ecosystem in the region and reinstating that the youth are, in fact, the pillars of the industry.

Onto a flourishing ecosystem

So, what will it take for the Middle East’s AI ambitions to birth a generative AI ecosystem? It’s simple, people and strong partnerships. Regardless of their challenges, the Middle East has a strong foundation—a robust digital transformation base, extensive databases, and significant investments in data center infrastructure. With the right collaborative push, the region has the potential to bloom into a generative AI ecosystem. And we believe that Virtusa Helio can be a part of that push.

Helio’s accelerators are especially adept at making this transformation efficient and cost-effective for Middle Eastern organizations. Our collaborative approach and a practical suite of services help organizations prototype faster, modernize existing infrastructure, and build greenfield solutions, all while abiding by the Middle East’s high-security standards. By addressing key challenges, fostering collaboration, and investing in talent development, we create the most crucial part of a generative AI ecosystem—the symbiotic partnership that fuels innovation and drives progress. Together, we can help the Middle East lead the path it achieves and then transcend to become a generative AI leader.



  1. “Generative AI: The Middle East CIO’s Newest Value Creator” BCG. Published on June 5, 2024.
  2. “An in-depth look at data center development in the Middle East” Turner and Townsend. Published on February 21, 2024.
  3. “From Potential to Profit with GenAI” BCG. Published on January 12, 2024.



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