A few days ago, I had the privilege of hosting an interesting panel discussion with some of Saudi Arabia’s most influential CIOs, during which they examined the potential impact of digital transformation in the context of the kingdom’s National Transformation Program (NTP).
The NTP forms part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, a long-term economic blueprint designed to curtail the country’s dependence on oil. The initiative outlines numerous regulatory, budgetary, and policy changes, and other countries across the region will be watching closely as they embark on their own national transformation journeys.
Where Vision 2030 describes the ambitious economic and societal goals for Saudi Arabia, the NTP provides detailed road maps on how to get there. And it is anticipated that, through the various NTP-inspired initiatives, more than 450,000 jobs will be created in the private sector.
Technology will undoubtedly be a key enabler and driver of the numerous changes prescribed by Vision 2030, while digital transformation will play a central role in achieving the milestones laid down by the NTP.
Countries around the world are viewing digitalisation as an opportunity to enhance the lives of their citizens and drive economic and social progress. Similarly, Saudi Arabia expects ICT usage and digitalisation to accelerate the execution of the Vision 2030 blueprint, driving economic and social development, promoting good governance, and enhancing national security.
If implemented with sufficient diligence, Saudi Arabia can be expected to have a vibrant domestic IT industry in place by 2030, as well as a highly efficient and effective government, a digitally transformed private sector, and public eservices that rank among the best in the world.
To achieve these outcomes, telecommunications providers will need to deliver a highly developed and resilient communications infrastructure, while the kingdom’s crucial small and medium-sized business segment will need to rapidly embrace ICT solutions and services.
At the same time, the local IT industry will need to innovate and develop more valuable products and services, while the education system will have a significant role to play by nurturing the existing ICT skills base and ensuring a sizeable pool of expertise exists to take the country forward.
Digitalisation of industries will ultimately lead to improved competitiveness, with ICT proving invaluable in automating end-to-end business processes across the entire supply chain.
Manufacturing will be one obvious beneficiary, with the internet of Things (IoT) enabling manufacturers to leverage a combination of software, sensors, and IP-enabled connectivity to drive innovation around their products and processes.
And since a tremendous amount of data is created and captured by procurement, sales, shipping, and customs and regulations processes, ICT will be key to improving supply-chain performance.
Meanwhile, government systems (e.g., customs and payment systems) can provide an open interface that facilitates integration with all private sector players in the supply-chain ecosystem.
Health care and tourism are among the other key industries that stand to benefit by embracing emerging technologies to enhance the services they offer. Integrating health care service delivery by improving collaboration across the ecosystem of formal and informal caregivers will deliver considerable benefits while reducing costs, particularly in relation to long-term care.
IoT will have a key role to play in the development of remote health monitoring and personal wellness services, as well as in enhancing overall access to health care. Such improvements will be critical if Saudi Arabia is to increase its average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years of age, as outlined in Vision 2030.
Tourism authorities around the world are already keenly embracing digital initiatives. Through location-based services, and with augmented reality on the horizon, the smartphone has become an indispensable tool for offering a wide range of entertainment options and incentivising tourists to spend more money during their stay.
This focus on creating opportunities to maximise tourist activity — and therefore revenue — is key, but a truly effective omnichannel tourism strategy must involve every major player in the ecosystem, leveraging social networks as well as mobile technologies.
These transformations will require sweeping changes across both the private and public sectors. And there needs to be a concerted effort to get the SMB segment on board if national transformation efforts are to have the desired effect.
Whether we are talking about Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the world, the implementation of a sophisticated nationwide digital infrastructure will be integral to empowering the citizens of the future and providing businesses of all sizes with the tools required to drive greater growth, agility, and success.
The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC). He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC. Content for this week’s feature leverages global, regional, and local research studies undertaken by IDC.