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Ali Safri | Chief Technology Officer | Avanza Innovations

Ali Safri: Revamping the Paradigm of Digital Transformation & Achieving Exemplary Business Acumen

Exploring Boundless Horizons of Computer Software and Leading the Web 3!

In a world where every part of our lives connects with the digital world, an important question arises: What will the future digital world be like? How will it impact the way we live, work, and communicate? The answers are not guesses, but the driving force behind the digital revolution that is happening.

Ali Safri, a forward-thinking Chief Technology Officer, Innovator, and Architect, is leading the way, discovering new opportunities in computer software and leading the change in our digital environment.

Ali’s journey is a testament to his profound understanding of the ever-evolving technology landscape. He has witnessed the transition from the early days of x86 machines and DOS-based operating systems to the current digital era. His vision extends beyond the present, with a keen eye on the future, driven by emerging technologies.

The advent of the Internet, the proliferation of smartphones, and the rapidly approaching Web 3.0 era underscore Ali’s commitment to staying at the forefront of digital innovation. He’s a firm believer in the transformative power of technologies like Blockchain, Metaverse, Generative AI, IoT, and Quantum Computing. For him, it’s not just about adopting these technologies for the sake of it; it’s about how they can reshape businesses, create new models, enhance efficiency, and empower employees and customers alike.

Ali Safri’s journey began with an insatiable curiosity about how software works and how it can evolve to open new possibilities. His relentless exploration, learning, and implementation of emerging technologies are all aimed at aligning technology with business objectives. For him, technology is a means to improve lives, enhance experiences, optimize efficiency, reduce costs, and keep enterprises relevant in the ever-shifting digital landscape.

His passion is not just for software but for the transformation and empowerment that software can bring to individuals and organizations. Ali Safri is not just an industry leader; he’s a visionary shaping the future of the digital world, one innovation at a time.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Could you please brief about your company and its inception story?

The Avanza Group company “Avanza Solutions” started an innovation center to incubate new ideas from within the company itself. The organization-wide program was called Cosmos and was started around 2015. Since I was heading Global Presales with a basket of banking and alternate delivery channel products and had a lot of ideas, I was asked to lead that division as an additional responsibility. That resulted in certain ideas that the company opened as a few separate businesses. This was around 2016 when crypto and blockchain were both not that popular, but due to my interest in emerging technology, I was actively following and hacking this discipline. I convinced the management to participate in an accelerator program by the Dubai government and developed an enterprise blockchain solution for reconciliation and settlements. After its success and due to the addressable market chunk of the enterprise blockchain and its possibilities, a new company named Avanza Innovations was formed with the mandate to work immediately in the enterprise blockchain space along with a mandate to explore other emerging technologies in general. I was nominated as the CTO and co-founder of this new company named “Avanza Innovations”. The name of the company reflects its mission as Avanza Innovations! We love to innovate!

What strategies do you employ to drive innovation and technological advancement within your organization, and how do you prioritize technology projects and initiatives to align with the company’s goals and objectives?

We are a technology provider, and the most important thing for us is our customers and their journeys with innovation and emerging technology. The strategy is based on three steps: knowing the Trends, Quickly Built Platforms, and Deliver Quality Implementations.

We keep ourselves updated with the evolving technology, research and develop, experiment, and use our maturity in developing software products and platforms around the concept, and we show our target customers the efficiency and effectiveness that nascent technology adoption will bring along with a proper value realization. At the same time, implementation of such huge multi-level organization projects is a challenge when you take enterprise blockchain, for example; thus, the platform must be robust, based on low code with a lot of micro-services as well as security, performance, and quality baked in, and not via a custom product fitting one specific requirement. Thus, our maturity in quick platform development and deployment gives us an advantage in the implementation of production-grade systems faster with less budget and more repeatable outcomes.

The three most prominent platforms created are CIPHER for enterprise blockchain (which won many international awards, e.g., APICTA), ORION for metaverse, and Impulse to cater to Generative AI Adoption, and am humbled to have an opportunity at Avanza to ideate and develop the same.

At the same time, internal processes to scale the resource pool based on customer demand are mature, so we deliver as per our client expectations or overachieve.

Can you share an example of a successful technology implementation that you have overseen and its impact on the organization?

We, Avanza and I, as CTO and Architect, have delivered many success stories of multi-organization Enterprise Blockchain and boast to hold the most market share in the GCC for big enterprise-grade production blockchain consortiums, working in 3+ years in production, some of which are below.

  • UAE Trade Connect is a platform of 14+ UAE Banks catering to Trade Finance and invoice duplication fraud. Built for the Banks and by the Banks

  • ARMACO Invoice Verification is ARMACO’s first blockchain success story for quick invoice verification with its suppliers and captures the contractual conditions of extremely complex long-form contracts, the life cycle data of the Procure to Pay process captured on blockchain, and automatic blockchain-enabled invoice and supporting document generation with mutual trust. It is used by ARAMCO and its 10+ supplier network.
  • The lost passport use-case is a blockchain-enabled solution utilized by Dubai Police, GDRFA, Dubai Courts, and Prosecution for issuing lost passport certificates.
  • BENEFIT KYC is the blockchain-enabled KYC sharing network for 40+ Banks and financial institutions utilized in Bahrain.,this%20network%20seamlessly%20and%20effectively.

  • Dubai Customs, E-Commerce Chain, is a consortium of 40+ logistics, Couriers, E-Commerce companies, and 3 free zones spearheaded by Dubai Customs and aims to have a clear trace of e-commerce transaction journeys end-to-end on a blockchain, facilitating quick customs processing and getting appropriate subsidies to optimize the e-commerce supply chain.
  • K-Companies in Kuwait, shipping nomination use case, is a consortium of KNPC, KPC, KOC, KOTC, and its group of inspectors, shipping lines, and other players aimed at automating the end-to-end shipment nomination process to generate electronic verifiable documents backed by blockchain via mutual consensus.

How do you ensure the security and integrity of the organization’s technology infrastructure?

Security is an integral part of our software development methodology and a core part of the software development lifecycle.

  • The development phase has code reviews, threat modeling, misuse case design, and verification using real-time vulnerability-checking tools.
  • The platform thus created has application security baked in.
  • The platform is hardened, so any implementation gets in-built security, and the implementation engineer of a specific project has less chance of violating the security as it is built into the platform.
  • Deployment is done on client infrastructure using a secure automatic DevOps process.
  • Security is a continuous process, and we take it very seriously.
  • Our enterprise-grade platforms have cleared with flying colors security assessments from multiple organizations that are part of the blockchain consortiums listed above and have been in production for the last 2–3 years.

What steps do you take to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and advancements in technology?

Cultivate a culture of passionate tech guys who love technology and keep on exploring what is happening in the market in terms of emerging technologies. Allocate resources to experiment and hack these emerging technologies and bake your enterprise experience to create platforms that deliver value.

At the same time, participate in thought leadership by attending and speaking at various top-notch conferences so that selected topics push and challenge you more to innovate.

How do you foster a collaborative and productive relationship between the technology team and other departments within the organization?

As a technology provider, 99% of our organization is technology itself. Rather than using technology internally, we are technology partners with our customers and help them in their journey of adoption and implementation of nascent technologies, showing them what is possible.

Can you discuss any challenges you have faced as a CTO and how you have overcome them?

The biggest challenge is the retention of the skillset, as when you work in an emerging technology area, not many people understand the tech stack, and as soon as you train them, they find better opportunities. That is why we have matured our training pipeline and baked the most power into the platforms that we have built. By hiring fresh talent, we can train them on our platform and derive mutual value for the company as well as value for the employee by growing their skillset, behavior, and ability to challenge what is possible. We are always happy to see our workforce grow, either with us or if they wish to leave us. They are much more refined and polished, and anyone working for Avanza can vouch for the same.

How do you promote a culture of continuous learning and professional development within your technology team?

A culture of continuous learning and professional development comes from examples. The CTO knows how to get problems solved, even at the code level, if required. The Alpha managers, the managerial layer below, are people with a software background who love technology and get into code if required. All lower layers should always look at their managers as smarter, more knowledgeable, more tech-savvy, and leaders who solve problems. If that is a culture at the grass-roots level, then continuous learning happens as an outcome automatically as people are passionate about their core.

Compare that to managers who are just reporting from lower layers to upper layers without adding any value of their own; then such organizational culture becomes political, the blame game starts, and the desire to shine by virtue of knowledge, skill, and creativity declines.

What are your thoughts on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things, and how do you see them impacting your industry?

Blockchain, AI, Metaverse, Quantum Computing, and IoT are the future technology stack, and all these emerging technologies will converge and mutually boost each other in their adoption. We at Avanza are passionate about all of them and have solutions to help enterprises adopt and implement them as we are technology providers.

Generative AI is a promising technology that will allow generating content at super speeds and accuracy, which in turn will create the problem of fake paper documents that look 100% genuine, which will result in the adoption of blockchain as a verifiable, authentic, and traceable digital record.

Similarly, vulnerability analysis of code, which is, by the way, 80% open source utilized across the world, will become easy and in the hands of the masses if generative AI-based vulnerability tools mature, thus adding to the surface area of cyber security and putting pressure on centralized databases as they will become targets of data integrity violations, which again will result in blockchain adoption as the only viable solution.

Real-time voice and audio-generated social engineering will advance via generative AI, which will question the very existence of a true identity and blockchain-based traceable identity will be the only cure.

IoT is the ears and eyes of the real world, which would be relaying data into immersive experiences based on metaverses, which have a touch of the physical world and the power of the digital world. Generative AI will be used to create 3D realms and fantasy worlds faster, thus both IoT and Generative AI will advance the discipline of the metaverse.

See my talk here on my predictions on the convergence of all the emerging technologies.