ELECTRICAL IMPULSES

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahmed Jaber Al-Faifi, Managing Director of SAP Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen, on utilizing new technologies, job creation, and projects in the health and education sectors.

Is there an awareness of the importance of integrating tech into business in Saudi Arabia, and how are companies embracing the changes that technology brings?

The maturity of the market is clear to all vendors, and that is why people have started investing here. The majority of businesses have realized that without technology, without digitalization across their operations, it would be difficult to sustain and continue growing in this market. As a result we are no longer trying to educate the market on the importance of technology. Instead we are talking about how to acquire and adapt technology, and how to utilize it to the maximum benefit of your organization. There is a clear connection now between technology, transformation, and economic diversification. The digital economy is at a mature stage in Saudi Arabia.

How is this relationship between digitizing processes and job creation playing out in the Kingdom?

While it looks like there is a conflict between being more productive and getting more jobs, the fact is that there is not. Examining the relationship from an economic perspective and looking at productivity per industry, what is needed are more highly trained people to take new roles. The government is moving to other industries to make them more productive, but also to train more qualified and able people. Opening a new stream of business for government and industry helps both and improves the productivity of the overall economy, which creates new jobs, especially for Saudi youth. You cannot have productivity without job growth. The government-backed Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020 aim to have half a million new jobs open by 2020, and at the same time it is pushing hard for technology, especially digital. We do not see any conflict because the technology helps create new industries, and to benefit from the global trends that are driving job creation across the planet.

What kind of public sector projects are you involved in?

We are working on many projects today in the public sector. We have projects with the General Authority of Zakat and Income Tax, and many others, but individually these are not the most important part of our approach. What is key is that we have a vision for this market and a plan for the next 10 years. This market will continue growing in the digital sphere. Growth is not the issue here, the issue is how to build capabilities and make them available for the benefit of the economy and to put the right investments on the ground. We realized that the government would like to leverage SAP solutions but it needs to have it in the country. It is not willing to put critical data outside the country. We understand that we have the best solutions, but need to be localized to work best for the government. We also see a lot of industries that are evolving and transforming by innovating here in Saudi Arabia. For example, in the oil industry, they have their own patents. They need software support, but not outsourced support. We have built a center for it in Saudi, and as part of this effort, we have created a digital hub. We have to be humble, and have to admit that there are other smart people in the market who can add value to the economy and help it to transform. We created a digital hub for them, which is a platform that enables them to put their ideas and then we develop it together and make it available to the economy. This platform is open to anyone. In summary, we created a platform that provides solutions; we created a localization team just to ensure that all local regulations are respected so the government does not need to go and customize things; we created a co-innovation center to allow a space for companies to build solutions together along with SAP; and we have opened the platform for the rest of the IT community so that they can give their ideas and help us. This hub can and will transform the business.

Are you pursuing projects in the healthcare and education sectors?

When it comes to healthcare, what the government is trying to do now bring the expertise and productivity of the private sector through public private partnership. The regulation and supervision of that sector and of complex partnerships could not happen without digital technology, without a company like ours. We are moving in the right direction, gaining ground in the sector because we came with the experience from other markets and are helping to build these partnerships between the public and private sectors. This will save the government a lot of money, but that does not mean we lose business there. In fact, healthcare was one of the best sectors for us last year. Regarding the education sector, while there were not many initiatives from the government in this sector last year, we see strong potential. There were initiatives on education in the private sector, and hopefully the partnership between private and public sectors can also happen for education as it has for the healthcare sector. However, the transformation of the education sector will begin in the coming years, and we are poised to develop solutions there as well.

What are your goals for 2017?

We have already made the investments that will fuel the next phase of growth. We have created a full-fledged digital hub, a big investment from our side. We started last year with cloud services for STC, which now provides SAP solutions to business through its platform. We need to shift our capabilities to the next level in 2017, as we anticipate growth with more leveraging of digital technology and more investment up front. We are making major investments this year to build this hub, train people, and make it ready for the government to leverage. We are building a global hub, which will serve not only the country, but the Middle East and Africa as well. So, we need to keep the activity up and build capabilities so that we are in a good position as rapid changes in the Kingdom continue.