MBZUAI procurement building bright future for AI in the UAE

MBZUAI procurement building bright future for AI in the UAE

Mansour Al Blooshi, Head of Procurement at Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), on delivering AI’s future talent

There are many routes to becoming a procurement leader, but Mansour Al Blooshi may have taken one of the more unusual career paths to the profession.

The world of procurement found Mansour almost by accident while he was working at Etihad Airways as a member of the airline’s renowned cabin crew. Before that, he was a professional football referee in the UAE league.

“Being a referee taught me three valuable lessons that I bring to procurement,” says Mansour, now Head of Procurement at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).

“Fairness, patience, and clear decision-making are crucial both on the football pitch and in procurement.

“No two days are the same in procurement. It is a routine job, but not a routine scenario.”

Few readers would argue with that statement, especially as the role of procurement has evolved significantly in the decade that Mansour has been building his career and credentials. His rise has been even more impressive given he admits to never having heard the word ‘procurement’ until that chance discussion with an Etihad Airways’ manager.

Mansour explains that he learned quickly through hard work, following his mentor’s direction, and “never making the same mistake twice”.

He spent a couple of formative years in the Etihad Airways’ procurement team before moving to Masdar Institute (later merging with Khalifa University) in 2015 where he spent four years. He joined MBZUAI in 2020, commencing as Head of Procurement in August 2022.

Working at the world’s first graduate, research university dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) presents its own unique challenges – not least because it was a startup pioneering high-level curriculum in computer science, computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing, and robotics.  

Then there was the dreaded pandemic to contend with, too. But that did not stop MBZUAI producing its first master’s graduates in December 2022 and again in June 2023. The Class of 2024 will see the university’s first Ph.D. students graduating.

MBZUAI was founded in 2019 and provides a purpose-built, high-tech, and eco-friendly campus. Currently, MBZUAI has 283 students from 41 countries. Its diversity makes it a unique and welcoming institution and benefits the work it undertakes. 

From a procurement perspective, the task was even more significant given that MBZUAI funds every student via a full scholarship – covering course fees, accommodation, flights, and even providing a generous ‘stipend’ allowance.

“Being an AI university, our main suppliers are naturally in the IT field,” Mansour says. 

“We started the IT infrastructure with Emircom, then we developed our High Performance Computing (HPC) data centre with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Alpha Data.”

Emircom and Alpha Data are both Abu Dhabi-based technology companies and Mansour says the university is keen to work with local, homegrown suppliers and partners where possible. However, there is also a greater focus on sustainability when it comes to commercial evaluation of suppliers.

“Sustainability is one of the major goals we are trying to achieve within the Abu Dhabi Government, not only the university,” Mansour says. 

“This is a long-term goal, but today if I make even a small change then in 10 years that might make a difference, and we may reach our 2050 goal.”

One of the first sustainability initiatives instigated by Mansour was the removal of plastic water bottles.

He then set about creating a sustainability policy for procurement, setting out what suppliers need to do to meet MBZUAI’s requirements.

“We made sustainability worth between five and 10 marks for our evaluation of suppliers, so that’s around 20 percent of the commercial evaluation,” Mansour explains.

“From IT to kitchen supplies, we look for products that are recyclable, sustainable, and do not impact the environment. We need to make sure that God-given resources are protected.”

Less than 12 months old when Mansour started at MBZUAI, he soon discovered the procurement team was processing by hand because they were ‘between’ digital systems.

Mansour admits that the system does have some challenges, and he works around that by creating some bespoke systems and processes to make sure he stays on top of closing open POs especially, so that they do not have a negative impact on his annual budget.

Of course, challenges are all part of the fun when it comes to procurement, and this variety is what appeals to Mansour.

“No two days are the same in procurement,” he states. “It is a routine job, but not a routine scenario. Educating people about procurement, helping them understand procurement, makes me feel good.”

That is a good thing, as Mansour’s team is expanding and becoming more specialised. The procurement department continues to go from strength to strength with its procurement strategy in place. They are supported in simultaneously handling contracts, vendor management and quality assurance. Mansour adds that it has taken a lot of effort and resources, but those investments will pay dividends as the procurement team delivers greater efficiencies.

Training leaders in AI

As well as providing master’s and Ph.D. degrees for the brightest computer science minds, MBZUAI also runs regular executive and professional training programs for leaders in both government and the private sector.

These courses provide leaders and managers with knowledge about AI and how it can be best used to positively impact business and society. The university’s one-of-a-kind Executive Program (MEP) has successfully trained three cohorts consisting of more than 120 UAE leaders in AI so they can begin implementation in their home organisations. Through their exposure to elite, global AI researchers and heads of industry, private and public sector leaders in the UAE are growing into a powerful AI ecosystem — an essential ingredient for long-term success with the technology.

MBZUAI believes that leadership’s buy-in towards implementing AI is a critical factor to successful digital transformation and adoption in industries across the UAE and the world.

Mansour is excited to be working for one of the global leaders in AI and believes the institution’s future is bright. 

“We have all the resources when it comes to talent. We have brilliant ideas,” he says proudly.

“I believe that the UAE can be central to the future of AI both in the region and the world. MBZUAI is the paradise of AI.”

Mansour Al Blooshi
Mansour Al Blooshi
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