IBM’s investments in initiatives ranging from a cybersecurity center to a training academy show the company's belief in the Saudi people, one of its top officials has told Arab News
Fahad Alanazi, general manager of IBM Saudi Arabia, said his company's strategy of “is to make the national priority, our priority” as he spoke of his commitment to the region.
Alanazi was appointed earlier this year as the first Saudi GM of IBM for Saudi Arabia, and he is clear that his local knowledge will help the company thrive in the Kingdom.
“In order to serve people of a country, you need to understand the way business is operated there,” he said.
With this in mind IBM has established a number of initiatives aimed at the Saudi youth.
The most recent, a training academy, was announced in August as part of a series of technology initiatives aimed at improving the digital skills of 100,000 Saudi youngsters.
The initiatives tie in with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and are being delivered in partnership with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority, the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
Alanazi praised the Saudi education system, something which IBM is seeking to complement with digital training programmes.
“On previous technology training programs conducted by us, the Saudi students scored the highest among other Middle Eastern students and that’s a good sign of the education system,” he said.
IBM has a “digital nation” program with the Saudi Ports which focuses on providing online training and enabling the digital skills of Saudi port employees. There have also been agreements with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to train their employees, as well as other government officials.
IBM has signed an agreement with Tuwaiq Academy to provide online courses to improve the digital skills of employees in the government and private sectors that are using AI data technology.
The courses to be offered through Tuwaiq will cover hybrid clouds, data science, AI technology, blockchain, and machine learning.
“We are measuring our success by our ability to create jobs via our ecosystem,” said Alanazi .
IBM sees its projects as win-win opportunities, not only because they feel responsible for spreading knowledge but also because investment in education will reap benefits from seeing growth in Saudi Arabia. “The more we train people, the more the country will be developing technologically and that means there is a return for us,” he said.
This approach also benefits the IBM ecosystem, he said, ensuring there are the right people to work for IBM and creating customers in the future.
“ We are committed to developing local talent, we have strong belief in the Saudi market and the Saudi youth,” said.
A sign of this commitment is that IBM’s only security operations center in the region is located in its Riyadh office, serving the whole of the Middle East. The center operates 24/7 to monitor security incidents and provides active alerts on any suspicious activities related to client data, said Alanazi.
IBM is one of the leading firms working in hybrid clouds, which they believe to be an opportunity worth $1.3 trillion worldwide, according to Alanazi.
Hybrid clouds combine on-premises IT infrastructure with private cloud services and the public cloud, and they are viewed as a way of moving faster while keeping costs in check and complying with local regulations.
Nearly half of C-suite executives in the Kingdom see hybrid clouds as a preferential solution when it comes to disaster recovery, and 85 percent are pursuing or planning hybrid cloud strategies, according to a survey by IBM.
However, fear of information leakage is slowing down their plans. Although the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology regulates the cloud, 80 percent of public and private sector leaders still prefer data to be held within the country for greater privacy.
It is a government requirement that all healthcare and financial personal data be held in the Kingdom. “We believe there will be some sort of acceptance to put them on the cloud system,” Al Anizi said, but for the time being there are clear instructions that valuable information needs to be inside the country.
“We have the IBM cloud satellite installed here in Saudi Arabia, but we are committed in moving Saudi Arabia forward with hybrid cloud,” he said.
As with every other industry, data technology and AI have been affected by the pandemic.
“Delivery services, online banking, payment systems and other related sectors are growing. We have been part of that,” said Alanazi.
This growth includes the recent launch of an instant payment system in cooperation with Mastercard. It is aligned with Saudi Payments’ aim to improve the Kingdom’s financial ecosystem through the adoption of faster payment systems and improvements to banking reconciliation, according to a report by IBM.
Recent transformations in the way technology has been put to use was not determined by the pandemic, but Covid did accelerate investment and helped the process move faster, said Alanazi.
IBM first set foot in Saudi Arabia in 1947, when the first computer was installed at Aramco. The company does not yet plan to base its regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia and its existing office in Riyadh doesn’t only serve sales and marketing purposes, but also provides technical resources, consultancy services, and security expertise, he said.