Sep. 1, 2021


Mohammed Alshaalan

Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Alshaalan

Former CEO, National Digital Transformation Unit (NDU)

“If there is any winner from this experience, it is digital transformation.”

BIO

Mohammed Alshaalan was the executive VP for the National Center for Privatization and, before that, he was a board member at the Saudi Grains organization and CEO and board member for SURE International Technology. He was also CEO at SAVIT and is the former CEO of NDU. He has an MBA in business administration from Georgetown University.


How did NDU respond to the pandemic?

If there is any winner from this experience, it is digital transformation. We have been talking about digital transformation for years but nothing really materialized; the pandemic itself brought about the biggest change. We used to have a national digital transformation strategy that encompassed all strategies for the priority sectors. This included data, AI, ICT, telecommunications, e-government, laws, and regulations, and these are enablers that every sector, including health and education, will build on. From that, we had a strategy for five years that was supposed to have materialized by 2025, though the pace of acceleration after COVID-19 has made us reconsider and reprioritize what will happen after COVID-19.

What role has NDU played in the process between government agencies before and during the pandemic to ensure digitalization integration?

NDU is a product of Vision 2030, and the main aspect is how can we collaborate with all entities within the government and the central entities using technology. This means ICT, telecommunication, e-government, and regulations or sector level, such as health, education, e-commerce, smart cities, and so on, in a way that achieves a common goal. That common goal is to elevate the assets that have been built over the past few years from a hardware, data centers, and e-services point of view to accelerate the pace of digital transformation. As a product of Vision 2030, the main role is a center of excellence to see how NDU can enable those government entities that have a great need for help or even those far advanced in digital transformation that need to integrate with other entities. When the pandemic hit on the first day, we had to make a quick visit to the disease center at Ministry of Health twice to make sure it had everything it needed from a technology and digital transformation point of view. The second visit was to the Ministry of Education to understand how we could migrate 6 million students and teachers from the physical world to the virtual world in one day. All of that happened in a smooth way because the collaboration had already started earlier, and the dynamics of the government, given how agile and dynamic it became after Vision 2030, helped us to quickly form a team helped by His Excellency the Chairman of National Transformation.

What legal and regulatory changes in the last year or in the works will have a significant impact on the broader economy?

The first one, which is the first of its kind, is the digital economy policy. We were among the first countries in the world and the first in the G20. Saudi Arabia was the president of G20 last year, and part of our commitment to digital transformation was to take up two initiatives. One is how countries can measure digital economy's contribution to GDP. The definition and roadmap will be adopted by the G20 nations in order for each country to decide the size of their digital economies and, as collaborative nations, how can we grow it together. The second is the digital economy policy, and that was approved by our Council of Ministers in 2020. It is a policy that communicates the Saudi position toward the digital economy, which talks about female inclusion in ICT, the ethical use of AI, the importance of connectivity, and all the main principles that we want to achieve as a nation. From there, we outlined the activities, policies, and regulations, and today we have around 50-plus regulatory documents that we are tracking and trying to achieve. ✖