On Saudi Arabia’s digital economy and opportunities arising from the pandemic
To what extent has the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated Saudi Arabia’s digital agenda?
MOHAMMED ALSHAIBI: Saudi Arabia started working to build its digital economy a long time ago, and its citizens enjoy the benefits of numerous e-government services. Government agencies that have a robust and advanced online offering have been able to engage more efficiently and actively with citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic, exerting pressure on areas in which improvements in e-government can be made.
The pandemic has reinforced the government’s focus on its digital agenda and transformation. This is particularly notable when it comes to enhancing and expanding internal communication within entities. For example, Saudi Arabia is making significant strides in facilitating digital document sharing and transactions within government institutions.
How are privacy and security concerns being addressed in light of the increased use of digital solutions and online tools, and what areas of improvement are emerging as a result?
ALSHAIBI: Privacy and security has always been a priority for Saudi Arabia, and it will continue to be an area of focus and investment. The widely utilised electronic identification is an example of the government’s efforts in this direction. Today, the local population utilise their electronic identity to carry out digital transactions safely and quickly across government services, as well as those in sectors such as finance, health care and retail. The system has proven to be fundamental to the Kingdom’s digital journey.
This being said, issues related to cyberattacks and online security continue to evolve. Given the expanded use of online tools and solutions during the pandemic, both end users and providers of online services – whether public or private – must put into place the right measures and mechanisms to eliminate possible threats.
In what ways has the development of local human capital been affected by the pandemic?
ALSHAIBI: The pandemic has had an impact on the training and development of local human capital in the IT sector from a traditional educational perspective. However, we have seen an increase in the availability of non-traditional methods such as online training, and blended specialised training facilities and programmes. These are not necessarily dependent on the Ministry of Education and emphasise emphasise a hands-on approach to transferring knowledge, and have helped to significantly expand local skillsets.
What entities have contributed to the development of the local ICT ecosystem, and what investment opportunities could arise in this area post-pandemic?
ALSHAIBI: The Saudi ICT sector has received substantial support in recent years, and especially during the pandemic. This, in turn, has encouraged companies to invest more in their IT infrastructure and equipment. Several groups have supported the development of the ICT ecosystem, the first of which is the government. Indeed, the government is focused on building efficiencies through the consolidation of data centres, as well as increasing productivity through the implementation of cloud solutions across public institutions.
Government-owned IT companies also contribute by catering to government clients and the wider business community. Also involved are small and medium-sized enterprises – which require more attention as they have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic – and multinational companies, which bring global expertise, best practices and high standards to the Kingdom.
The investment opportunities in this environment are significant. Facilitating collaboration and cooperation within the ecosystem will help to strengthen these opportunities, with a clear and positive impact on the local market. This will help Saudi firms grow and potentially become unicorns, while at the same time positioning the country as a leading global provider of IT solutions.