Oracle forecasts a ‘cloudy’ future for Saudi Arabia

Oracle Vice President for Business Applications Kamel Tawil delivers his welcome address at the Modern Business Forum in Jeddah. (AN photo)
Updated 12 October 2018

Oracle forecasts a ‘cloudy’ future for Saudi Arabia

  • As the Kingdom continues to diversify economy through its Vision 2030 agenda, digital transformation is at its core
  • Oracle has more than 430,000 customers worldwide and 25,000-plus partners, as well as 138,000 employees

JEDDAH: Oracle, the world’s leading provider of enterprise cloud computing, specializing in the development of database software, enterprise software and cloud engineered systems, hosted a Modern Business Forum (MBF) in Jeddah on Wednesday.

The day-long forum, held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, offered keynote presentations by senior Oracle executives and partners, and was attended by representatives of leading Saudi corporations, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople alike.

The MBF emphasized intelligent cloud applications, integrated cloud platforms, the Internet of things (IoT), blockchain technology, and how artificial intelligence (AI) as a whole can help Saudi businesses accelerate their production growth into the 21st century, shifting their business structure and transforming to a cloud-based operating system.

Oracle’s technology in AI, machine learning, augmented reality, blockchain, IoT, and human interface technologies are, by their own construct, designed to allow customers the ability to take integrated technology and make advances within their individual business products and services.

A pioneer in IoT platforms, Oracle is using enterprise AI in conjunction with IoT to assist customers in managing their physical assets, while boosting employee productivity in the process. The Oracle Cloud system possesses the most innovative of capabilities, including: Software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and data as a service (DaaS), empowering businesses of all types and sizes onwards in their journey toward digital transformation.

As Saudi Arabia continues to diversify its economy through its Vision 2030 agenda, digital transformation is at its core. Neom, the Kingdom’s $500 billion transnational mega-city is expected to heavily incorporate innovative technology, such as: Nano, 3D printing, IoT devices, electric and self-driving vehicles, robotics, and renewable energy.

Oracle Vice President for Business Applications Kamel Tawil spoke exclusively and at length with Arab News on Wednesday on the multifaceted benefits of Oracle’s integrated cloud software.

“We believe we are at the forefront of technology. We are really driving innovation in both the public and private sectors, and we are very excited to be in Saudi Arabia because the whole country is transforming within all industries, and we are honored to provide value and contribution to this country,” he said.

“With the evolution of artificial intelligence, sensor-based technology, and big data, we are looking at a different kind of application that will guide you on what to do. Predictive intelligence will now merge together between robotics and software to provide you with the next best action. So today the application can guide you, tell you, and help you in making the right decisions.”

The forum touched upon some interesting survey data relating to Saudi Arabia. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational strategy consulting and data analytics firm, has predicted that AI will add $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030, even though few companies are currently pursuing serious AI implementations within their businesses.

In fact, according to McKinsey Consulting Co., only 20 percent of AI-aware firms are currently adopters of this technology. PwC reports that the Middle East is expected to accrue 2 percent of the total global benefits of AI by 2030, equivalent to $320 billion. The largest of these gains is expected in Saudi Arabia, where AI is expected to contribute more than $135.2 billion, equivalent to 12.4 percent of gross domestic product.

“This conversion of technology, artificial intelligence, big data, and connectivity, is really disrupting business modules. We have companies that disappeared and new companies that are taking over, such as these taxi service companies that own zero taxis — they have changed the whole landscape of transportation,” Tawil continued. “The implications of that are really going beyond technology itself, and are really disturbing and changing very old industries.

“We believe artificial intelligence is the next big thing. We believe artificial intelligence coupled with big data, connectivity, and sensor technology is going to change the way we work.

“We at Oracle are really innovating around our enterprise applications, and around our databases. Our latest offering is our autonomous database. Usually, when you have a database you need to have a database administrator to manage it, but with our autonomous technology, this database can update itself, freeing valuable time and resources to do other important tasks.”

As for what fields Oracle sees its technology thriving most in, Tawil, who opened the forum with an executive welcome speech, believes it directly revolves around Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

He said: “One of the key initiatives is how to diversify the sources of income. In my view, I would say that the application of Oracle technologies can be really great in two key fields. One is through really empowering the government and changing the public sector into a more customer-focused, efficient, and progressive sector. We have many initiatives and are working with many government entities in that regard. Secondly, which is key, is fueling innovation in the private sector. How can we bring the next wave of entrepreneurs, the next wave of smart companies, who can contribute to the diversified economic growth of Saudi Arabia?”

When looking into specific industries, the International Data Corporation forecasted in 2018 that spending in Saudi Arabia will be the highest in the public sector, financial services, health care, education and manufacturing.

Oracle has already been present in Saudi Arabia for more than 30 years, and across all major cities in the Kingdom. Oracle’s consistent growth within Saudi Arabia is driven by the success of its customers and this growth has now been further enhanced by the rapid adoption of cloud solutions.

“We have great customer examples in Saudi Arabia. We have large companies who have embraced our cloud, so really that drive toward the cloud is really fueling our own company growth,” Tawil remarked.

A few examples of leading Saudi organizations that were mentioned in Wednesday’s MBF that have incorporated Oracle Cloud in their operating systems include Saudi Telecom Company, NADEC, ACWA Power, Nahdi Medical, and Zahran Holding Co. All have chosen Oracle Cloud solutions, and all have seen major transformative projects achieve growth and improve efficiency.

This long-term commitment from Oracle within Saudi Arabia has translated into massive investments, helping organizations of all sizes, both public and private, achieve strategic objectives with digital transformation. Recently, Oracle announced plans to open a data center in the Kingdom, further expanding its footprint by introducing its latest cloud solutions and creating a vigorous support infrastructure. It hopes to implement a series of programs and initiatives aimed at driving digital skills among the Saudi youth and better preparing them for the digital economy that will be at the forefront of Saudi Arabia in 2030.

“We are really living in very exciting times, where all these technologies are now converging, and really producing positive effects in the way we are living, working, and interacting,” Tawil said.

Oracle’s own transition to a cloud-first company had garnered plenty of discussion in the IT world — both from optimists and skeptics. “When the whole cloud concept got introduced, we really embraced it and transferred all of our applications into cloud-based. We introduced our fusion application, which is the only pure end-to-end cloud-based application available today,” added Tawil.

“Now, with the new advancement of cloud-based technologies, the technology is available for anyone. If you are a startup company, before implementing an IT system you needed to wait one or two years; now in a couple of weeks you can have access to the same system that is used by some of the largest companies in the world. You don’t need to invest in infrastructure. You don’t need to invest in building that data center. You just buy the service and you are up and running.”

It is important to note that a common misconception of emerging technologies, such as AI, is that they are a threat to existing jobs. “The machines are taking over,” although a common narrative, is hardly factually based. On the contrary, new technology truly thrives when it succeeds in creating the time and space for new jobs.

Automation is all about speeding up the mundane tasks that often take up valuable time for businesses. Innovative technology is often geared at achieving greater profitability through efficiency and, in so doing, enables employees to focus on more valuable tasks. It is about improving people’s decision-making capabilities by empowering them with highly relevant and effective technology, along with timely data, that otherwise would not be possible to collect.

They are the necessary tools that Oracle aims to provide toward a bright and “cloudy” business future for Saudi Arabia.




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Saudi Arabia joins nations in Katowice as talks adopt ‘Rulebook’ to curb climate change

The Katowice Climate Package is designed to put into operation the climate change regime contained in the Paris Agreement. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 December 2018

Saudi Arabia joins nations in Katowice as talks adopt ‘Rulebook’ to curb climate change

  • Saudi Arabia showed how seriously it is taking international efforts to mitigate the global rise in temperature

DUBAI: Between December 3 and 14, about 30,000 people from around the world converged on the Polish coal city of Katowice for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP24 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) took place close on the heels of a special report by a UN panel predicting the increasingly severe effects of a 1.5C rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels.

COP24 was the third such meeting since the adoption in 2015 of the Paris Agreement, which outlined a joint roadmap for developed and developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting from 2020. Naturally, the role of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions and financial commitments in the battle against climate change were high on the Katowice agenda.

Governments have adopted a robust set of guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement. The implementation of the agreement will benefit people from all walks of life, especially the most vulnerable. 

The Katowice Climate Package is designed to put into operation the climate change regime contained in the Paris Agreement. Under the auspices of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, it will promote international cooperation and encourage greater ambition. The Katowice agreement aims to deliver the Paris goals of limiting global temperature rises to well below 2C. 

Saudi Arabia was among the major participants from the Middle East, demonstrating the seriousness with which it is taking its own energy transition and international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The ambitious targets the kingdom has set for itself are being seen as a message to other countries that also face a complicated transition.

“This year’s COP24 event was crucial in many ways, including its focus on people’s displacement because of extreme weather events and the impact on human lives,” said Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor in biology at the United Arab Emirates University. “More people are now displaced as a result of climate-related extreme events than by wars and conflicts.”

Dr. Ksiksi says the need to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C-2C adds pressure on all the Paris Agreement signatories to act faster. “All countries that signed on, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are working hard to (reduce) greenhouse gas emissions, among other things,” he told Arab News. “For countries like Saudi Arabia, it is critically important to get ahead of many other countries.”

Pointing to growing concern in the Middle East over the possible impact of climatic change and its excessive reliance on fossil fuels, Dr. Ksiksi said: “Some sectors, such as transportation, energy use efficiency and land use change, are more likely to be at the forefront of mitigation and adaptation schemes.”

The concept of COP came from the 1992 Rio Summit where the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, and aims to inspire countries to make good on their climate pledges. As for COP24, this is “an important year for testing the Paris model of gradually scaling up the ambition of targets through its five-year review cycle,” Emma Champion, EMEA policy analyst at BloombergNEF, told Arab News.

Champion sees the financing of energy transitions as a major issue in the battle against climate change. “Developed countries are behind on their commitment to sending $100 billion a year to developing countries to help them to achieve their individual targets, while developing countries are already facing budgetary pressure amid extreme weather events,” she said.

At the Katowice gathering there was a semantic disagreement over whether it should “welcome” or “note” the UN panel’s warning of dire consequences if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, with four oil-producing countries — the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait — expressing their preference for the term “note.”

By all accounts, Saudi Arabia is playing its part in the effort to achieve the Paris accord’s goals and targets. According to Raed Al-Schneiber, from the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, despite being one of the world’s biggest energy producers the Kingdom is committed to becoming a highly energy-efficient country in order to preserve its resources for future generations. In this spirit, experts from Saudi Arabia gave presentations in Katowice highlighting home-grown innovations and advances.

Saudi Aramco’s Dr. Tidjani Niass said: “The Kingdom’s national petroleum and natural gas company is making commendable progress on a wide range of carbon-dioxide utilization technologies, among other fields. The company’s work in environmental stewardship has resulted in the world’s lowest-carbon crude.” 

Organizations such as KSA Climate Change gave presentations on the sidelines of COP24 highlighting efforts to tackle water and wastewater challenges, sustainable development and creating value from carbon dioxide. The subjects were energy-efficiency applications in the Gulf, research and development for climate solutions, and the use of oil and gas technologies to address climate change challenges.

According to Dario Traum, a senior associate at BloombergNEF, as one of the countries whose economy will need to go through the most radical transformation as a result of climate-change mitigation efforts Saudi Arabia’s role in the negotiations is central. “Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that has an economy that is predominantly reliant on oil revenue,” he told Arab News.

“We have seen in recent years the kind of shocks to government revenue and savings a fall in oil prices can have. The Saudi government has started to respond to that with reform and through investment in new sectors at home and abroad, although this clearly needs to be scaled up in the coming years.”

One topic that was high on the COP24 agenda was clean energy technology, the applications of which are growing in a widening field of activities — power projects, transportation, waste management, energy efficiency and storage, and sustainable urban development, to name just five. If the trend continues, opportunities for unlocking investment in clean energy technologies will multiply, say experts.

“COP24 has further clarified the scale of the opportunity,” said Bader Al-Lamki, executive director for clean energy at Masdar, a UAE-headquartered company focused on the development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and sustainable urban development.

“The low-carbon economy is the new growth story of the 21st century. And through the initiative of countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which is wholeheartedly embracing the potential for renewables to meet its domestic power demand, it is a growth story in which emerging markets are actively participating.”

The overwhelming dependence of the Arab Gulf region on desalinated water means solar-based desalination technologies have a major role to play in helping countries meet their emissions-reduction targets.

In this context, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has come up with a host of initiatives, one of them termed “green desalination.” 

The need to meet the Paris Agreement targets is hardly the only worry for the Arab Gulf states, given the significant drop in rainfall received by the region in the last 20 years. “This drop will have an impact on natural vegetation, which is very much dependent on rainfall during specific seasons,” said Dr. Mohsen Sherif, director of the National Water Center in the UAE.

“It will also affect the phenomenon of natural groundwater recharge. If you have less rainfall, there will be less water filtering down to the aquifer system, which will reduce the amount of available groundwater. So there is a need to assess accurately the impact of climate change on the Arab Gulf region’s underground water resources.”