Saudi is plugged in.
It has its thinking cap on trying to squeeze years of relative inactivity in the technology sector into quickly becoming a leader, but doing it smartly.
The main strategy being to first catch up, be at par with latest tech, before leaping forward.
It was a recent shuttle diplomacy and technology trip by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to several countries, especially the US, that jumpstarted this.
The Crown Prince’s Saudi Vision 2030 has a large part of it centering on technology.
So what’s the plan?
Walking the walk
The overall intent of the preparatory work going into being tech ready is about creating a value chain that can be used to inspire Saudi and its youth to take the reins of the push towards a tech-enabled future.
Once sparked, the region is hoping for new levels of problem-solving, job creation and innovation opportunities both within and outside the country, according to Forbes.
“The Prince is not interested in creating Silicon Valley in Saudi Arabia,” explains Deema Al-Yahya, Secretary-General, National Digitization Committee, CEO of National Digitization Unit and Advisor and the CEO of Misk Innovation, reported Forbes.
“He is not interested in reinventing the wheel but instead wants to bring in the right partners together and leapfrog to become even more competitive.”
Al-Yahya reveals that there are three main areas of technology on which the country is focusing. They are:
-Digital Society (increased broadband, open data)
-Digital Economy (all sectors, particularly healthcare; decrease the cost through digital, expansion of e-commerce)
-Digital Nation (focus on sustaining and empowering individuals via technology, particularly those under 30 which represent 50% of the current population)
Talking the talk
Speaking at the ADNOC Downstream Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, former US congressman and House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor said about Saudi’s diversification strategy:
“You have to look at the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and give him a lot of credit for being very bold in his vision and take the kingdom to the next step in terms of an evolution,” Cantor told CNBC.
Cantor is Vice Chairman for international investment bank Moelis & Company, sole independent advisor on Saudi Aramco’s IPO.
Aramco is hoping to raise by end 2018 or early 2019 $100bn from the sale of 5% of its shares, if company valuation goes according to kingdom estimates of $2 trillion.
“I think what you’re going see is a lot of interest in terms of foreign investors to be a part of the economic growth,” said Cantor
Technology, for example, figures heavily in one of the kingdom’s biggest projects, the $500bn NEOM city by the Red sea, a 10,000 square mile desert that will serve as an economic and tech hub between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with the first phase set for completion in 2025.
“We want the main robot and the first robot in Neom to be Neom, robot number one,” crown prince Mohammed said in an interview in a palatial setting next to the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh following the October 2017 launch, as reported by Bloomberg.
“Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence, with the Internet of Things—everything.”
Tech deals in New York
As part of the 2018 Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum, a number of deals emerged in New York, according to CNBC.
The deals entail:
– An Aramco-Google partnership focused on national cloud services and other technology opportunities.
-A five year-content-led initiative between ITHRA, or the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and National Geographic to propel Saudi Arabia as the region’s center for creativity and entertainment.
-A partnership between Aramco and Raytheonto establish national cybersecurity services.
Major investments in tech
Saudi Arabia’s finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, was recently reported saying on the sidelines of the IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington, that the oil-rich kingdom is putting down major capital in its efforts to diversify the economy, investing money in technology and “spending as if there is no tomorrow.”
Al-Jadaan told Yahoo Finance that the country aims to become a serious player in the world of technology with a number of investment areas in tech including artificial intelligence, augmented reality and data mining where the kingdom is looking to attract talent and companies.
“A lot of technology companies are being targeted by Saudi today,” al-Jadaan said .
The Ministry of Finance announced recently its goal is to make Saudi Arabia one of the 15 largest economies in the world by 2030 with 22 programs and 74 projects the country seeks to complete by 2020.