Robots, AI could double size of Saudi economy to $1.6 trillion: Special report

Robots, AI could double size of Saudi economy to $1.6 trillion: Special report
The buoyant outlook for the Kingdom came from research commissioned by Automation Anywhere, a global specialist in robotic process automation. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 03 May 2021

Robots, AI could double size of Saudi economy to $1.6 trillion: Special report

Robots, AI could double size of Saudi economy to $1.6 trillion: Special report
  • Silicon Valley firm Automation Anywhere to set up in Riyadh, press ahead with major Middle East expansion plans

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia had the potential to double the size of its economy to $1.6 trillion and add an extra $293 billion by 2030 if it fully adopted intelligently automated systems in all sectors, a report has revealed.

The buoyant outlook for the Kingdom came from research commissioned by Automation Anywhere, a global specialist in robotic process automation (RPA).

The study by professional services giant Ernst and Young computed the impact of incremental automation adoption – a combination of RPA and artificial intelligence (AI) – across all sectors in the country, using three possible scenarios.

The first, an optimistic scenario, conveying a 50 percent incremental intelligent automation adoption by organizations throughout the region, was predicted to add $293 billion to the nominal gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

A moderate scenario with a 30 percent adoption rate would provide a $184 billion boost to GDP, while a more conservative 15 percent uptake would be expected to generate an additional $103 billion.

Dinesh Chandra, Automation Anywhere’s regional vice president for the Middle East and Turkey, told Arab News that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had emphasized the need to build a strong business infrastructure based on cloud technology and one that was scalable and efficient, allowing organizations to function under most adverse circumstances.

“The Middle East as a region has a strong appetite toward technology adoption, as it is also a government-driven agenda. We are witnessing a strong uptake of automation adoption in the region, especially among customers from the government, banking and insurance, tourism, energy, and metals segments,” Chandra said.

The report identified three critical enablers to accelerate intelligent automation: The need to speed up the digital transformation of government entities and private enterprises by increasing fast and secure services through the cloud; increased training and development in digital skills; and support for a stronger ecosystem of startups, enterprises, government, and academia to drive innovation.

Milan Sheth, executive vice president for India, the Middle East, and Africa at Automation Anywhere, told Arab News that the Silicon Valley-based company – which has more than 3,000 employees and has been operating for nearly 20 years – had secured $550 million in Series A funding, one of the largest in history, backed by the SoftBank Vision Fund, which itself was supported by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF).

“The SoftBank Vision Fund was our biggest investor. And then within three months of that, two more companies invested in us. Last year, we also had Salesforce (an American cloud-based software firm) investing in our company.

“So, in summary, we raised capital close to $1 billion in the last three years. At the last valuation, we were valued at $7 billion, which was a year back. Probably the valuation would be twice that if we went public in the near future,” he said.

Automation Anywhere operates in 90 countries through partner organizations and has a physical presence in 35 nations.

“In the Middle East, we started our operations in the last quarter of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. The indirect investment we have is from the PIF and the (UAE’s) Mubadala Ventures. The SoftBank Vision Fund is the second-largest investor in the company after the founders. So, we clearly have a very strong connection with the Middle East and want to make sure that we are there,” Sheth added.

Saudi Arabia has laid strong foundations by actively promoting private and public partnerships for its Vision 2030 reform plan, a strategic framework to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

The company set up an office in Dubai in 2018 and plans to open another in Riyadh. “We are now in the process of getting the tax structuring finalized with the finance team, and hopefully, we will have a physical presence on the ground in the Kingdom very soon,” he said.

The company has ambitious targets in the region having signed up around 50 clients in the last two years. “We believe that five years from now, we will have somewhere between 800 and 1,000 enterprise customers in the region,” Sheth added.


KSA pharma drugs market worth $10bn, set to grow

KSA pharma drugs market worth $10bn, set to grow
Updated 19 May 2021

KSA pharma drugs market worth $10bn, set to grow

KSA pharma drugs market worth $10bn, set to grow
  • Throughout 2020, a number of high-profile agreements and partnerships were announced within the sector

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian pharmaceutical drugs market was estimated to be worth $10.19 billion last year and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 7.3 percent over the next six years, new data has revealed.

The optimistic forecast was partly based on the Kingdom’s plans to expand local manufacturing capabilities, according to a report by US-based research company Coherent Market Insights.

“Rapid reforms in the healthcare sector in Saudi Arabia by the government and multinational companies is expected to propel growth of the Saudi Arabia pharmaceutical drugs market,” the report said.

Throughout 2020, a number of high-profile agreements and partnerships were announced within the sector.

Spanish pharmaceutical company Grifols in February signed an agreement with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to begin production of blood plasma-based medicines. The joint venture between Barcelona-based Grifols and the PIF will help the Kingdom develop plasma collection and donation centers and production facilities.

According to Grifols, it could take up to 12 months from the time of a plasma donation until the medicine was ready for use by patients. Doctors use plasma for different types of treatments, such as medical emergencies like burns and trauma, or serious illnesses such as types of cancer or hemophilia. Each patient can need between 130 and 1,200 plasma donations each year as part of their treatment.

The Saudi Ministry of Health in March also signed an agreement with French company Sanofi to start production of insulin products in the Kingdom, to help in the fight against diabetes, with the ultimate goal of scaling up production to be able to export to neighboring countries in the region.

Japanese drug-making giant, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., was also aiming to boost its sales in the Kingdom, focusing on areas such as oncology, rare diseases, gastroenterology, and plasma-derived therapies.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The forecast was partly based on the Kingdom’s plans to expand local manufacturing capabilities, according to a report by US-based research company Coherent Market Insights.

• The Saudi Ministry of Health in March signed an agreement with French company Sanofi to start production of insulin products in the Kingdom, to help in the fight against diabetes.

Rodrigo Rodriguez, Takeda’s general manager for the Middle East, told Arab News: “From 2021 on, we expect growth in the Kingdom driven by these highly innovative inline products and the launches that we anticipate in key therapeutic areas.”

Over the next two years, the Tokyo-based company plans to launch five new products in Kingdom. “Saudi Arabia is a core market for Takeda, and a positive outlook is anticipated by us and by analysts. The Kingdom is the largest pharmaceutical market in the Middle East, and we are happily expanding,” Rodriguez said.

Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, which has been operating in Saudi Arabia for six decades and has become famous recently for its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, completed construction on its manufacturing and packaging facility in 2017.

Located in King Abdullah Economic City, Pfizer is planning further expansion in the coming years, as the Kingdom moves closer to realizing its Vision 2030 goals to diversify away from hydrocarbons and increase local production.

“Pfizer is an active player in Saudi Arabia and is in a continuous dialogue with multiple authorities to explore new opportunities, including investments, to support its vision and objectives,” Patrick van der Loo, regional president for Africa and the Middle East at Pfizer, told Arab News in February.

Looking to the future, one area highlighted for potential growth in the Coherent Market Insights report was dementia and developing drugs to treat the illness, as it is a prevalent condition among elderly Arab citizens.


Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware
Updated 19 May 2021

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware
  • Ransomware attacks returned to headlines this month after hackers struck the United States’ largest fuel pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline. The company shut it down for days

BANGKOK: The Thai affiliate of Paris-based insurance company AXA said Tuesday it is investigating a ransomware attack by Russian-speaking cybercriminals that has affected operations in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, a cyberattack on a public health provider in New Zealand took down information systems across five hospitals, forcing staff to cancel some elective surgeries and creating all sorts of other problems.

In Bangkok, Krungthai AXA said it has formed a team with AXA’s Inter Partner Assistance to urgently investigate the problem. It was unclear how long it might take to evaluate the exposure of personal data after the criminals claimed to have stolen 3 terabytes of data including medical records, customer IDs and privileged communications with hospitals and doctors.

Kanjana Anantasomboon, assistant vice president for corporate and internal communications at Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance, said the company handles some of its services inhouse, so only part, she declined to say how much, of its customer data was with Inter Partner Assistance’s claim service.

AXA Partners, the Paris insurer’s international arm, has given few details. It said Sunday that the full impact of the attack was being investigated and that steps would be “taken to notify and support all corporate clients and individuals impacted.” It said the attack was recent, but did not specify when exactly. It said data in Thailand was accessed.

In New Zealand, Waikato District Health Board Chief Executive, Kevin Snee, said its emergency department was now only taking urgent patients. He said administrators were working to resolve the issue but he gave no timeline for when the system might be restored.

Dr. Deborah Powell, the national secretary for two unions representing doctors and other health professionals, said the attack hit every part of the operation, with doctors unable to access clinical records to quickly assess patients.

Still, Powell said she didn’t believe patients were at extra risk because staff were using workarounds.

Hospital discharges were being done by hand, and a pager system to alert multiple doctors when a patient suffered a cardiac arrest that was down was replaced by a system of personal mobile numbers. People trying to contact patients were encouraged to try calling their cell phones.

Powell said she was told it was a ransomware attack. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health described it only as an “attempted cyber incident.”

It was unclear if the event was linked in any way to others, including a cyberattack that has nearly paralyzed Ireland’s national health care IT systems. Conti, a Russian-speaking ransomware group different from the one involved in the attack on AXA, was demanding $20 million, according to the ransom negotiation page on its darknet site.

That gang threatened Monday to “start publishing and selling your private information very soon.”

The Irish government’s decision not to pay the criminals means hospitals won’t have access to patient records — and must resort mostly to handwritten notes — until painstaking efforts are complete to restore thousands of computer servers from backups.

News of the Asia attack was first reported by the Financial Times. The attackers used a ransomware variant called Avaddon. Avaddon threatened to leak “valuable company documents” in 10 days if the company did not pay an unspecified ransom.

So-called “big-game” hunters like Avaddon and Conti identify and target lucrative victims, leasing their “ransomware-as-a-service” to affiliates they recruit who do most of the heavy-lifting — taking more risk and a higher share of the profits.

AXA, among Europe’s top five insurers, said this month that it will stop writing cyber-insurance policies in France that reimburse customers for extortion payments made to ransomware criminals. It said it did so out of concern that such reimbursements encourage cyber criminals to demand ransom from companies they prey on, crippling them with malware. Once victims of ransomware pay up, criminals provide software keys to decode the data.

Ransomware attacks returned to headlines this month after hackers struck the United States’ largest fuel pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline. The company shut it down for days to contain the damage.

Last year, ransomware reached epidemic levels as criminals increasingly turned to “double extortion,” stealing sensitive data before activating the encryption software that paralyzes networks and threatening to dump it online if they don’t get paid.

That appears to be what happened to the AXA subsidiaries and Ireland’s health care system.

The top victims of ransomware are in the United States, followed by France, experts say. The extent of damage and payouts in Asian countries is unclear. Like most top ransomware purveyors, Avaddon’s ransomware is programmed not to target computers with Russian-language keyboards and enjoys safe harbor in former Soviet states.

Conti also enjoys Kremlin tolerance and is among the most prolific of such gangs. It recently attacked the school system in Broward County, Florida, which serves Fort Lauderdale and is one of the largest US school districts.


TunisAir first foreign carrier to resume flights to Libya, after 7-year hiatus

TunisAir first foreign carrier to resume flights to Libya, after 7-year hiatus
Updated 19 May 2021

TunisAir first foreign carrier to resume flights to Libya, after 7-year hiatus

TunisAir first foreign carrier to resume flights to Libya, after 7-year hiatus
  • The Tunisian company’s last flight to Libya was in August 2014

RIYADH: TunisAir has become the first foreign carrier to resume flight to Libya, after a seven-year hiatus due to the tense security situation in the neighboring country.

Two flights landed at Tripoli and Benghazi airports in Eastern Libya on Monday, according to the Central Department of Communication and Foreign Relations, Al Arabiya reported.

To date, international flights have been operated by Libyan companies to Tunis, Istanbul and Alexandria, with no permission to enter European airspace.

The Tunisian company’s last flight to Libya was in August 2014.

Starting from Monday, Tunisian Airlines secures five flights a week to Libya, at the rate of three flights to Tripoli and two to Benghazi.

The number of flights could increase in the coming months to return to its previous levels- an average of one daily trip.


ADNOC invests $318m for smart wells installation

ADNOC invests $318m for smart wells installation
Updated 18 May 2021

ADNOC invests $318m for smart wells installation

ADNOC invests $318m for smart wells installation
  • This will sustain a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) production capacity at ADNOC’s largest onshore asset

RIYADH: The Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC), announced today, an investment of up to $318 million to connect newly drilled smart wells to the main production facilities at Bu Hasa, WAM reported.

This will sustain a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) production capacity at ADNOC’s largest onshore asset.

The engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract has been awarded in two packages by ADNOC’s subsidiary, ADNOC Onshore. 

Package 1 is valued at up to $158.6 million  and has been awarded to China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering Co. Ltd, while Package 2, with a value of up to $159.1 million has been awarded to Robt Stone (ME) LLC. 

The duration of the contracts is three years, with the option of a two-year extension.

The EPC contract will see up to 260 conventional and non-conventional smart wells installed, which enable remote operations. 

"This EPC award demonstrates how ADNOC is leveraging advanced technologies, such as smart wells with state-of-the-art remote capabilities, to drive higher performance from our assets and resources, and to generate additional value," said ADNOC Upstream Executive Director, Yaser Saeed Almazrouei.

"The award underpins our strategic objectives to expand production capacity and create a more profitable upstream business with over half of the contract value flowing back into the UAE’s economy, supporting local businesses and stimulating economic growth, " he added.

Two sources told Reuters on Monday that ADNOC has started virtual meetings with potential investors ahead of the planned initial public offering (IPO) of its drilling units.


Kingdom Holding leads post-Eid Tadawul trading surge

Kingdom Holding leads post-Eid Tadawul trading surge
Updated 18 May 2021

Kingdom Holding leads post-Eid Tadawul trading surge

Kingdom Holding leads post-Eid Tadawul trading surge
  • This is despite the fact the company in March reported a net loss after Zakat

RIYADH: A total of 56 companies listed on the Saudi Exchange (Tadawul) were trading above their three-month averages on Tuesday, as the bourse reopened this week following the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

Leading the pack was Kingdom Holding, the company controlled by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

According to data compiled by financial website Argaam, Kingdom Holding was trading 418 percent higher than its three-month trading average.

This is despite the fact the company in March reported a net loss after Zakat and tax of SR1.46 billion ($390 million) for 2020, compared with a profit of SR420.2 million the year before, a swing of 449.1 percent.

Second on the list was Etihad Atheeb Telecommunication Company, which was trading at 259 percent above its three-month average.

The telco in February reported a net profit after Zakat and tax of SR102.6 million for the nine months ending on Dec. 31 last year, compared with a loss of SR62.49 million for the same period in 2019, a swing of 264 percent.

Etihad Atheeb resumed trading on Tadawul on Feb. 14 after it was previously suspended in July 2018 for not disclosing financial results.

In total, 17 companies saw a triple digit percentage trading surge. Ranked third was Saudi Printing, up 215 percent, followed by the Al Abdullatif Industrial Investment Co (up 205 percent) and the Saudi Arabian Mining Company – Maaden (up 190 percent).

Tadawul closed for the Eid Al-Fitr holiday on May 10, with trading resuming a week later on May 17.