Interview: Nasser Al Nasser

To what extent are IT managed services and cloud technology evolving and progressing the digital transformation of Saudi Arabia?

NASSER AL NASSER: The whole country is going through a massive digital transformation. The traditional way of doing business is changing rapidly. Retail has been radically changed by analytics and automation, the automotive industry has been revolutionised by artificial intelligence and robotics, and now consumer behaviour is also shifting to reflect the age of digitisation. To accommodate these changes, technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, together with a comprehensive cybersecurity ecosystem, will see astronomical growth under Vision 2030. The inauguration of new data centres, one of which is the largest data centre in the region, will also be a key step in supporting both civil and industrial entities during the digitisation process, and technologies such as cloud are at the heart of this.

Why should data localisation be prioritised in the Kingdom, and what opportunities will this present in the future?

AL NASSER: For service providers, the demand for localised and secure data has led to growth in demand for cloud services, analytics packages, the internet of things and other technologies. As such, service providers can offer a complete portfolio of managed services that cater to the needs of any customer. From a consumer perspective, mobile payment solutions have grown tremendously, with up to 90% of all transactions being carried out digitally through mobile applications or self-service machines. There are still more avenues to explore with regard to digitalising local services, which is reflected through customer feedback. Internally, many companies are investing in training new employees through various graduate programmes and programmes for women. Considering Saudi Arabia’s large youth population and the fact that young people tend to invest heavily in mobile services, it is important to target young people and to engage with them through various programmes.

The ICT sector will become a major employer in the years to come as the development of local content continues to expand, so it is highly important to provide a platform for young people to acquire the skills and competencies necessary for employment within the sector in the long term.

What kinds of infrastructure initiatives and reforms are currently being undertaken to improve fixed infrastructure?

AL NASSER: Through the National Transformation Programme there are extensive plans to invest in fixed infrastructure. A key challenge within the Kingdom today is that new mobile applications are consuming a lot of bandwidth. The government has created two key initiatives as a result. The first is to award more spectrum to telecoms operators. Accordingly, operators are investing in their respective networks to capitalise on this, and are also incrementally enhancing the quality and speed of services. The second revolves around the development of fibre-to-the-home optical solutions, as by 2020 this high-speed technology will serve more than 2m households nationwide.

Having more spectrum in the wireless domain, coupled with a greater degree of fixed infrastructure, will alleviate the pressure placed on telecoms operators, and will support the development of better and faster services. The sharing of infrastructure is also recently on the rise, and moving forward this will be a game of efficiencies. As competition between operators is becoming increasingly focused on services provided than on passive infrastructure, all parties will be poised to benefit from sharing.