Interview: Abdullah Alswaha

How will the planned digitisation policies impact the Kingdom’s citizens and businesses?

ABDULLAH ALSWAHA: Saudi Arabia’s ICT sector has come a long way over the past 15 years. However, neither the industry’s potential, nor its role as an enabler have been fully realised as of yet. This represents a major opportunity. Both citizens and business now largely depend on digital applications for their welfare and competitiveness. Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme 2020 (NTP) have set the bar high for the role of digitisation. Digitisation will enhance consumer welfare through more efficient, transparent and user-friendly government services. In addition, it will enable policymaking participation, timely feedback on state services and reduce the time spent on administrative procedures.

On the business side, digitisation will enhance overall competitiveness. A new wave of intelligent automation is bringing manufacturing up to Industry 4.0 standards. Embracing this industrial revolution will allow businesses to leapfrog some stages of development and compete with the best globally. The MCIT is currently transforming, and over the next three years it will be working with other government agencies, as well as the private sector, to build the foundations of the new digital society and economy. Together with the reforms lined up through to 2020 and 2030, digitisation is expected to multiply opportunities for the ICT industry and boost its GDP contribution – one of the MCIT’s core priorities under the NTP. We aim to develop an industry that can serve upcoming demand, increase its GDP contribution and drive localisation.

In what ways can big data analytics impact the performance of the public and private sectors?

ALSWAHA: Big data is the oil of the digital economy. The government has an abundance of data readily available through the Kingdom’s existing ICT systems and services. Saudi Arabia is committed to full transparency and to promoting the productive and safe use of government data.

If effectively leveraged, this data can improve policy decisions and service quality. We are devoted to significantly increasing the public sector’s capacity to apply artificial intelligence and data analytics solutions over the coming years. We will promote open data and enable a national big data platform to work with businesses and entrepreneurs to leverage data and create valuable customised services such as digital IDs and e-payments.

Technology, applications, users habits and preferences are in constant evolution. The ability to anticipate changes and flexibility to adapt to them will become increasingly vital. The Kingdom’s policy is to regularly review the government’s operations in line with emerging technologies and common quality requirements in order to proactively engage citizens and to provide personalised services.

What role will public private partnerships (PPPs) play within the new digitisation framework?

ALSWAHA: It is important to provide a framework that is conducive to attracting private investment through supportive regulations and standards. The MCIT’s policy is to act as an enabler and facilitator, while letting the private sector have a lead role in investments and operations. Wherever we see the need for government intervention, we will leverage PPPs as a business model.

Telecommunications, ICT, postal and digital regulations are being developed in line with broader government’s target to attract private sector participation. Our initial focus on digitisation PPPs will cover health care, education, Hajj and smart cities. While we have a private sector ready to engage and partner with the government in these areas, more initiatives are being examined, particularly for e-government services, e-commerce and digital postal services.