Ask anyone who has ever visited Istanbul what their favourite city is and it will almost certainly be Istanbul! It is a remarkable place in every respect. Its history, culture, location and climate all contribute to its appeal but many of those visitors may not realise just what a technology powerhouse Istanbul and Turkey have become.
It is described as a liberal Muslim country of over 75 million and its inhabitants rightly see themselves as the bridge between the Arabic and European worlds. Most urban Turks, especially the 16 or so million in Istanbul, live very European-like lifestyles, European dress and are mad on technology. Maybe that's why so many European and American visitors feel so comfortable there - that and the fantastic architecture, markets and food!
It shouldn't be too surprising because the city of Istanbul straddles the deep blue water of the beautiful Bosporus proudly announcing that one foot is in Europe the other in Asia. No other city can legitimately make this claim or capitalise on it quite as well as Istanbul. It is a city of two faces, the century's old architecture punctured by the new, high-rise glass structures of its growing business district.
Its strategic location has for centuries made it the perfect place for trade between east and west, north and south. As a result, it has been influenced and been able to take advantage of goods and services from all markets of the world as they were traded on its doorstep. And it has been no different with technology.
Many may not realise just what a technology powerhouse Turkey has developed into over the past ten years in particular. 75 per cent of the population is under 35 and it is very much in tune with social networking and mobile technology, both of which have been embraced with a vengeance.
The UK's Guardian reported recently that Turkey's universities are rising as well. Ankara has become a hub of higher education, attracting students from Africa and Asia. Many top programmes are in English, ensuring that Turkey will attract an increasing number of international students. And the country's universities are increasingly spinning off high-tech companies in avionics, information technology, and advanced electronics, among other areas.
The country enjoys 100 per cent mobile coverage, and wired internet coverage now exceeds 80 per cent. Over 25 million Turks use Facebook (the fifth largest national grouping in 2012). Of the more then 65 million mobile phones in use, over a third are smartphones. With such a massive home market, with a unique language, it is no surprise that Turkey has nurtured its own very productive and successful IT sector. It has been heavily promoted and supported by TBİTAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey and extends to universities and colleges offering courses across the technology spectrum.
The combined result has been an explosion in IT development especially in the banking and telecoms sector, much of which is now being successfully exported. Turkish banks, for example, have led the world with some great products. Ziraat Bank has deployed a network of unstaffed video kiosks which it calls video teller machines, that use video-conferencing to connect customers with agents in the bank's contact centre. DenizBank became the first bank in the world to lets it customers access their deposit and credit card accounts through Facebook. It also allows prospects to apply for credit through SMS, and has recently expanded that service so that people can apply through its @DenizKredi account on Twitter. Turk Ekonomi Bankasi(TEB) became the first bank in Europe to give customers debit cards with built-in authentication technology, complete with keypad and screen.
Turkey's communications service providers are no less innovative and have come up with a stream of products and services that have since been adopted elsewhere, and even some that needed legislative to support their introduction. I remember years ago being stunned to hear that any legal document in Turkey could be digitally signed via one's mobile phone or computer and another service that allowed the remote unlocking of your home's front door to allow access by tradesmen, cleaners or kids home from school direct from a mobile phone.
Software system developers such as Etiya Information Technologies are producing world beating products and achieving international recognition. Etiya’s Telaura CRM Suite was awarded Oracle’s Most Impressive Customer Project Award and the company this year was nominee in the TM Forum's prestigious Solution Excellence category in 2012.
Etiya's CEO, Ali Durmus, summed it up well when he said: "Turkey's highly competitive and advanced telco market is producing many new services with little time to market and under constant pressure to reduce costs. This means that technology suppliers like Etiya have to meet the challenges. The results, as we have found, are in demand in other markets as well.
Turkish people are generally optimistic about their economy as well as technological development and it is proving to be a very sustainable model in a region where stability and economic growth are not the norm. The Guardian article put it so succinctly: "There is nothing flashy about Turkey's rise, which has been based on fundamentals, rather than bubbles or resource discoveries".