Saudi Arabia sets sights on 'new oil'

Is data really the new oil? It’s a debate that’s been running for a few years now. But regardless of your position on the matter, data is undeniably a critical component of the digital world – storing it, analysing it and using it are vital for both businesses and entire economies.
Saudi Arabia has not been slow in recognising the strategic importance of data to its economy – making it a central component of its Saudi Vision 2030 programme, with 70% of the programme’s goals related to data and AI.
This programme resulted in the establishment of the Saudi Data & Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) by royal decree on 30 August 2019. The SDAIA is is tasked with driving the national data and AI agenda through three executive arms – The National Data Management Office (NDMO), the National Information Center (NIC), and the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) – and is directly linked to the Prime Minister.  It has already made significant progress towards the Kingdom’s goals by:

  • establishing a national data bank that has already consolidated more than 80 government datasets, corresponding to 30% of government digital assets
  • implementing government cloud (G-Cloud), with the aim of building one of the largest clouds in the region by merging 83 data centres owned by over 40 government bodies
  • utilising AI-analysed data to detect opportunities that could generate more than USD10 billion in government savings and additional revenues
  • developing an ambitious and innovative data and AI strategy for the Kingdom.

Dr. Al-Ghamdi, President of the SDAIA commented: “Data is the single most important driver of our growth and reform in the 21st century, and we have a clear vision and roadmap for transforming Saudi Arabia into a leading AI and data-driven economy. The SDAIA is at the forefront of this transformation and is primed for national data and AI agenda definition, implementation and awareness.”
Saudi Arabia makes an estimated USD4-5 billion per year from data and AI but the Kingdom has identified an opportunity to generate additional revenues and government savings of more than USD10 billion by harnessing data insights to help guide government decisions. Both data and AI are critical parts of the country’s strategy to diversify its economy and position itself in the emerging digital market, with the Kingdom forecasting that these technologies will contribute USD135 billion to its GDP by 2030 – more than 12% of the country’s GDP.
Saudi Arabia’s digital development compares favourably both within the MENA region and internationally. The Kingdom is currently ranked 12th in the world for mobile broadband by Ookla, with average download speeds of 57.46Mbit/s placing it above economies such as Denmark, Finland Germany, the UK and the US.
Telecoms operator STC is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s digital strategy, being the first operator to launch a live 5G network in the Middle East in June 2019. Meanwhile, it announced in January 2020 that its Jawwy brand would be deploying Matrixx’s Digital Commerce Platform (see Salesforce spends $1.3 billion on buying Vlocity) to help it  drive up customer engagement, simplify customer journeys and provide better digital experiences for its customers.
Hany Aboushady, CTO of Jawwy, commented at the time: “To further enhance our customer experience, Jawwy is focused on better platform performance with modern billing & charging, openness, adoption of a multi-speed architecture, partnership enablers and platform security. This innovative engagement enables us to embark on this journey, while also adopting new solutions and technologies with world class partners and alliances to take our customer experience to the next level; thus, affirming STC’s commitment to remain a trend setter in the region.”