Competitive Advantage: UAE-Based Nybl Wants To Democratize Access To Artificial Intelligence nybl deploys, maintains, and manages systems that address data sovereignty, data residency, and technological sovereignty.
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If there is one statement that businesses across the globe today wouldn't hesitate to collectively acquiesce upon, it is that "data is king." Indeed, in a rapidly digitized world, unearthing data appears to be a key element in achieving success across the operational realms of any given business. But bring this topic up with Noor Alnahhas, co-founder and CEO of the UAE-based enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) platform nybl, and he will be quick to remind you that acquiring data is not the be-all and end-all in modern-day business.
"A few years ago, everybody was talking about how data is the new oil, data is the new gold, data is the new currency," Alnahhas recalls. "By that time, I'd spent years delivering systems or building systems that deliver data, only to tell somebody that something bad has happened. I thought it was absolutely insane that people were willing to spend millions of dollars only to know that something has failed. The thesis I thus had was that it's not data alone that holds the true value- it is in the actionable insights that you can derive from it. And so, nybl's business inspiration is in the utilization of the vast amounts of data that companies have built over the years to generate actionable intelligence. And that's what we say, nybl transforms data into intelligence, one 'nybl' at a time."
nybl was founded in 2019 by Alnahhas and six other co-founders, namely, Sufyaan Abdul Haseeb, Mohammed Shono, Hafsa Yazdni, Shriprakash Pandey, Michael LeTan, and Waleed Refaat. In its bid to convert data into intelligence, the company offers services that are demarcated into three salient areas: AI applications as a service, a codeless machine learning (ML) tool, and an enterprise AI orchestrator.
The first of these -the AI applications as a service branch- offers pre-configured AI solutions that are customized for very specific types of operations, and can be immediately deployed. "For example, our remote well management software, Lift.ai, is for optimizing operations in oil wells within the oil and gas industries," Alnahhas explains. "Another one of our products is VFM.ai, a virtual flow meter that works for the metering of any fluid -liquid, gas, or multi-phase- that can work in diverse sectors like oil and gas utilities, manufacturing, petrochemicals, and medicine. A predictive AI tool we offer is Rotating.ai, which can be used for enhancing any rotating equipment such as pumps, turbines, generators, etc. The unique value proposition of these products is that they can be deployed, connected to data, and start running AI in real time. Companies don't have to spend months in training, since we've already done all of that work ourselves."
Sufyaan Abdul Haseeb, Mohammed Shono, Hafsa Yazdni, Noor Alnahhas, Shriprakash Pandey, Michael LeTan, and Waleed Refaat, co-founders, nybl. Source: nybl
Apart from these readily available AI softwares, nybl also offers Nubyla- a codeless ML tool. "Nubyla was born from the necessity to empower subject matter experts -be they finance, supply chain, production engineering, or geology- to construct machine learning models without the prerequisite of coding expertise or data science know-how," Alnahhas explains. "It is thus a bridge that connects profound subject knowledge to machine learning capabilities."
Finally, nybl's third product vertical is Anything.ai, a tool that can simplify the process of deploying AI and ML models in an enterprise setting. "While some suggest that tools like Python suffice, the truth is they fall short on scalability and enterprise requirements- Anything.ai is our response to this issue," Alnahhas says. "It is an orchestrator that transitions models to enterprise-grade environments, and facilitates a scalable connection to data sources, data preparation, storage, and processing. It is the enterprise resource planning (ERP) that helps accomplish centralized and enterprise-level AI deployment."
With all of its offerings, nybl's ultimate aim has been to democratize the access to AI- a goal it has been able to bring to fruition through the adoption of a three-tiered subscription-based revenue model. "The first tier of our subscription model is asset-centric, wherein we anchor the subscription not to the number of users, but to the intrinsic value we enhance within each asset," Alnahhas says. "Our second tier is predicated on the AI models, where we charge based on the AI model employed, and the computing power it necessitates. This tiered approach democratizes access to cutting-edge AI for smaller entities to ensure that larger corporations receive and invest in the value proportionate to their utilization. And our third subscription model is centered around ML actions. Here, rather than billing based on data volume, we charge per action -such as data transformation, labeling, cleansing, or clustering- making this an equitable model for handling firms with expansive as well as limited datasets."
With the aforementioned business and revenue models at their disposal, Alnahhas and his team believe they have -already- been largely able to achieve what they had set out to do when they launched nybl. "The dual focus on addressing business challenges with leading-edge technology to transform data into intelligence, and cultivating economic value in the Middle East through technological innovation, embodies nybl's ethos," Alnahhas says. "Today, nybl is based in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, employing talents across KSA, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and beyond. It is not just a business; it stands for economic progress and technological sovereignty for the region. This vision is important to us as co-founders, as well as to the Middle East's future."
But that isn't all there is to the backstory of this UAE-grown startup that has, today, worked with the likes of Lenovo, Microsoft and Baker Hughes. As Alnahhas puts it, the vision with which nybl was built is one that "is rooted deeply in the personal narratives of myself and the co-founders." Here, Alnahhas is alluding towards the phenomenon of talent migration, which the Middle East has -unfortunately- seen a lot of. "The migration of tremendous talent from the Arab world, this 'brain drain,' propelled by a scarcity of opportunities and support for academic and innovative ventures, drove many to seek greener pastures where their skills were not just acknowledged but celebrated," Alnahhas recalls. "But a cycle like this sabotages the Middle East -a region once celebrated and recognized as the birthplace of mathematics, culture, and science- into a place people depart from. So, nybl emerged from a desire to reverse this trend, by fostering economic value through technological innovation within the broader Middle East."
Alnahhas and his co-founding team were able to since find that their vision to nurture local talent aligned perfectly with that of the governments of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. However, not long after, in a moment that tested their dedication to this ethos, nybl was offered a lucrative chance to relocate its headquarters to the US-based tech haven, Silicon Valley. "It was a move that even local investors suggested we take up," Alnahhas reveals. "But we were determined to defy that narrative. nybl aims not just to become a global corporate entity, but to catalyze the emergence of multiple enterprises like ours to fuel empowerment, and make a significant impact."
A lot of this grit can perhaps be traced back to the nybl co-founding team's staunch belief in their entrepreneurial venture. Because in yet another display of non-negotiable founding values, nybl is also strongly against outsourcing any of its technology development. "There's no way we could call ourselves a technology company or have economic impact if we're outsourcing development, so it was inherited from the beginning that we will have our own in-house technology development, because then, we own the technology development path, and the value associated with it," Alnahhas says. "This decision aligns with what was best for nybl, and it's a big debate, because a lot of companies ask us why we don't outsource, and make it cheaper. Yes, that's right, we could do it cheaper, but I wonder if anybody asks the companies in Silicon Valley why they're hiring people in the Silicon Valley, where their prices are three to four times the multiples of anywhere else in the world. Why don't they export jobs to make them cheaper? My perspective is clear– we're not pursuing the cheaper route. Instead, we're prioritizing economical and efficient practices at nybl."
According to Alnahhas, his startup's greatest competitive edge lies in its ability to be able to build and own "every line of code, every AI model, every machine learning algorithm" that it works with. "The competitive advantage with that is that we can deploy, maintain, and manage systems that address data sovereignty, data residency, and technological sovereignty," he says. "People may think that's a challenge in the Middle East region only, but the reality is it's a huge value and competitive advantage in the rest of the world. In this region, data sovereignty, data residency needs to stay within the given country. Whether it's the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, they want the data to stay in the country, but they also want technological sovereignty. At nybl, we're able to deploy on-premise, or we're able to deploy on a private or local cloud."
100% ownership of its technology has also allowed nybl to swerve any issues related to data privacy, says Alnahhas. "Now, when you go to Europe and the US, the risk of deploying on a public cloud is the security breaches, the privacy concerns, and the regulatory concerns," he continues. "While the drivers are governments here, the drivers there are the private sector or the public market sector, as well in risk, privacy, and regulatory concerns. Consequently, it's become a huge competitive advantage in the rest of the world as well, because we can eliminate those risks for the customers by deploying on their own internally managed private clouds, where they're in control of the security, they're in control of the data. So, there's no violation in our privacy regulations."
Noor Alnahhas, co-founder and CEO of nybl, delivering a tech talk during Gitex Global 2023, a tech and startup event that took place at Dubai World Trade Center from October 16-20, 2023. Source: nybl
For someone who exhibits such trust in the power of advanced technology and AI in particular, it would be remiss to not broach the ongoing debate of AI versus human intelligence. But when asked about it, Alnahhas immediately dismisses the supposed urgency of the topic. "I think everybody's worried about the wrong threats for AI!" he says. "This is my personal perspective based on everything I'm seeing in the world today. Let's address the big elephant in the room- everyone is talking about AI taking our jobs. But in every single major transition, such as the Industrial Revolution, people thought that they were going to lose jobs. However, the fact was that you just needed to reskill the workforce. We already have a huge shortage of developers and data scientists today, and we haven't even had mass adoption of AI yet. So, while certain jobs will be made redundant, an enormous amount of new jobs will be created. Rather than worrying about jobs being replaced, I should be looking at what is the skill I need to be reskilled in, right?"
All of this, however, isn't to say that Alnahhas is oblivious to some of the very real threats that AI poses. "My biggest concern in AI is, instead, the loss of control in the narrative and information," he says. "AI is built on data, and the proverb "garbage in is garbage out" underscores the pivotal role of data quality. A lot of people are looking at the data from AI as fact, whereas if it's garbage that's in, then it's misguided information that's out. The first step in AI and machine learning is identifying correlation, and the second step is identifying if there is a causation or not. As AI develops, we're also starting to see the risks where a tool learns from other people's intellectual property, and then creates its own music, artwork, and writing, or where it's generating images, video, information that is untrue, but being represented as true. We're already seeing how many people are using AI applications with malicious intent. To me, that's a huge area of concern for artificial intelligence, surpassing the concerns about job loss."
In many ways, Alnahhas' concerns regarding AI are linked to the work his startup does. But as it turns out, helping firms decode their data in a simple and safe way is only one major aspect of nybl's operational make-up. "There is an ethos at nybl that it's incumbent on those who develop technology to use it for the betterment of humankind," Alnahhas says. "In 2021, at the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), we published the Energy Compact, an action plan on how to advance the seventh United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG7) that pertains to sustainable energy for all. And in that Energy Compact, we committed to three things: utilizing 30% renewable energy for all of our processing and our offices by 2030, do our own renewable or sustainable energy project in every country we operate in by 2030 with a goal to power our offices and processing by 100% renewable energy, and developing the technology that will allow and empower others to achieve their sustainability goals."
These sustainability goals, Alnahhas says, are a significant part of the journey he and his team have mapped out for the future of nybl. "For us, the plan for the next six to 12 months is very clear, and our primary focus is two-fold," Alnahhas adds. "Number one is scaling our existing technologies, and expanding the reach of our products through strategic partnerships, direct customer engagement, and collaboration with resellers. The second is to continue our innovation and intelligence development with a strong focus on sustainability, healthcare and the broader social fabric– specifically, industries like energy, utilities, healthcare, and manufacturing, that are currently operating beyond sustainable levels. That is where we'll be focusing our time, intelligence and innovation."
And it is with those end-goals in mind that Alnahhas believes the only way for his startup is up. "We are confident that by 2024, nybl will not only continue to be successful, but will emerge as a global player as it navigates these two diverging paths– scaling existing technologies, and driving innovation," Alnahhas says. "Through our vision of making a tangible impact on industries and societal challenges, I believe that nybl will be recognized as a household name…or a verb, as they say!"