NAIF ALBUTY

Saudi Arabia 2021 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Naif Albuty, CEO of Esri Saudi Arabia, about key business lines, national security, and revenue trends over recent years.

Can you provide an overview of your key lines of business and clients in Saudi Arabia?

We have been extremely successful in harnessing the power of Esri's geospatial services platform for Saudi clients. Our services extend far beyond traditional mapping and include the collection, processing, and geo-representation of data. Data-based decision-making has become extremely critical to policy in the Kingdom, so this is an important moment for us. Esri Saudi Arabia addresses the entire industry of geospatial services, which covers maps, licenses, services, professional services, and building platforms for analytics. We have around 170 products available in our catalog, all related to this core mission of making sense out of data and gathering information. From a legacy perspective, we used to only provide the ArcGIS base map, but it has evolved over time. Now, geospatial services and various platforms are combined under one hub called an atlas. It is not only one service, system, or dataset but a combination of many elements. It can be defined as the hub of hubs or platform of platforms, as we combine all this under the umbrella of the geospatial atlas, known as the Industrial Esri Atlas. We work across industries including health, education, industry, oil and gas, central government, and national security. One of the core global businesses for Esri has always been central government with security and defense. In the last five years, we leveraged education, health, and oil & gas. These trends also apply in Saudi.

Esri's solution has been essential for the Ministry of Health and the wider government during the pandemic. What was the process of setting up this solution, and what makes it useful in this context?

We started in February 2020 at the time when the Covid 19 reported cases were surging in the kingdom with the Ministry of Health trying to work on a tool of representation in order to calculate and identify the future impact of the pandemic. We used one of our solutions, which can be adapted to different industries and tweaked it to be applicable to the COVID-19 situation. We adapted a solution that John Hopkins University with the help of Esri have implemented and used to track the pandemic, which has been shared widely on social media platforms and replicated the dashboard for the Saudi Arabian context. This has been a key public tool for the ministry in the effort to manage the pandemic across the Kingdom. You are able to view for every city what the historic and current data for the pandemic is. We launched this in May when the pandemic was at its peak, and this was one of the major assets that helped the authorities have a full overview of the situation. We would call this as the command and control for the pandemic since all hospitals and 90,000 governmental health centers around the Kingdom are connected to one platform with live data. You can see the data in each city for Covid 19 test results in real time, all reflected immediately. Every day, the Ministry of Health presented this data during its daily spokesmen briefings, and it is the only official result of Covid-19 within Saudi Arabia. All other government agencies also take their data from this. We are also working on the back end with predictive analysis to understand where we are heading. There is a global second wave of COVID-19 where the numbers in Europe and the US have surged significantly, but in Saudi the numbers are still contained at a much lower level. This is one of the advantages that our solution provides: a predictive analysis of where things will happen within the coming period of three months, six months, a year, or five years. It gives the Ministry of Health an understanding of where we are going and is the reason why Saudi Arabia did not lock down again. This gives us a roadmap vision as the important element for every atlas to build on is predictive analysis. If we know when we will be hitting a second wave in Saudi Arabia then it would allow authorities for more staffing, beds, ICUs, CAPEX, OPEX, and investment to be planned.

What other government projects are being built, and how do you prepare an agency to use your solution?

It is a long process, you cannot instantly launch a project in response to an an RFP to build an SDI, a portal or an Atlas ; you would have first to respond to their pain, requirements and offer the needed vision broken maybe into phases to implement the road map , and every step has to be audited. Your data, systems, and capabilities have to integrate with the platform, as one system can make the entire atlas ineffective. We are also working on a larger project that has taken us two or three years to build its vision ,roadmap with the Ministry of Health, which is the health atlas for Saudi Arabia, which will track all manners of metrics and data for the government and will bring information from across the health sector together in a cohesive way. We have already built the industrial atlas and an economical atlas with the Ministry of Economy and Planning and are currently developing an educational atlas as well for the Ministry of Education. Esri is as well working on the national SDI, which is one of the elements where we prepare the agency or industry for one unified data infrastructure so that it can have its data disseminated across every other Government agency and to the central national Geoportal. In National Security and defense, we implemented the first of a kind 911 center in Riyadh, which we did not have in the past in Saudi. We took the best-case studies and expertise of Esri for 911 similar operations whether in the US or globally and implemented in Saudi, which required tremendous efforts to build and combine over 14 national security systems as a national security Dashboard, and this is a significant achievement.

Where do you see growth in the future, and what are the most interesting new technologies you are introducing?

Esri is heavily committed to R&D (30% from the total revenue). We spend more than Apple's R&D budget per year. In 2019, Esri launched many new apps: Tracker, ArcGIS Indoors, Excalibur Notebook Server, Monitor, Inspire and ArcGIS Earth, Hub and Insights. We are all familiar with Esri outer maps, but the new innovative way is now indoor mapping. Currently, there is a city and individual buildings. With City Engine, one can navigate the city in 3D. With ArcGIS Indoors, you can go inside of the buildings and navigate. In Saudi Arabia, KAUST adopted this system and is now facilitating it for faculty members, visitors, and students. ArcGIS Insights that we used for the COVID-19 dashboard and platform to give analysis and predictive reports. We even transformed some of the informational data into a new solution and started something called Crowd Management, which we used in several locations. Every year, Saudi Arabia hosts the pilgrimage of hajj and umrah, where full crowd management of 3 million people is handled through the Esri Crowd Management solution. That is the future we are building with our innovative solutions. We still have all these solutions that were implemented in Europe and the US 10 years ago, so for innovation and the future you need to build an infrastructure first, which is a significant change in Saudi.

How have you performed in revenue terms lately?

In 2017, we had SAR32 million in revenue, and this grew to SAR46 million in 2018, SAR62 million in 2019, and SAR120 million this year. This is a significant jump and shows how the expansion has happened within Esri Saudi and the industry itself. In the past, some agencies did not even have workstations or laptops, but there was still a dream to build a GIS system. We have been fortunate in the past two years in Saudi, as digital transformation has played a big role to develop agencies so that we could leverage with our work and show our “magic”. COVID-19 was a saviour this year in terms of Esri's growth, and we have not had one layoff or salary reduction during the pandemic while all commercial and government agencies went on cutting their salaries. We increased our growth and revenue and are closing this year SAR120 million confidently.