Saudi Arabia’s digital by default approach reaps dividends

Saudi Arabia’s digital by default approach reaps dividends

The Kingdom has an opportunity to build on its strengths to boost its digital economy. (AP)
The Kingdom has an opportunity to build on its strengths to boost its digital economy. (AP)
Short Url

Saudi Arabia has long-term plans to be among the 20 largest economies globally by 2030 by creating an attractive investment environment and economic diversification to raise the share of non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent.

A robust digital economy can catalyze promoting economic growth and diversity necessary to achieve Vision 2030.

The Saudi government realized the economic value of digitization and was among the first in the world to establish a Digital Economy Policy. The strategy aims to raise the digital economy’s contribution as a share of total gross domestic product to be on par with other leading global economies, such as the US, where it accounts for 8 percent of GDP.

The Digital Economy Index by research firm Strategy & estimates that if the Kingdom were to increase its current score from 44.47 to Germany’s level of 54.72, its GDP per capita would increase from $19,587 to $20,779.

Moreover, ICT infrastructure is the backbone of the digital economy, and here the Kingdom excels.

For instance, 60 of the 136 governorates have been covered by 5G services as of mid-2021, up from 30 in 2020. Additionally, its service providers are moving swiftly to roll out 5G to more population centers.

The DEI ranks the Kingdom among “digital adopters,” a designation for countries that have met connectivity requirements, promoting higher demand for digital outputs.

This digital foundation will allow the Kingdom to leverage the 21st century’s most important asset, data, to grow the economy and deliver enhanced public services. The country’s progressive data policy encourages data collection, effective use, and open data sharing.

However, data collection comes with risks. As per the Digital Economy Policy, the Kingdom aims to provide a safe and trusted digital environment through cybersecurity laws and regulations to encourage individuals, public sector agencies, and private enterprises to actively participate in the digital economy and do so confidently.

While the government has taken the lead in addressing cybercrime, there is vast room for cooperation, particularly with global technology companies whose expertise, experience and platforms can add real value to the Kingdom’s cyber defense efforts.

Huawei is a good example. In the past 30 years, Huawei has worked with carriers to build more than 1,500 networks, serving more than three billion people in over 170 countries and regions with no major incident related to cybersecurity and privacy protection.

On the other hand, the Huawei cloud platform has passed over 100 security certifications worldwide, with security and trustworthiness integrated into research and development, delivery, and operation and maintenance processes.

The gap between private and public service delivery is vast in most countries. While private companies often embrace digitization to remain competitive, most government services remain stuck in manual and cumbersome processes that have barely changed in decades.

Therefore, we are encouraged to see the Saudi government taking the lead in digitizing the customer experience.   

Its “digital-by-default” approach strives to set digital platforms as the primary communication channel with citizens by 2024. An innovative feature of the Kingdom’s e-government strategy is the “once-only” policy, whereby data is not collected several times by separate agencies, reducing redundancies and enabling a more integrated experience accessing various public services.

Through these efforts, the International Telecommunication Union awarded the Kingdom the Government Leadership Award in 2020, recognizing the country’s efforts in developing policies and regulations that support the digital economy, stimulate investment and creativity, and contribute to sustainable development goals.

The ITU also took note of the Kingdom’s application of international best practices in transparency, the inclusion of public views and organizational independence in the ICT sector.

Another major priority for the Kingdom is upgrading national talent to meet future job requirements. Accordingly, significant investments have been made to promote knowledge and increase the capacity of the national talent pool in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through supportive programs and policies.

But classroom teaching is not enough to meet the digital economy’s demands. Here again, local universities can tap into the expertise and capabilities of technology companies to prepare students for the future.

Huawei, for example, has a well-established talent development pipeline that has empowered thousands of students to pursue rewarding careers in ICT.

The company has opened 152 Huawei ICT Academies in the Middle East alone. As a result, more than 15,000 students have received Huawei certifications, and over 76,000 students participated in Huawei’s annual ICT Competition. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 students have engaged in its flagship program, Seeds for The Future. Also, Huawei has recently launched the National Center for Emerging Network Technologies in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and King Saud University, intending to develop digital skills within the Kingdom.

The Kingdom has an opportunity to build on its strengths to boost its digital economy and move toward a knowledge economy. It enjoys well-developed infrastructure with increased investment in ICT.

The Kingdom can claim its rightful place in the emerging digital order by building strategic partnerships with the private sector.

Eric Yang is chief executive officer of Huawei Tech Investment, Saudi Arabia

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view