What role will ICT play in shaping the country in its path towards Vision 2030, and where do you see gaps that can still be filled by progress towards the country's digital transformation?
Saudi Arabia is among the leading countries in EMEA, set to achieve 4.2% increase in IT spending. In a recent study published by Technavio analysts in November 2018, the Saudi IT market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR close to 9% from 2019 to 2023. Saudi Arabia's main objective is to progress on the technology side. This has been translated through the country's willingness to invest in the IT sector and to succeed in the digital business journey. In its efforts to realize Saudi's 2030 Vision, the National Digitization Unit key program intended to ensure the transformation into “a digital society" through many aspects, with digital platforms being at its core. In Saudi Arabia, they are definitely less familiar with advanced technologies, nonetheless, they encourage its development publicly. While the primary aim of Vision 2030 is the provision of improved governmental services, we expect an increase in the use of cloud computing, the development with AI, and the demand for e-governance.
What are the main features of the Saudi market and how do you expect the business landscape to evolve in the medium term?
Saudi Arabia is the biggest market in the region, its geographical and population size is larger than all other markets combined. It is becoming the ICT center of technology in the region due to its progressive investment in Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning. The e-Government online services answer the needs that we are witnessing lately. Among these services are employment programs, e-learning services, passports and civil affairs, traffic updates and control, online issuance of commercial registers, and online payment services. Moreover, we assume an increase in demand for solutions related to data integration, analytics, and visualization. Big Data is also important, and the key lies in seeing how we can transform these technological trends to a reality that can benefit all people.
What are the major challenges IT companies are facing when dealing with data management and potential to benefit from more data extraction and analysis?
While new technologies are transforming key aspects of the modern business, legacy systems are holding others back, limiting innovation, opportunity, and engagement. The main challenge remains in understanding and exploiting the data that existed in those legacy systems, while keeping up with new data coming from new data sources. These new data sources deliver content in various formats such as paper documents, e-mails, text messages, photos, recordings or videos. Advanced data management tools are needed to collect, cleanse, convert, segment, code, and consolidate content data from disparate content sources to a centralized aggregated “Big Data" ready for analysis. Whether legacy or new data, discovering what is beyond those repositories and uncovering the real information is the challenge. This challenge can be addressed in two different approaches. The conventional approach which is to migrate data to a unified repository and to integrate entities together, and the new trend which is to keep the data where it is but search and analyze it from a centralized place. In my opinion, data management has two main challenges, knowing what data exists, and understanding it. Complex data needs complex processing techniques such as Computer Vision, Cognitive Services and Intelligent Recognition, and Entity Extraction. Tools such as Video, Image, and Object Analysis allow us to extract information from images and videos, convert documents and make them readable, segment them in order to separate the various entities which are then extracted and used for indexing, linking, searching, and analysis. With the above in place, controlling data becomes another challenge. That is where security comes into play, for big and small companies. Security comes in different layers. One of the main layer is how to secure the whole organization from outside attacks. This has been addressed through private cloud solutions or adding multiple layers of securing data. In Saudi Arabia, there have been some overtures to Amazon to help develop a private cloud, in which all governmental entities put their sensitive data.
What has been the impact of Saudization in the ICT sector so far?
One of the many goals of the Vision 2030 is the creation of rewarding opportunities by lowering the rate of unemployment from 11.6% to 7%. As such, ICT sector, which is rapidly booming, and majorly impacted by Saudization. Supported by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the ICT Saudization process has lately been complemented with modern training programs and incentive plans aiming at encouraging the private sector to apply the Saudization decision by interacting with other ministries. The broader picture is extremely positive: there are many talented Saudis that, after having studied at top-tier international universities, are returning to their country to put their talent into service. Both governmental and private sectors are working towards attracting and developing talent while building up capacity.
What role does Everteam play within the digital transformation of Saudi Arabia's economy and what are your strategic priorities for 2019?
Everteam's presence in Saudi Arabia has marked a lot of changes in digital transformation across many sectors through both our innovations and R&D investments in machine learning, blockchain, and AI embedded solutions. We provide entities with information governance by helping them take control over their data and transforming them to useful information. We have worked with several sectors in Saudi Arabia such as governmental, financial, educational and health whose main goal was the development of their systems of data analysis through digital interfaces and elements of Artificial Intelligence. We built a centralized knowledge management system providing a centralized access to information across various geographically dispersed locations. We also built platforms that helped financial auditing in government entities to boost transparency and fight fraud. Starting 2019, we are hoping to create balance between local knowledge and international expertise to expand our operations and presence in Saudi Arabia as a team. Moreover, we are willing to introduce digital transformation in the remote areas of the country and expand our focus to include them, perhaps through new partners. Additionally, we are working to develop strategies in order to collaborate with the public sector and help them achieve their own targets. Flexibility combined with financial stability is giving us an edge in this more demanding, less patient market, where the sales cycle has been shortened from at least a year to a couple of months.