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Saudi Arabia 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahmed Al Faifi, Managing Director, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen of SAP, on the maturity of the Saudi digital economy, pursuing richer PPPs, and building a world-class hub.

Ahmed Al Faifi
BIOGRAPHY
Ahmed Al Faifi is responsible for the company’s presence, growth strategy, sales, and marketing operations across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain. He has successfully positioned SAP as an innovation business leader in these three countries, while growing the local talent capacity to meet market demands and expand SAP’s footprint. Prior to this, he was Zain KSA’s Chief Technology Officer and spent more than six years with Ericsson, during which he was head business development. He holds an MSc in telecommunication engineering from KAAU University in Jeddah, a mobile technology diploma from Ericsson, and a BSc in electronic engineering (VLSI) from King Saud University in Riyadh.

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

The maturity of the market is clear to all vendors, which 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. Therefore, we are no longer trying to educate the market on the importance of technology; we are now talking about how to acquire and adapt technology and how to utilize it to the maximum benefit of an organization. There is a clear connection now between technology, transformation, and economic diversification; the digital economy is in a mature stage in Saudi Arabia.

What are some government projects you are working on with the public sector?

We are working on many. We have projects with the General Authority of Zakat and Income Tax, among others. 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 digital, since the issue is not growth but how to build capabilities that benefit the economy and put the right investments on the ground. We realized that the government would like to leverage SAP solutions; however, it needs to have it in the country. It is not willing to put critical data outside the country. We understand we have the best solutions, but need to be localized to work best for the government. When the government makes a decision about certain processes it does not need somebody to come and do it for it; it wants that solution to be created here.

Are you pursuing projects in the healthcare or education sectors?

When it comes to healthcare, the government is trying to bring the expertise and productivity of the private sector into public-private partnerships. The regulation and supervision of that sector and of complex partnerships could not happen without digitalization or companies such as ours. We are moving in the right direction and gaining ground in the sector because we come with 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, without losing business there. In fact, healthcare was one of the best sectors for us in 2016. 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 in private sector education, and hopefully the partnership between private and public sectors can also happen for education in the way it did for healthcare.

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 businesses through its platform. We need to shift our capabilities to the next level in 2017. We anticipate more growth and more leveraging of digital, and are investing as such. We are making major investments this year to build this hub, train people, and make it ready for the government to leverage. We will also be building our investment into a more global hub, which will serve not only the country, but the Middle East and Africa as well. So, we need to keep up the activity and build capabilities that allow the Kingdom to meet these rapid changes.