Interview: Mohammed AlShaibi

In the context of digitisation, how are new technologies disrupting the ICT sector?

MOHAMMED ALSHAIBI: The multiplication of digital marketplaces is certainly an important growing trend in Saudi Arabia and the GCC region. Indeed, online platforms will be needed across the board, and especially in sectors such as construction and real estate, to optimise both efficiency and the delivery of service providers. Another trend is the internet of things, through which all sorts of utilities, in particular electricity, can be optimised. Such technology can monitor consumers’ habits and measure their daily housing energy consumption in order to improve efficiency at every step in the process, from distribution to consumption.

In what ways can open-source technologies be further integrated into IT infrastructures?

ALSHAIBI: Compared to regular enterprise resource planning technologies, open-source technologies offer a great variety of opportunities, especially in terms of cost-effectiveness. That being said, one challenge is that Arabic versions of open-source software are not yet fully supported. There is surely an opportunity here for Saudi Arabia to take a leading role. It all comes down to finding our own competitive advantage. For instance, Egypt has managed to establish itself as a call centre hub in the MENA region and beyond. Saudi Arabia could replicate such a model, focusing on developing Arabic content alongside open-source software.

With regard to cloud computing, how can data be more localised in the Kingdom?

ALSHAIBI: An increasing number of private sector companies and government bodies are moving to cloud-based services. Truth be told, getting into the cloud is relatively easy, but getting out of it is another story. Moving large volumes of data and information from one platform to another is a difficult task, especially from one service provider to another. In addition, customers are rightly concerned that their data and information might be spread across a variety of locations and countries. This is one reason why focused data localisation is important.

Many government entities in Saudi Arabia already have data storage capabilities within their own premises and facilities. When it comes to data centres and the localisation of information, the rule of thumb is that less is more. The aim is to centralise and consolidate data centres in few specific locations. This would also reduce the risk of cyberthreats in Saudi Arabia from third parties around the world. Overall, however, the cloud infrastructure in the Kingdom, from online services to physical storage locations, is strong.

How can education be further tailored to meet the needs of the ICT job market?

ALSHAIBI: Spurred on by a young population – with a high percentage under 30 years old – Saudi Arabia is becoming a very tech-savvy nation. Additionally, in the context of technology-driven jobs, there has been a shift in terms of work environment and how people approach work. Home offices are becoming popular, while services such as Uber and Airbnb have been taking off dramatically. Overall, providing jobs to young people is a high priority, moving forward.

Indeed, there is a very high percentage of graduates, especially among women. The real question is how to promote technology-focused training to established workers who already have qualifications outside the technological field. There is definitely potential for them to go through a transition period and acquire an additional set of skills. In this regard, Saudi Arabia has been putting effort and resources into getting up to speed with the technological knowledge requirements of the current job market. Last but definitely not least, Arabic language-based jobs and Arabic language services will be in high demand, and growth is to be expected in this area over the short to medium term.