Interview: Ghassan Al Shibl

What more needs to be done to encourage greater depth within the defence, telecoms and manufacturing sectors? How can knowledge transfer be promoted within local industries?

GHASSAN AL SHIBL: Increasing the depth and capabilities of high-tech industries is of great importance within any country’s development. These industries are strongly related to national security and defence. Therefore it is crucial to build local capabilities that can give support to the local military industry, and respond to their needs more quickly. Nevertheless, increasing the level of engagement requires the commitment of all parties: government, suppliers and customers must all be committed to promote the development of these sectors.

Within this equation, international players also play a significant role, as they possess the technical capabilities and know-how. It is therefore necessary to adopt a collaborative approach and create a system that encourages technology transfer while reducing costs.

To promote technology transfer, a reward system can be created to encourage international companies to become more cooperative. Saudi Arabia is the largest market in the region and presents many untapped opportunities. The promise of future opportunities will help considerably to increase engagement today.

Regarding the cost of knowledge transfer, both international and local partners have to look at costs jointly, understanding that the initial increased costs of the transfer must be considered as an investment that will be recovered throughout the life cycle of the project.

To what extent are students leaving university with the skills required by industry? What role do companies play in developing the skills of graduates?

AL SHIBL: The Kingdom has seen remarkable investments in education and the quality of local graduates is a considerably higher today than in the past. Students leave university with high-level qualifications and, although quality can still be further improved, lack of technical qualification is no longer a widespread issue.

Nevertheless, there is a need for training, as there is for fresh graduates in other economies. The challenge today is not of technical qualification but of other professional skills, such as business ethics and commitment to the work environment, which is still low among locals.

The private sector can have a major role filling this gap. Companies need to start implementing internship programmes, where graduates will be trainees in the company before they become productive employees.

Additionally, we need to work on national initiatives that help universities match their curricula with the private sector need. Local markets may still absorb more graduates on technical degrees, and with the huge growth potential of this sector, high-tech industries can become a large employer for the Saudi youth.

How significant is ICT and data security in the Kingdom? What more can be done to strengthen this?

AL SHIBL: For the last few years, the Kingdom has gone through a major modernisation process, and has made significant advances in ICT on automation and communication capabilities. Today, the government is still working hard to leverage technology in order to improve productivity and responsiveness to public needs.

We have seen significant advances on the e-government programme, which is driven by the Kingdom’s vision to simplify day-to-day work and reduce bureaucracy. The private sector, consumers and government have all increased their engagement with technology.

Despite the significant improvements in these sectors, Saudi Arabia is still ripe with opportunities to develop industries that provide maintenance, support and upgrades to the current ICT systems.

Furthermore, there is a strategic need to create a sound ICT security industry in Saudi Arabia. As the Kingdom becomes more dependent on technology, it becomes critical to ensure that systems are robust and secure. Hacking and other security threats have the risk of creating huge costs for the economy, while the cost of investing in ICT security is comparatively negligible.