Saudi Arabia focuses on AI-driven economy, considers data the new oil: SDAIA
The technology will contribute billions to the Saudi national gross domestic product, says SDAIA's Mishari Al-Mishari
Updated 25 September 2022
Fahad Abuljadayel & Dana Alomar
RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is aiming to create a leading data and AI-driven economy and make Saudi Arabia one of the top countries in the technology, the agency’s deputy director said.
Mishari Al-Mishari, the deputy director of SDAIA, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global AI Summit in Riyadh that SDAIA was created to be the custodian of the national agenda on data and AI.
“SDAIA was created to have an entity that will be the custodian of the national agenda of data and artificial intelligence to create a leading data and AI-driven economy,” he said.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, he said.
“In this summit, we didn’t restrict it to the dialogues and the discussion; we emphasized the experience as well,” he added.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, Mishari Al-Mishari, deputy director of SDAIA, said.
Over 40 use cases designed by leading companies and institutes in AI were presented at the conference, allowing attendees to interact with, live, and experience AI and understand how it could improve their lives, Al-Mishari said.
During the event, SDAIA President Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi announced that the Kingdom is joining the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership.
“We share a common vision with the DDP. The partnership will bring together the public and the private sector and accelerate safe and inclusive digital transformation in developing countries,” said Al-Ghamdi.
He added: “I am confident we will make a real difference. I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.”
Al-Mishari said the initiative would help underdeveloped economies adopt AI for the benefit of their citizens.
The technology, according to Al-Mishari, will contribute billions to the national gross domestic product. In addition, it could boost the economy with jobs, investments and opportunities for the Kingdom.
“Data is the new oil, and that’s our perception and belief of how much we could make out of data,” Al-Mishari said.
Public sector cloud
“SDAIA operates one of the biggest governmental clouds in the region, hosting approximately 140 governmental entities and providing 35 different cloud services,” Nawaf Al-Sahan, head of cloud computing at the National Information Center, told Arab News.
NIC has also been harnessing its governmental cloud DEEM, founded in late 2018, as a proof of concept and has grown rapidly since then.
At this point, NIC’s mandate is only to serve public sector undertakings, so he added that the DEEM exclusively serves public projects.
Their internal team, entirely made up of Saudi female and male engineers, developed the cloud.
“I am glad our team is all Saudis, young engineers, males and females. So that cloud is fully built by our Saudi talent,” Al-Sahan said.
When it comes to cloud security, NIC implements strict measures. Two teams are responsible for securing the cloud, a larger team entrusted with governance, risk, and compliance does the monitoring for them, and an internal team performs penetration testing and their daily security operations, he said.
Al-Sahan said that NIC is currently finished with its three-year strategy for 2025.
As part of that strategy or roadmap, external vendors and partners participate in the government cloud, he said.
“So, we’ll open up a little bit for trusted partners to be part of the government cloud and provide unique services to the government entities,” he concluded.
A 1-million-riyal idea
SDAIA, in partnership with the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Housing and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, announced “Smartathon — The Smart Cities Challenge” with prizes totaling SR1,000,000, according to Sattam Alsubaiee, assistant director for insights at NIC.
The competition is open for anyone globally, he said. SDAIA wants participants to develop AI models that detect visual pollution automatically.
“We give them the data, and everyone is invited to participate, take that data and build AI models that can detect the visual pollution,” Alsubaiee told Arab News.
Because humans have limited resources, SDAIA and its partners do not want to deploy a vast workforce to detect that visual pollution with their eyes.
“You cannot deploy thousands of inspectors trying to find all the visual pollution in all the cities. So, we want the machine to help us automate in solving that problem,” he added.
Alsubaiee cited graffiti on walls, poor-looking billboard signs and potholes as examples of visual pollutants.
SDAIA is publishing data they already have and collected to invite everyone to contribute and help them solve those problems, he said.
“We want to make Saudi Arabia one of the smartest countries in the world, not just at the city level, but at the country level,” he concluded.
Saudi Arabia’s refinery output down for third month in a row: JODI
Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021
Updated 25 September 2022
Hala Hisham Koura
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s refinery output has inched lower for the third month in a row, while oil product exports met the same fate, the Joint Organizations Data Initiative reported.
The Kingdom's refinery output decreased to 2.76 million barrels per day in July, from 2.85 million bpd in June, while oil product exports decreased from 1.60 million bpd in June to 1.43 million bpd in July, JODI revealed.
While production saw a 3.1 percent month-on-month decline from June to July, total oil exports experienced a bigger 10.6 percent decrease over the same period, distorted from their growth in the past two months.
Year-over-year, the Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021.
All components of refinery output decreased from June’s values, bar the production of motor and aviation oil where the 23 percent constituent remained almost unchanged at 628,000 bpd in July, from 626,000 bpd the previous month.
Gas or diesel oil — by far the highest contributor to refinery oil production at 43.4 percent —went down slightly by 1.8 percent, from 1.22 million bpd in June to 1.20 million barrels per day in July.
Moreover, fuel oil showed its second consecutive monthly decline of 6.2 percent from 503,000 to 472,000 million bpd. Fuel oil is a prominent proportion of total oil products as it makes up 17 percent of total refinery oil production.
Smaller components of total oil products like kerosene, which includes jet fuel, recorded a 6.4 percent monthly decrease in July 2022.
Naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas fell 3.2 percent and 30.8 percent respectively over the same period.
Oil products falling into the classification ‘other’ almost doubled over the year from 121,000 bpd last July to 237,000 bpd this year, fueled by their 75.7 percent growth in June, where they reached 246,000 barrels of production per day.
However, like most oil products, they contracted 3.7 percent in the transition between June and July this year.
Exports of refinery oil
Refinery oil exports were pushed down this month by reductions in all components apart from fuel oil.
Motor and aviation oil exports plummeted 23.2 percent from 280,000 bpd in June to 215,000 bpd in July — falling for the third consecutive month in contrast to their fixed output in production.
Gas or diesel, oil which comprises 48.7 percent of refinery oil exports making it the highest exported product, went down 5.9 percent from 740,000 bpd to 696,000 bpd over the same period.
Although Kerosene and Naphtha make up smaller portions of total oil exports, their decreases also brought down oil exports.
Fuel oil, the second largest contributor alongside motor and aviation, went up 12.2 percent from 198,000 bdp to 222,000 bpd, showing a growth in exports for the first time in four months.
The Kingdom’s closing stocks of all oil products decreased by less than one percent, due to declines in gas or diesel oil, motor and aviation oil, and kerosene.
The total closing stock was equivalent to 92.13 million barrels by the end of July, down 700,000 from 92.83 million barrels in June.
Google Cloud partners with Saudi Aramco to launch a new data center in the Kingdom: Top official
“The objective of this is really to train local talents, making sure that we bring them up to the standards of what Google Cloud can provide,” Al-Thehaiban said
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: Google Cloud has partnered with Saudi Arabian Oil Co. to distribute its cloud services in the Kingdom. The cloud platform will be launching its first data center in the region soon, said a senior company official.
According to Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban, managing director of Turkey, Middle East & Africa, Google Cloud, the new cloud solution will allow organizations around the region to grow and scale their offerings while delivering digital products and services faster.
Al Thehaiban further said that the collaboration will expand cloud services demand in the Kingdom, which is forecast to reach a market opportunity of up to $10 billion by 2030, according to a statement issued by Aramco.
• The cloud computing platform is currently setting up an office in the Kingdom, where it plans to increase the local content and transfer its know-how.
• It has also partnered with SDAIA to launch a new initiative called Elevate, which aims to empower women globally to pursue careers in AI and machine learning.
“Our objective is to launch a data center in Saudi that’s expected to be announced soon and to have some distribution for Aramco’s recently announced company called Context,” Al Thehaiban told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global AI Summit in Riyadh.
He added that the oil behemoth would be the reseller for Google Cloud solutions in the Kingdom.
The cloud computing platform is currently setting up an office in the Kingdom, where it plans to increase the local content and transfer its know-how.
It has also partnered with the state-run Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority to launch a new initiative called Elevate, which aims to empower women globally to pursue careers in AI and machine learning.
The initiative launched during the Global AI Summit held in Riyadh will train more than 25,000 women over the next five years.
The program offers a four-month curriculum, where participants can access free training sessions designed to train them with the skills and experience needed for roles like cloud architect, data engineer, machine learning engineer or cloud business specialist.
While the global AI industry has grown at a rapid pace, women remain underrepresented. According to a UNESCO study, women represent 12 percent of international AI researchers and 8 percent of professional software developers.
The study also revealed that only one fifth of employees in technical roles in major machine learning companies are women.
“The objective of this is really to train local talents, making sure that we bring them up to the standards of what Google Cloud can provide,” Al Thehaiban said.
Google Cloud has also widened its scope by addressing environmental, water, and agricultural challenges posed by climate change.
It collaborated with SDAIA, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and Climate Engine, to launch the Earth observation and science program.
“Climate change is all about data collection, we keep track of the nitty-gritty details of the climate application and then through certain algorism, we monitor the prediction and how it can be beneficial in issues related to sustainability,” he said.
Technology is reshaping the traditional model of farming to improve profitability
Updated 25 September 2022
Nour El Shaeri
CAIRO: With its severe environments and large areas of unused land, the Middle East and North Africa region is in prime need of agricultural and technological advancement.
Agri-tech, also called agtech, the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture, is reshaping the traditional model of farming to improve yield, efficiency and profitability.
Although agri-tech’s potential may be overlooked by investors, the sector has been performing well, raising $265 million in H1 2022 and ranking as the fifth best performing sector in terms of amount invested, according to a report by MAGNiTT.
Arab News has compiled a list of four agri-tech startups headquartered in the MENA region which have received the highest amount of funding in the sector.
Pure Harvest Farms
Total Funding: $334.4m
Founders: Mahmoud Adi and Sky Kurtz
Main investors: Shorooq Partners, IMM Investment, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Mohammed Bin Rashid Investment Fund, and Shuaa Capital
Pure Harvest Smart Farms is an agri-tech company based in the UAE focusing on the year-round production of premium fruits and vegetables. The company is not only ranked the first startup in terms of funding in the agri-tech sector, but also one of the most funded in the entire MENA startup ecosystem. In its last funding round, Pure Harvest Smart Farms secured $180.5 million by global investors to fuel its expansion across Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Asia.
Red Sea Farms
Total Funding: $38.8m
Founders: Ryan Lefers, Mark Tester and Derya Baran
Main investors: Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, KAUST Innovation Fund, Savola Group, Global Ventures, and Future Investment Initiative Institute.
Headquarters: Saudi Arabia
Founded by three industry specialists, Red Sea Farms is an agri-tech company that allows farmers to crop using primarily salt water. The company tackles the region’s arid environment by providing farmers with the right technology to sustainably grow their produce. In April 2022 the company raised its most recent funding round of $18.5 million to expand its regional and global footprint.
Total funding: $4.8m
Founders: Gregory Lu, Lauri Kapp and Nadim Taoubi
Although agri-tech’s potential may be overlooked by investors, the sector has been performing well, raising $265 million in H1 2022 and ranking as the fifth best performing sector in terms of amount invested, according to a report by MAGNITT.
Main investors: KAUST Innovation Fund and Butterfly Ventures
Headquarters: Saudi Arabia
Estonian-born agri-tech Natufia Labs relocated its headquarters to Jeddah after receiving an investment led by the Saudi-based KAUST Innovation Fund. The company is providing a mixture of advanced technology and years of research and development experience in sustainable indoor food production. Natufia Labs raised $3.5 million in a series A funding round led by KAUST which was used for the relocation as well as research and development.
Total funding: $1m
Founders: Hussein Abou Bakr and Tamer El-Raghy
Main investors: Algebra Ventures, Disruptech, and EFG-EV
Founded in 2020, Mozare3 is aiming to provide over 20 million farmers in Egypt with access to credit and market solutions. The company helps farmers sell their crops by working with international buyers as well as reducing the risk of waste. In 2021, Mozare3 was able to raise $1 million in a pre-seed funding round co-led by Algebra Ventures and Disruptech, to build the first digital community for farmers that offers expert support.
Hospitality training programs step up to support Saudi youth
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector continues to grow, with the Kingdom expecting to attract 100 million annual visitors and creating one million jobs by 2030, building a resilient hospitality industry has become a core focus.
The hospitality sector has risen up to the challenge by ensuring that there is enough qualified manpower to handle the ever-increasing demand by providing training programs for nationals to develop their skills across all career levels. The intention is to equip young Saudis with essential skills in the hospitality, tourism, and travel industries through programs supported by the world’s best tourism training schools.
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs that emphasize resource efficiency and provide globally recognized qualifications.
In August, the Radisson Hotel Group launched a training program, A Brilliant Journey of Advanced Development Programme, aimed at developing Saudi talent. The program targets supervisors and equips them with the expertise to fill managerial positions across its portfolio of 26 operational hotels.
“All the programs that we have launched target Saudi employees. And that works well with Vision 2030 offering new jobs for Saudis,” Managing Director of RHG Saudi Arabia Basel Talal told Arab News.
Talal added that 14 Saudis, over half of them women, are in the program at supervisory and assistant managerial levels.
According to him, the group remains committed to upskilling Saudi nationals working in the hospitality sector as part of its expansion strategy in the Kingdom.
Talal said that the initiative aligns with the Saudi 2030 Vision, which aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the domestic product to 10 percent.
Among the group’s initiatives is the Concierge Navigation to Success program, which aims to provide Saudis working in the hospitality industry with the tools and resources they need to advance their careers and ultimately enrich customer experiences.
Talal said that five males and two females are currently enrolled in the concierge program.
The NTS program was launched as a response to COVID-19, Talal said, adding, “As a result of the lack of visitors and business during COVID-19, the Ministry of Tourism advised all hotels to focus on concierge services.”
The programs will be offered twice a year, “The idea is that we repeat the program every six months, twice annually,” he informed.
To cover certain core elements or pillars, RHG partners with training programs like Atton or Maximus: “We’ve seen that there are parts or gaps in the training program that require us to reach out to third parties,” Talal said.
With those programs, RHG improves employee retention and creates more loyalty to the brand, and to the unit as a whole. “Higher retention or improved retention will only result in a better quality of service, and reduce cost because you don’t get any employees to train them, you just work with the existing employees,” he said.
RHG employs over 450 Saudi line employees and another 200 are supervisors and managers, he added.
RHG also has a follow-up process for graduates on their progress, their skill set, and how to improve, which is reflected in their annual performance reviews, Talal concluded.
Leading the way
The Red Sea Development Co. is also leading the way in establishing undergraduate and postgraduate hospitality programs.
TRSDC, in partnership with the University of Prince Mugrin and the École hôtelière de Lausanne, offers scholarships to high school graduates who are interested in studying international hospitality management, Fadi Alaseri, TRSDC’s associate educational director told Arab News.
“TRSDC’s transformative education programs are designed to develop the brightest minds in the tourism and hospitality fields, by equipping young Saudis with the needed skills and competencies, allowing them to realize their full potential,” Alaseri said.
There are two tracks available in the program: Fast Track, which is a four-year program with no preparatory year, and Full Track, which is a five-year program with a preparatory year, which qualifies students to begin the major.
TRSDC and its partners will provide suitable job opportunities to graduates upon successful completion of the program, he added.
“The program aims to prepare leaders and specialists in international hospitality management by providing a curriculum that combines theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences based on Swiss and international hospitality standards,” Alaseri said
There were 2,653 applicants for the scholarship, 1,883 of whom were males and 770 were females. However, only 26 were selected, of which 14 were males and 12 were females.
“Our talents will run the ground-breaking luxury, regenerative tourism destination in alignment with the Saudi labor market needs within our destination,” Alaseri said.
“TRSDC reshapes educational opportunities by opening new doors and empowering young Saudi professionals with the required skills and knowledge to excel in the hospitality field and tourism sectors,” he added.
Upskilling Saudi youth
In order to provide students with job opportunities at Hilton Hotels in Saudi Arabia upon graduation, the group entered into a partnership with Bunyan Training Academy in July 2022.
The training program, which is accredited by the Saudi Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and certified by the EHL, is available to select young Saudi talent, Hilton Group’s Senior Director of Human Resources for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Levant Fawaz Moumina told Arab News.
“This is the first time in Saudi that an international hospitality provider such as Hilton is collaborating with EHL to offer this program,” he added.
Students will receive sought-after theoretical and practical lessons across various functions of the industry, Moumina said.
Furthermore, participants will be able to pursue bachelor’s degrees based on the variety of professions they will be trained in, including culinary, F&B, front office, and housekeeping, if they choose to do so, he said.
This program aims to identify more than 30 Saudi talents who are interested in pursuing a career in hospitality. “Following a meticulous selection process, Bunyan Training Academy carefully selected applicants with Hilton’s input,” Fawaz said.
In 2024, students who complete the program will receive a diploma accredited by both the Saudi TVTC and EHL, he said.
As part of its efforts to mobilize the nation’s labor force, Moumina said the group has also established close ties with the King Khalid Foundation, the International Youth Federation, King Saud University and ministries and governmental organizations like the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Fawaz stated that Hilton has 2,400 team members in Saudi Arabia across 16 hotels, to reach 10,000 by 2030 — half of whom will be Saudi nationals.