Science & Technology

Saudi Vision 2030 turning Kingdom into a regional tech hub

The Saudi vision 2030 is represented in achieving several strategic goals ranging from developing basic infrastructure, providing an enabling environment for the public, private and non-profit sectors, focusing on achieving excellence in government performance, supporting digital transformation, contributing to the development of the private sector, and promoting sustainable development.

In this report, we monitor the most important indicators and achievements of digital transformation, in line with the vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, during the past year 2021.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranked first in the rate of download speed for 5G service, according to the report measuring the experience of users of fifth-generation networks issued by OpenSignal last October, as well as improving the quality of digital services provided to beneficiaries, as:

According to OpenSignal, STC and Zain jointly win the 5G Download Speed award, having scored 253.8 Mbps and 264.5 Mbps, respectively. Similar results were observed in users’ connection speeds — 5G Upload Speed — as STC and Zain share that award, having scored 25.1 Mbps and 23.8 Mbps, respectively. 

Nevertheless, the Kingdom is currently covering more than 3.5 million homes with an optical fibre network in cooperation with the private sector.

It also managed to increase internet traffic through the national internet exchange, increase internet speed to 109 megabytes per second.

The Kingdom has issued several platforms to enable support for open source solutions, including the Masdar platform, which is an integrated platform that provides closed source software solutions, as well as the ThinkTech digital knowledge platform, which is an umbrella for digital awareness projects.

Through the agreement signed by Aramco with Google Cloud, the Kingdom launched the largest advanced Google cloud centre in the Kingdom, which also supports entrepreneurs and companies through reducing effort by 70%, reducing costs by 30%, as well as launching the “Alibaba” centre Cloud” for cloud computing services in Riyadh, in partnership with STC, and supported by EWTP Arabia Capital.

Several initiatives have also been launched to support digital transformation, such as the Digital Giving Initiative and the Future Pioneers Initiative, as well as several programs such as the Technology Pioneers Program and the Hemma Camp Program for Software Quality.

The maturity rate of digital government services has increased, by recording a development estimated at 35.5%, in the sectors of transportation, health, financial and commercial sectors, and others, in addition to adopting and developing comprehensive government concepts.

The current spending rate in the Kingdom on information and communication technology services allocated to companies is estimated at SAR 38.4 billion, and this figure is expected to increase to reach its level in global markets, which gives positive expectations for the sector’s growth at a compound annual rate of 6.7%, with a value of up to SAR 53 billion by 2025.

Digital transformation depends on two main factors, which are the availability of fast internet and connectivity services, and digital infrastructure, and here came the role of STC Solution, which played a key role in accelerating the mechanism of digital transformation. Improving the quality of customer services and raising their operational efficiency.

Solutions by STC is one of the most prominent players in this promising sector and has contributed over the past two decades to shaping a new digital future for the Kingdom.

Omar Al-Noamani, CEO of solutions by STC, said that during 25 years, the company has built an integrated structure with alliances with 150 international companies that provide innovative services, which has helped the company’s presence in more than 34 cities in the Kingdom and provide services to more than 24 thousand customers, as well as The presence of 1500 employees to provide integrated digital services.

Over the years, the company has been able to build a system of alliances and partnerships with more than 150 international brands in the fields of information technology and digital services.

Meanwhile, the market for ICT services for corporate businesses in the Kingdom is the largest in the Gulf countries, and in the future, the Kingdom is expected to become the fastest-growing market in the region.

STC solutions are working to take advantage of promising opportunities in various sectors and projects that are announced within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiatives, especially concerning establishing smart cities such as the “NEOM” project, digitizing the health care system, and adopting the “cloud-first” policy.

A boom in Saudi fintech investments

Fintech Saudi annual report 2020/2021 showed that the Saudi financial technology (fintech) sector continued to grow at an accelerating pace over the past 12 months.

The number of fintech companies increased by 37%, with a record amount of investments exceeding SAR 1.3 billion ($347 million).

The Director of the Fintech Saudi initiative, Nejoud Al Mulaik, said that the financial technology sector in the Kingdom has witnessed remarkable development in 2021.

She pointed out that despite the exceptional circumstances that the world witnessed during 2020, the impact of relying on digital solutions caused by the (Covid-19) crisis continued, even after the world has gradually overcome this crisis.

She said that clarity in legislation and regulations has led to attracting more investments to the Saudi fintech sector, which in turn drives the growth of this sector.

Fintech Saudi was launched by the Saudi Central Bank in partnership with the Capital Market Authority in April 2018 to act as a catalyst for the development of the financial services technology (fintech) industry in Saudi Arabia. Our ambition is to transform Saudi Arabia into an innovative fintech hub with a thriving and responsible fintech ecosystem.

Fintech Saudi expected that the year 2021/2022 will be important for the financial technology sector and that the continued injection of investments by venture capital investors, the issuance of new legislation, and the launch of national initiatives related to financial technology, will contribute to the development of a new generation of financial technology solutions in the Kingdom.

The report includes sections covering several aspects in the financial technology sector, namely: an overview of financial technology companies in Saudi Arabia, the talents and competencies required in the Saudi financial technology system, as well as open banking in the Kingdom, and an analytical view of investments in the financial technology sector.

Artificial intelligence: The cornerstone of Saudi 2030 Vision

Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious economic and technological development plan, under the Saudi Vision 2030.

The kingdom aims to become a global leader in the artificial intelligence (AI) field by 2030, these efforts are spearheaded by the Saudi Arabia Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA).

SDAIA was established in 2019 as a government body directly linked to the prime minister. It is chaired by the deputy prime minister.

“Data and AI are at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. By developing our own AI strategy and policies, we have developed the skills and resources that we wish to share with other nations to ensure that all countries are equally prepared to harness the value of AI,” said SDAIA spokesperson Majid Al-Shehry.

The data and AI centre is responsible for several technological developments that took place over the past years, the most prominent of which is the Boroog platform. It is a secure government video conferencing system, used for the G-20 summit.

Last year, SDAIA revealed that it has countered more than 2 million cyberattacks using special protections it had developed.

Moreover, the authority was also behind the Tawakkalna app, which led the government efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic in Saudi Arabia. The app was responsible for the issuance of movement permits electronically during curfews for government and private sector employees.

AlShehry stressed SDAIA is helping during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the economic and defence sectors, by tracking data.

“SDAIA has responded to COVID-19 by creating the operations centre for supporting the security and health sectors in tackling the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “The centre has helped decision-makers to develop effective strategies based on data and facts and supported the nation’s precautionary measures to combat the spread of the virus.”

The operations centre has utilized the datasets from the National Data Bank (NDB), together with its Estishraf platform’s advanced capabilities, to help analyze data, he added. In addition, the group makes use of platforms from its operational arm, the National Information Center (NIC), when required.

“These efforts have played a significant role in helping to contain the virus and reducing its impact on people and the economy,” AlShehry said.

“Saudi Arabia is at the crossroads of three continents. We believe that our experience in placing AI at the centre of the kingdom’s transformation, together with our position between the East and the West, makes Saudi Arabia an ideal place for the world to come and partner with us in our journey to move AI in the right direction for the benefit of humanity,” AlShehry said.

Toward achieving these ambitious goals, SDAIA established the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI), which aims to orchestrate AI research and development, provide AI strategic advisory to the government, and promote AI education.

NCAI is envisaged to raise national AI maturity by co-creating a portfolio of AI use cases along with priority sectors with relevant stakeholders, driving AI use cases developed in collaboration with AI partners, and supporting AI research and publications to generate impact and achieve sustainable economic growth.

In 2021, Saudi Arabia launched the Artificial Intelligence Center for Energy”, which aims to enhance the competitiveness of the energy sector.

Launched in cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Energy and SDAIA, the centre aims to strengthen efforts to raise the Kingdom’s ranking in the leading global indicators related to data and artificial intelligence.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Energy, commented at the launch that with the energy sector constituting about 40% of the Kingdom’s GDP, data in the sector represents a large wealth and constitutes a golden opportunity to enhance leadership in the application of artificial intelligence.

The centre aims to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 joint between the Ministry of Energy and SDAIA and will enhance the competitiveness of the energy sector, especially in the aspect of joint innovation in artificial intelligence related to this sector.

The centre is expected to contribute to building national capabilities and competencies specialized in artificial intelligence in the energy sector, which is one of the priority sectors within the Saudi National Strategy for Data and AI adopted by SDAIA. The energy sector was identified as a priority sector in the National Strategy for Data and AI, which aims to reach more than 15,000 data and AI specialists by 2030 and to advance cooperation with leading national and international companies in these fields.

It also helps boost cooperation with major national and international leading companies in the fields of energy and artificial intelligence to localize technology and stimulate AI investments. The National Strategy for Data and AI aims to attract SAR 75 billion of local and foreign investments into the data and AI sector by 2030.

The Artificial Intelligence Center for Energy will be jointly managed by the Ministry of Energy and SDAIA, with the participation of key stakeholders in the national energy system.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Minister of Energy, stressed that the launch of the Artificial Intelligence Center for Energy comes at a time when the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 is achieving great successes under the guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the follow-up of the Crown Prince.

“The energy sector depends on data, AI, innovation and transformation as a key pillar for its future. The cooperation will support the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 [to reduce dependence on oil] and other strategies such as the development and diversification of the Saudi economy and the creation of jobs in the sector,” he added.

He indicated that this centre comes as an extension of the directions of the Ministry of Energy, which depends on data, artificial intelligence, innovation and transformation as basic pillars for the future of the energy sector and maximizing the added value of it.

He explained that the energy system believes in the importance of integration and working as a joint government team with various relevant agencies, taking into account the responsibility and nature of the work of each party.

The Minister of Energy indicated that this cooperation will support achieving the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and several other strategies such as developing and diversifying the Saudi economy and creating jobs in the sector.

Dr Abdullah bin Sharaf bin Jamaan Al-Ghamdi, Chairman of the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence said that these efforts aim to activate the national strategy for data and artificial intelligence, and support efforts related to the inclusion and raising of the Kingdom’s classification among international indicators related to data and artificial intelligence, and the exchange of experiences and expertise.

Al-Ghamdi explained out that by 2024, 70% of enterprises will use AI infrastructure and smart services for the cloud to activate AI, thus significantly alleviating concerns about integration and expansion of enterprises, and more than 50% of enterprises use hosted AI services to enhance portfolios by 2023.

Artificial intelligence will contribute to enhancing the growth opportunity for the energy sector, by reducing time and effort and reducing operational costs, which in turn will be reflected in the growth of the energy sector imports business and the companies operating in it.

SDAIA contributes directly to achieving the ambitions of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as 70% of the vision’s goals are directly affected by data and artificial intelligence strategies.

Saudi Arabia turning into a regional tech hub

Saudi Arabia continues its successes, becoming a regional technology hub. Recently, 12 of the world’s tech giants announced their plans to open regional headquarters in Riyadh.

Adviser at the Royal Court and Chairman of the Entertainment Authority Turki Al-Sheikh has revealed that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Oracle, Alibaba, ONEMT, Trend micro, DJI, and Offensive Security chose Saudi Arabia as the home for their regional headquarters.

This comes in line with the vision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which brought in several multibillion-dollar projects to put Saudi Arabia on the map for innovation, tech and youth-driven initiatives.

Recently, a Saudi-Chinese joint venture was unveiled, the eWTP Arabia Capital Fund which aims to boost emerging technology companies in Saudi Arabia. It was established with a capital estimated at SAR 1.5 billion.

The joint venture comes in partnership between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and Alibaba-led eWTP, with the support of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones.

It aims to contribute to the development of a solid economic base for technology-led business in Saudi Arabia.

Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of the Technology giant Alibaba Group Holding picked the Saudi capital Riyadh to become its regional training centre. The company will cooperate with local partners in Saudi Arabia and the region to build and develop technical capabilities in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.

This will be done in cooperation with academies, training and innovation centres over the next five years.

Apple Developer Academy has announced a strategic training program for programming across all of Apple’s platforms. Students are taught how to write and manage iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS apps, and are all taught under a curriculum created by Apple.

The academy is established in partnership with the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones alongside the Tuwaiq Academy and the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahaman Unversity.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education, Hamad Al-Sheikh, called Apple’s expansion of the academy into the country a “key centre for training programmers and technology developers.”

One of the academy’s key aims will be women’s empowerment in the technology space and part of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy beyond reliance on oil.

The chairman of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones Faisal Al-Khamisi, says he hopes that the new partnership will create more opportunities for the Saudi workforce, and the local community.

Al-Khamisi noted the most important successes of the era through programming and technical knowledge and announced that the opening of more than 10 giant technology companies, academies or training programs within the Kingdom.

This reflects the growing confidence in Saudi capabilities, its digital economy and its young competencies, which enhances its competitiveness.

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Engineer Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha has also indicated that the Kingdom will launch executive programs specialized in the digital economy, space and innovation.

Haytham Alohali, Vice Minister of Communications and Information Technology said that Saudi Arabia supports all technology projects that will help to build a better future, and achieve the Saudi Vision 2030. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has also announced that it will host the global “Leap” conference next year, the world’s biggest technological event and the first of its kind in the region. It also announced that it will host the RiseUp Summit in Riyadh, the biggest of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia revealed the details of the biggest global conference @Hack in the field of cybersecurity will also continue to be announced within the activities of the Riyadh season, in partnership between the General Entertainment Authority and the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, with Informatech and Black Hat. 

The conference will tackle cyber threats around the world by hosting security experts for information security training while hosting the biggest challenge of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa region.

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