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Saudi Arabia is going through rapid transformation, according to Deemah AlYahya, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s National Digitization Unit (NDU), a government arm mandated to accelerate efforts to achieve Saudi Vision 2030 objectives, an initiative to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil dependence. This transformation, Ms. AlYahya said, will require collaboration, open data sharing and injecting innovation into citizens.

Saudi Arabia is a young nation full of potential. Ten million of the kingdom’s citizens are under the age of 25, according to Ms. AlYahya, so the kingdom has a unique opportunity to change the mindset of its forthcoming generation to embrace innovation and slingshot Saudi Arabia away from its dependence on oil to become a leading global economy.

Across Saudi Arabia, government agencies are rapidly adopting cloud-based solutions, which are driving efficiency and new government services models. As a result, Saudi Vision 2030 is enabling nationwide digital transformation and driving the goal of increasing the non-oil government revenue from SAR 163 billion to SAR 1 Trillion by 2030.

One of the ways the Saudi government aims to boost the kingdom’s economy is by embracing digitization, Ms. AlYahya explained to Telecom Review. “We know that digitization is about disrupting traditional business models to enhance economic and social impact by using technology,” she said. “Saudi Arabia spends huge amounts of money on IT and we aim to implement the most cutting-edge technologies.”

Saudi Arabia has more than 3,000 e-services, she said, so from a holistic view, the kingdom is “very automated already”. But the nation still aspires to rank higher in terms of e-services on a global scale, and to do that it has to optimize costs and increase customer satisfaction – a key pillar of Saudi Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia’s government aims to do this by focusing on three main pillars, said Ms. AlYahya.

The first pillar is ‘Digital Society’ which is about providing what society needs to become digital, such as connectivity, shared and open data, and digital identity. “We consider shared data fundamental to any digitization effort in order to consolidate platforms and reduce costs,” said Ms. AlYahya. “We need to share data and speak the same language when talking about data.”

The second pillar is ‘Digital Economy’ which aims to focus on certain industries that Saudi Arabia is spending a lot of money on and that Saudi Vision 2030 also focuses on. The government can then benchmark these industries against other countries who digitized their economies with the same sectors.

“We are going to work on strategies and blueprints for digital healthcare, digital education, smart cities and e-commerce,” said Ms. AlYahya. “Then we will roll out other sectors in the future.” These roadmaps will give Saudi Arabia an indication of what healthcare will look like, for example, from a digital perspective.

“These activities are not silos – NDU is a facilitator and we support other entities by gathering them all together to execute these plans,” Ms. AlYahya said. “We are also unleashing opportunities for the private sector to be part of creating those roadmaps. Our role is to help our partners realize these opportunities.”

The third pillar Ms. AlYahya highlighted is ‘Digital Nation’. Not only is Saudi Arabia targeting its infrastructure and sectors – the kingdom aims to see forthcoming generations organically become “digital design thinkers”.

Saudi NDU wants to inject innovation into citizens and unleash the potential of innovation within both the government and private sector. “We want people in Saudi Arabia to think digitally, including nurses, teachers, and home workers to solve their day to day challenges through technology,” said Ms. AlYahya.

For Saudi citizens to become producers rather than consumers, she said, it comes down to educating the kingdom’s high youth population to “organically think digitally”. Saudi Arabia has some of the highest social media usage in the world. In fact, 40 percent of Arabic tweets come from Saudi Arabia. Ms. AlYahya said the kingdom aims to help youth become producers of content rather than just consumers.

“What we are creating right now is a foundation, and our youth is what’s going to determine the future,” she said. “That’s why we are really focusing on putting them on the right track when it comes to organically thinking digitally. We are trying to change the mindset from job seeker to job creator.”

Saudi NDU was inspired by Dubai, Ms. AlYahya said, and the way the city has embraced digitization and education. “We are in an era where we are no longer competing against each other. We are working collaboratively to achieve an objective,” she said. “The world is evolving very quickly, and as a nation, we have to exchange our best practices and learn from our neighbors in order to rise together.”

Saudi Arabia has a digital mission, she said, to rise to the forefront in the world by generating a diversified economy built on talent and a spirit of innovation. “We can do that by learning from others. Our location means we can act as a bridge between the three continents [Africa, Asia and Europe],” she said.

“We have to learn from others and Dubai is a city that has truly inspired us when it comes to digitization. They have been very open to us exchanging information and exchanging experiences.”
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