Munir Eldesouki, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) of Saudi Arabia, and Daniah Orkoubi, Chief Economist, MCIT of Saudi Arabia
Covid-19 pandemic accelerates Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation
In this Global Platform video, Munir Eldesouki, assistant minister at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), and Daniah Orkoubi, chief economist at the MCIT, discuss digital changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. As borders closed and trade slowed, transactions and interactions switched online – a trend that is expected to continue beyond the pandemic.
Firstly, there is a growing trend of de-globalisation, where the World Trade Organisation expects a decline in trade of between 13% and 32% this year. Secondly, there is an increasing role of the state to rescue economies and markets. The third trend we realise is the tremendous acceleration in technology adoption, where the pandemic actually acted as a natural catalyst for digital transformation and turned it into a pressing necessity, rather than a long-term aspiration. This also resulted in an emerging trend of contactless economic systems, in which people will live, move, pay, work, and even teach and learn without coming into contact with each other. Clearly, many of the changes developed in response to pandemic in the areas of work, health, education, and entertainment are here to stay. The way we live, work, play during the pandemic will become part of our new realm. Remote work will continue long after restrictions are lifted. Today many businesses and government administrations are continuing to allow their employees to work remotely. Online meeting software users grew by 600% in the public sector between March and April. Likewise, healthcare practices have profoundly altered, with the most non-critical, consultative functions going virtual. Between Sehha and the 937 call centre more than a million virtual consultations were delivered throughout the pandemic, and similar number of prescriptions were issued. In education more than 5m students continued learning using a mixture of online platforms and lessons delivered through broadcasts from over 19 satellite TV channels. Online shopping jumped tremendously, growing by 400% between March and April. 90% of consumers altered their shopping habits in the beginning of the pandemic and the expectation is that many consumers will continue to do so. The Kingdom was among the first countries that implemented early and precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus. This was done by creating a national committee back in January to follow on global updates and to prepare for the possible introduction and spread of the virus within the Kingdom. Now, this committee significantly accelerated approvals on allocating packages targeting the private sector and the Saudi workforce. And I will give one example from the digital sector, the Kingdom increased its network capacity by over 30% way before the lockdown to ensure that citizens and residents can continue to enjoy their digital tools and services without any interruption. This also allowed for continuous access to more than 3500 e-government services and 94% of the government agencies were working remotely. The Saudi government was very quick in its response to mitigate the pressure created by the pandemic. A stimulus package worth around SR220bn ($58.7bn) was launched. And it targeted the private sector specifically and the citizens. The package assisted businesses affected by Covid-19 by supporting them through special financing schemes, a lending programme, a deferred payment programme, financial guarantees to small and medium-sized enterprises, exemptions and other measures. It also supported the virtual workplace via adapting, modifying and relaxing some regulations. In fact, the labour market is undergoing a major transformation, which is paving the way for the introduction of job globalization and the global workplace. Driving everything we do today is Vision 2030, a national transformation, pivoted on leveraging digital to diversify our economy for more resilience. It is Vision 2030 that gave us the agility to respond to Covid-19, and God willing, it will be Vision 2030 that will help us recover.