The Business Year

Essam Al Shiha

SAUDI ARABIA - Telecoms & IT

State involvement in private business necessary to meet Vision 2030 demands

Chief Executive Officer, Saudi Business Machines (SBM)


Before he joined Saudi Business Machines in 2002, Essam Al-Shiha started his career at SABIC, after earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), before moving on to such illustrious companies as ISE and Al Khaleej Computers. He joined SBM as an account manager, securing many multi-million-dollar IT and infrastructure projects for SBM in every industry sector in the Kingdom. Prior to having been appointed as CEO, he was Chief Operating Officer and the Vice President of Sales, positions in which he achieved outstanding results.

"SBM was also one of the major IT companies that worked on the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) recently inaugurated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and US President Donald Trump."

How has the company grown to its current position and where does most of your revenue come from today?

One major advantage we’ve enjoyed is being first to market. As a company, SBM can trace its roots right back to when IBM secured a foothold in the Kingdom in the late 1940s, by way of Saudi Aramco. After having been established to become IBM’s local representative, SBM continued with the same commitment to excellence and innovation that made IBM a household name. SBM has always strived to provide the latest, most advanced, state-of-the-art computing technologies and solutions, consistently delivering a positive return on investment for its corporate and government clients. Now, the company is more focused than ever on providing the most customer-centric, innovative services of the highest quality. SBM is also Cisco’s Gold and Largest Partner in KSA, and a Gold Partner of SAP. Our Lines of Business cover all aspects of the ICT industry thus more expertise and end-to-end solutions are available at our client’s disposal. Systems and Software (S&SS) within SBM is our core business and has exclusivity on distributing many of IBM products and provides a comprehensive set of skills and capabilities to assist customers with the full range of OEM, IBM Software, and IBM Hardware Product Support needs. Network Solutions and Services (NSS) is a main pillar in SBM’s business in Saudi Arabia. From infrastructure, network solutions, data centers, AV, security, and more, NSS develops end-to-end solutions “design-implement-operate“ to help customers move to the latest state-of-the-art technologies. The Integrated Technology Services (ITS) provides services to enable, integrate, optimize and manage ‘On Demand’ business infrastructures, increasing IT business value for customers. (ITS) also includes highly skilled engineers that handle the maintenance and support for IBM Hardware and Software. The Professional Services (PS) offers high-quality advisory, consultancy, and system implementation services across the entire spectrum of information technology domains, especially in ERP and CRM, through partnerships with major corporations that specialize in these fields, such as SAP and Oracle. SBM installed Blue Gene, the world’s most powerful supercomputer, for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and recently built the most advanced Data Centers (Tier IV) designed to host the most mission-critical computer systems for (RIC) in two locations and another Tier IV Data Center for the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA). And this is how we always distinguish ourselves in the market. Merely offering a range of products just won’t do, companies need to provide added value services that maximize the value of the products they sell and establish long term partnerships with clients. SBM is on partnerships with some multinational corporations, and has been even contracted to do consultation for them. Take our partnership with Mobily as an example. Soon after the telecommunications giant was established in 2005, SBM was instrumental in setting up Mobily’s operations, deploying and integrating ERP, CRM, and billing systems. Within the first six months of its existence, the company’s services were up and running, with the flexibility and constant innovation to cope with any future changes built right in.

How does business from the government sector factor into your overall portfolio?

On the government side, as internet usage exploded compared to its modest adoption in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, and online communication became a way of life, and as the Saudi society becomes ever younger and more tech-savvy, the Saudi Government realized early on that a multitude of services will need to be streamlined across the board, for a paperless environment between the client and government agency. Citizens and residents no longer had to be at a physical office and talk to an actual government officer to get their paperwork done. And that’s where we come in. SBM is the go-to company to help the government implement the vast network and machine infrastructure needed to ensure that citizens and residents are able to process all of their government-related affairs from the luxury and convenience of their homes, smartphone in hand. SBM is also proud of its contribution to the financial and banking sector in the Kingdom, nonetheless, applications and systems that impacted and facilitated our lives like SADAD and SPAN. Given the nature of government work, the infrastructure needs to be implemented first before any applications can be deployed. In some cases, as SBM engages with a government agency to bring it up to date, we find that they either have weak infrastructure, wrong implementation of applications or lack of integration. SBM’s role here is to make a full case assessment and provide the proper solutions and support. For example, our infrastructure mission with the Saudi Ministry of Justice was successful. SBM integrated all courts around the Kingdom into one, single network. This being the government, some certain challenges were expected, but we eventually got the project signed off. We introduced new technologies that made it easy for plaintiffs and court witnesses to submit depositions and testimonies remotely, without the need to be physically present at court — an especially vital convenience, given the Kingdom’s sheer vastness, the costs involved in traveling around the country, and the extensive timeframes of the litigation process. Recently, we’ve worked on major projects that are part of CDSI for the General Authority for Statistics (GAStat), which is a national initiative that aims to provide statistical services and indicators in an innovative, comprehensive, and real-time way. It saves a lot of time and effort, and works as a national bank of statistical information that will be accessible and valuable to decision-makers and planners, in line with the Kingdom Vision 2030. SBM was also one of the major IT companies that worked on the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) recently inaugurated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and US President Donald Trump.

Is government business a key part of your growth plan in coming years?

The formidable goals and intense timeframes of Vision 2030 necessitate that the government be involved in private business at various levels. One form of such involvement is privatization, examples of which are the aviation and health care sectors, where the government is establishing majority- or fully-owned holding companies to run service-based government institutions—such as airports and hospitals—as if they were business enterprises. And this is exactly why the answer to your question is a definitive yes! The vigor that is expected to be generated by new competition between public and private sector, and the demand for infrastructures and technologies that will result, surely will generate endless opportunities for SBM. We expect to be involved in every sector, from public services to education and defense.

The government’s plan to introduce radical reforms like the NTP calls for a great deal of technology. Will this trend boost the need for your services and hardware?

Right now, the government is concentrating on security. We work with some ministries and other government agencies to prevent any possible cyberattacks. We have our own specialized team, among whom are certified hackers who sign certain contracts to find holes that need to be plugged.

What are the key drivers for growth and what are your expectations for business in the coming 12 months?

Cybersecurity, analytics, mobility, IoT, and cloud computing are expected to be key areas of growth in the short and medium terms. Many applications still need to be developed, as smartphones are no longer just a display of status and wealth. They have become essential necessities that virtually no one can do without, and people should—or even expect—to be able to do everything with their mobiles now. Not only the government, but many enterprises, are basing the entire scope of their services on mobile platforms.



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