PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

Saudi Arabia 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hatem Bugshan, President of Education e-Solutions, on the creation of the company, artificial intelligence, and IP rights.

Could you give us a brief background of what was behind the creation of Education E-Solutions and what gap in the market it filled?

Education e-Solutions was established four years ago with the main focus of riding the wave of technological transformation since the Saudi economy has been shifting away from being oil-based toward being knowledge driven. The technology sector is one of the main sectors driving this change. We took the opportunity to create digital solutions and e-platforms to engage the entire community. This includes connecting university, college, and school students through a common platform where ideas are created through their interactions. Traditionally each university has had its own R&D department, without much communication between them until the research was published. Modern technologies now allow us to move past this phase, and come to a truly open innovation environment. With short technology life cycles, knowledge is coming from multi-dimensional aspects in different fields. This pressure has forced many institutions to be more outward looking. A single company can only innovate so much. People are needed from outside, be they individual experts or end-users, to participate in the development process. This is the concept of Education e-Solutions. We are providing digital platforms and inviting experts, students, and universities to engage in a social community to tackle common challenges to co-create a vision of the future. As a part of this, we have been introducing innovative technologies into the market, like VR, AR, and AI. Like all new things, you can expect some initial resistance to adoption. From our experience, one of the main obstacles is that there is no rich content for virtual reality. We tackled this by inviting experts from around the global to help students here to create and perfect a 3D model. We signed an MoU with TVTC and partnered with Effat University. We are seeing much effort in social learning. It is more than delivering content to users. There needs to be social interactions in the approach to allow connections and exchanges between users to create a knowledge mash-up of ideas. This is how innovation takes place. We provide the infrastructure for all of the programmers and developers where they can look into the community and change their ideas with the help of experts. They can share the software codes and models to make communication easier through a “xR portal" that we are currently implementing.

How would you assess the maturity of the digital economy in Saudi Arabia?

There has been significant improvement in the adoption of e-commerce, e-business, and now e-education. We can see several universities adopting and changing their content from physical and paper-based to digital. This is cost saving as well as more accessible to end-users. We see these initiatives both from the private and public sector. The goal of Vision 2030 is to have the private sector engaged with the public sector to co-share an innovative future. The management of data is essential to reach this goal. Data is the fuel and new currency. In the future, data will run the economy. All AI technologies and IoT will need data to achieve their potential possibly with the help of neural networks. It is absolutely key and comes from interactions, user-to-user, user-to-machine, and machine-to-machine as we will see with Machine Learning or Deep Learning from AI. Therefore our platform has to be so attractive for all innovative companies to come and deploy their technologies and open their data for exchange. Furthermore, our absorption capacity has to be very high. We have to focus on changing the rules of intangible assets or intellectual property rights. The global conventional approach is that governments are focusing on defining the ownership of IPRs. There are aggressive restrictions on who owns what for intangible assets and how the end-user can be protected. The rules will have to be changed from ownership-based to governance-based. It is about guiding users on how their data can be valuable, traded, and used. Many small companies make good discoveries and have good innovation. They fail, however, to take that to the market because they do not know how to trade their intangible assets. There is no solid foundation of law to guide them in ways that their data and IP rights can benefit them. That is the first step. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is so geographically dispersed in the region and by 2030 will be an attractive place for foreign investors and companies to operate. This makes it an ideal place for data generation, and lots of interactions will happen between companies and end users with all digital platforms. There is a big opportunity for Saudi Arabia to be a bank of data. The competition will be very tough in the future, which is why we are taking steps now, early on. Consistent with the Kingdom's vision 2030 Education e-Solutions is committed to attract international top leading players and mobilize required investments.