TOMORROW’S ECONOMY

Saudi Arabia 2020 | DIGITAL ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

With the single-largest tech fund in the world, Saudi Arabia is doubling down on the essentials of tomorrow's economy.

Abdullah Al-Swaha
BIOGRAPHY
Abdullah Al-Swaha was appointed Minister of Communications and Information Technology in 2017 after more than 15 years of experience in IT, entrepreneurship, and executive and digital consulting. He has held several positions in the public and private sectors. In the former, he was director-general of the Digital Transformation Office in charge of expediting the realization of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. In the private sector, he has served as CEO of Cisco Saudi Arabia.

95% of smartphones displayed today are made by chipsets made in partnership with Saudi Arabia. Some 40% of the innovative material in these smartphones are made in Saudi Arabia by ARM and SABIC. ARM is the chipset manufacturer owned by SoftBank and the Vision Fund of Saudi Arabia. SABIC is the second-largest global petrochemical company that makes the innovative material that goes into smartphones. Saudi Arabia is transforming at the speed of light, leveraging its factor-based economy and leadership as the 18th-largest economy to leapfrog into the future powered by digital and our global and regional partners. This started with the announcement of Vision 2030, the most audacious, once-in-a-lifetime journey of transforming a nation that is the heart of the Arab and the Muslim world and an investment powerhouse.

Already USD100 billion has been committed to the Vision Fund, making it the largest tech fund in the world. Our ambition to create a thriving and dynamic economy is underpinned by a national digital agenda that will empower women and fulfill lives. Only by empowering and engaging people in healthcare, education, and smart cities can our nation, region, and planet remain prosperous. Secondly, it is about how a digital economy can supercharge the existing one and leapfrog it into the future. 10% of global trade is now digital, and Saudi is one of the fastest-growing opportunities for digital commerce and trade. Last but not least is a digital government—and how we move from red tape to red carpet.

We are moving at light speed, and here are some examples. The first is close to my, and everyone's, heart: healthcare. In 2018, we leveraged a new business model with a mobile app called My Health—Sehha. In 2018 alone, this app delivered 1.4 million virtual consultations, reduced waiting times for doctors from months to days, and, the cherry on top, reduced human-related errors by up to 90%. In 2019, we have started in partnership with you—global innovators, telecom operators, and national digital champions in collaboration with local entrepreneurs—to leverage connectivity, big data, and AI, and have found some surprising things. 50% of all doctor visits can be delivered virtually, out of which 50% can be delivered by a physician and 50% by machine or AI. Delivering healthcare by machine, data, and AI, we managed to reduce the cost of healthcare from USD100 to USD15-30, and in some cases to USD1 for medical consultations delivered by machines.

We are also one of the top-10 fastest-growing nations in e-commerce, growing at 35% and recently crossing the USD7.5 billion-threshold. We are projected to cross the USD10 billion-mark by 2020. When it comes to moving from red tape to red carpet, in the Kingdom today, one can hand over power of attorney digitally in less than 10 minutes via smartphone, obtain a trade license in a day, or get their passport within 24 hours.

All these are underpinned by a National Digital Agenda whose foundation we are doubling down on—a foundation powered by you: the local, regional, and global players that are changing the world. In a USD24-billion market, where everywhere else is stagnant or declining by single digits, the Kingdom is growing by double digits and fast tracking into an ICT market that is the largest by a mile in MENA, at USD12 billion.

Extracted from speech delivered at MWC Barcelona in February 2019.