The future has never seemed closer than this week at Gulf Information Technology Exhibition in Dubai.
The exhibition halls of Dubai World Trade Centre were buzzing even before the doors officially opened, with delegates sharing ideas and contacts.
Most exhibitors had not seen crowds on this scale for more than 18 months, and the sense of excitement was palpable, even with everyone wearing masks.
"People are hungry to see each other once more," said Rasheed Al-Omari, a business solutions strategist for US cloud computing company VMware.
He has attended Gitex for 25 years, bar last year when Covid concerns kept him away.
"Everybody's excited, everybody's back. We've seen some precautions here and there, but at the end of the day, people are so eager to be here, said Mr Al-Omari.
Mohammed Al-Khotani is an area vice president at Sitecore, a software company which enables websites to make personalised recommendations to their customers. He has attended Gitex every year, throughout his career.
"I think it's an opportunity - yes Covid taught us to do things virtually, but we are social beings, we like to talk to people, have a coffee, discuss what's the latest," said Mr Al-Khotani.
Permanent shift in mindset
While everyone enjoyed greeting each other in person at Gitex, the general consensus was that virtual meetings were here to stay.
This is because the pandemic has persuaded us to make a mental shift about how we meet, said Mr Al-Omari.
"Interestingly enough, psychologically, if you see someone that you haven't ever seen in person, and you've been seeing them for few months, over Zoom or Teams, now you can't tell the difference between whether you've actually seen them before physically or not," he said.
Covid-19 has also brought about a sea-change in staff and customer recruitment.
"We will never go back to the way we were before, because many companies have discovered that they can hire a lot of very good talent, that are not necessarily physically located in the normal places," said Mr Al-Omari.
"More importantly, customers are now more accepting of a distributed workforce.
"I remember the days when customers needed to see people in their offices to consider doing business with them. Now with the pandemic, we've seen a lot more customers who are accepting of doing remote business."
Covid created opportunities
While certain sectors struggled during the pandemic, software companies and cloud computing service providers saw an accelerated interest in their services.
For many 2020 was a bumper year, as the pandemic crystallised a need for their services.
"People wanted to utilise their time when businesses was a bit slow during the pandemic, to drive their digital transformation, and it become a priority," said Monzer Tohme, a sales director for the software provider, Infor, which provides business applications via the cloud.
"It's no longer, I have a plan for the coming three to five years. They've shortened that plan and they made sure they started as early as possible."
The technology octopus
Technology can no longer be carved out as a specific sector - digital tentacles have wound their way into every industry, and the pandemic accelerated the trend.
Mr Tohme, said the concept of just being local is not possible anymore, as companies can not survive.
"Today they don't have the option of not being online, whether they're selling or servicing their customers," he said.
"Some of our clients have taken the full-fledged digital transformation journey, some went with one part of the business to test the ground.
"Today I can easily say the highest percentage of customers are keen on moving, partially or completely to the cloud."
The broad spectrum of visitors attending Gitex illustrated this trend, said Mr Al-Khotani from Sitecore.
"This is a great platform, not only for technology people, but what I noticed this year is we have visitors from marketing, finance and communication," he said.
"We have visitors from Europe, South Africa, Kenya and Russia - I've seen a lot of people coming from all over the world."