THE TRANSFORMATIVE SOURCE

Saudi Arabia 2020 | DIGITAL ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Increased demand for cloud computing and e-governance will each prove sizable long-term boons to the sector.

Bilal Hmedeh
BIOGRAPHY
Bilal Hmedeh is the executive manager and board member of Everteam. An experienced manager in leading major digital transformation strategies in the MEA region, before his tenure at Everteam, he covered managerial positions at Netway, where he was in charge of the entire GCC region. He holds an MBA from Walden University and a B.S. in applied mathematics from the Lebanese University, where he started off his career as a software engineer.

What role will ICT play in shaping the country in its path toward Vision 2030, and what gaps can still be filled en-route to the country's digital transformation?

Saudi Arabia is among the leading countries in EMEA and is set to achieve a 4.2% increase in IT spending. In a recent study published by Technavio in November 2018, the Saudi IT market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR close to 9% from 2019 to 2023. While the country's main ambitions require progress on the technology side, this has been translated by its willingness to invest in building a robust IT sector and making the journey to digital business. In its efforts to realize Vision 2030, the National Digitization Unit is ensuring the transformation to a digital society in many ways, with digital platforms at its core. There is definitely less familiarity with more advanced types of technologies in Saudi Arabia, but at the same time there is a willingness to publicly support these developments. While the primary aim of Vision 2030 is to provide better quality government-delivered services, we expect to see an increased use of cloud computing, an increased development with AI, and an increased demand for e-governance.

What are the main features of the Saudi market, and how do you expect the business landscape to evolve in the medium term?

Saudi Arabia is the biggest market in the region; its size and population are larger than all the other markets combined. It is becoming the ICT center of technology in the region due to further investments in AI and machine learning. The needs we are witnessing lately fit into the e-government services such as employment programs, e-learning services, passports, civil affairs, traffic updates and control, online issuance of commercial registers, and online payment services, among others. In addition, we expect that demand will grow mostly in solutions related to data integration, analytics, and visualization. Big data is also important, and the key lies in seeing how we can transform these technological trends into a real promise that can benefit all people.

What major challenges do IT companies face when dealing with data management?

While new technologies are transforming key aspects of business, legacy systems are holding others back, limiting innovation, opportunity, and engagement. The main challenge remains in understanding and exploiting the data that existed in those legacy systems, while keeping up with new data coming from new sources. Advanced data management tools are needed to collect, cleanse, convert, segment, code, and consolidate content data from disparate content sources for a centralized aggregated “Big Data" that is then ready for analysis. Whether legacy or new data, discovering what is beyond these repositories to uncover the real information is a challenge in itself that can be addressed in two approaches. The conventional one is to migrate data to a unified repository and integrate entities, while the newer trend is to keep the data where it is but search and analyze it from a centralized place. That being said, the real data management challenge in my opinion comes in two stages: knowing what data exists and understanding it. Complex data needs complex processing. Techniques adopted include computer vision, cognitive services, intelligent recognition, and entity extraction. Other tools such as video, image, and object analysis also allow us to extract the needed information from images and videos, convert the various documents in order to render them readable, segment them in order to separate the various entities, and extract the various entities and use them as the key attributes for later indexing, linking, search, and analytics.