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From ambition to action: The Kingdom’s digital transformation roadmap for 2024
From ambition to action: The Kingdom’s digital transformation roadmap for 2024

discover | Tuesday - 02 / 01 / 2024 - 10:33 pm

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched the National Transformation Program in 2016 as the first program of Saudi Vision 2030. This program falls within the KSA’s endeavor to place its name at the top of the list of advanced countries.

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Indeed, KSA focuses on diversifying its economy in order to decrease reliance on oil, and this makes stimulating innovation a crucial priority. Digital transformation in various sectors – starting from smart cities and e-commerce to healthcare systems and renewable energy – is changing the face of Saudi society.

However, like any other country seeking to secure the future of its economy and raise the standard of living of its citizens, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia put itself in front of challenges. The starting point for KSA is in harnessing digital technology to modernize government services.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology worked to develop the e-government application which is called the Unified National Platform (or GOV.SA).

GOV.SA connects all government services and works side by side with service centers that provide services to citizens who do not have access to the Internet.

The operational model and organizational structure of the Digital Government Authority have been designed. Digital Government Authority is responsible for the digitization of the entire government “this includes testing/ experimenting new technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT)“.

The above mentioned will improve the performance of ministries across government and increase the government efficiency and effectiveness.

Saudi Arabia’s goal is to build a modern country with a very promising future, and this in turn requires the Kingdom to incubate startups so that young entrepreneurs can build “unicorn” companies (startups worth $1 billion or more).  For this reason, the concept, strategy, operating model and roadmap of the National Center for Digital Innovation were designed. The center promotes values of innovation and entrepreneurship among young people, and also works to transform the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a regional center for innovation and a global player in the digital economy.

There are also other initiatives aimed at encouraging private projects, as the Saudi government has hired specialized companies to develop an open source program to make government data available to companies.

From an international perspective, a global government summit was launched that would enhance the exchange of ideas about digital government and best practices.  The first summit of this kind was held in 2019. The fifth edition of the summit is planned to be held in Riyadh on June 5 of this year under the title “From Ambition to Action: The Roadmap for Digital Transformation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

According to government data revealed at the LEAP 2023 conference in Riyadh, more than 340,000 individual work in the digital, communications and information technology sectors.  Women’s participation in this sector also expanded rapidly to 32.5% (compared to 24% in 2021).

Vision 2030 has included the environmental aspect as well. The clearest example of this is NEOM city, which is the ambitious project launched on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 by His Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Prime minister. This project aims to create a future city powered by renewable energy. NEOM is set to become a global innovation hub and a model for smart city development in using digitalisation.

The serious challenges that face digital transformation in KSA:

Launching new automated programs is just the beginning of the digital transformation process. The second stage is the continuous improvement and overcoming obstacles in order to ensure success.

According to the Digital Transformation Index 2020, the three main obstacles associated with digital transformation as identified by participants in institutions within KSA were as follows:

 – Cyber security (31%)

 – Data management (29%)

Data privacy and cyber security concerns: On average, Saudi Arabia is exposed to 160,000 cyber attacks every day. This number is likely to rise easily as the majority of companies in the region are looking to expand their digital transformation initiatives.

The following should be taken into consideration; the more data stored in an organization’s cloud, the more attractive it becomes to cyber criminals. Therefore, it is not surprising that data privacy and cybersecurity are considered the biggest barriers to digital innovation for companies in Saudi Arabia. For organizations aiming for successful digital transformation programs, this means one thing: privacy and cyber security are two critical aspects that must be prioritized to avoid costly and destructive security issues.

Inability to extract valuable insights from excessive data and/or information:

Business Intelligence (BI) is an utmost necessity for any organization in order to make accurate and critical decisions that will affect the digital transformation efforts of the entire organization. Therefore, it – i.e. the organization – relies heavily on methods and technologies that collect and analyze data in an aim to serve as the basis for guiding the business.

When a company’s decision makers have access to data within reasonable time, then they are able to derive more informed insights and develop strategic actions that align with business goals. But – unfortunately – business intelligence studies in Saudi Arabia show that one of the main challenges facing organizations in the region is in selecting and interpreting data and extracting relevant insights to improve the decision-making process (this prevents key decision makers from achieving the best solutions to the challenges of organizational and digital transformation).

The above mentioned demonstrates that, leaders of organizations need to be equipped with effective tools that help them collect, receive, analyze and generate actionable insights. As for companies that invest in the right technical solutions – which provide predictive power and advanced artificial intelligence techniques – these companies will have a greater ability to maintain their competitive capabilities. These tools will allow important insights to be gained, improve how business is conducted, and identify potential crises before they negatively impact business operations and the company’s market share.

The most serious obstacle to digital transformation, as noted by business leaders in Saudi Arabia, is the global economic recession caused by the pandemic. Across the world the oil and gas industry has been among the hardest hit as this industry has been temporarily shut down and exports suspended. Quarantine policies have led to border closures, significantly impacting supply chains, rising unemployment rates, and causing a decline in consumer orders.

Fortunately, most of these issues can be treated through reliable automated platforms. Such tools enable companies to operate offline, enhance risk management and cybersecurity measures, improve customer support, and reduce maintenance costs.

While there are some obstacles to organizational transformation, business leaders have the ability to identify and implement initiatives that will put their companies in a better position. Digital transformation can be implemented in achievable ways, and leaders are encouraged to identify realistic improvements they can currently accommodate as this will kick-start their journey towards becoming a digitally mature company.

Conclusion:

Barriers should not prevent companies in the region from pursuing their digital transformation initiatives. Business leaders must view these barriers as challenges they need to overcome in order to well-establish themselves and remain competitive in their fields.

KSA is a pioneer when it comes to sharing lessons learned on establishing a resilient and inclusive digital economy. During the general lockdown of Corona pandemic, KSA responded to the huge increase in digital demand.

Finally, KSA’s emergence as a leader in this sector would help accelerate the pace of investment in the digital economy not only in the GCC countries but also in MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).

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