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Under its DARE strategy, stc has been striving to offer the best digital experience to its customers. In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Eng. Olayan Alwetaid, Group CEO, stc gave insight into the industry’s latest topics and highlighted the operator’s role in driving a digital future.

How can emerging technology lift the overall communal and economic landscapes?

The world has had a great thirst for new technologies for quite some time now. With customers demanding better, faster, more convenient solutions in the work, social and home environment for some time now. The pandemic cast that needs into sharp relief as the world switched from a physical world to a virtual world almost overnight. People, businesses and countries had to adapt and change the way they worked and lived in lockdown, with the digital world providing them the only access beyond their homes in a lockdown world.  Those who were the most digitally prepared tended to do better than those who were not. Saudi Arabia had been blessed many years before, with a leadership that saw the potential in the digital world as it could provide the rapid transformation of the economy, leisure and society and set out a clear vision of what it could achieve.

For the last few years, the leadership of stc fully recognized the way the world was changing and put in place a bold plan to transform stc into a fully digital company incorporating all the elements of an ecosystem to serve the future. The strategy, called DARE, provided a strong sense of direction and pace of transformation for the company. That explained that the investment, services and products provided by this strategy enabled us to help people, business and society to successfully address the challenges of the pandemic. More important it helped protect the economy and speed the recovery, as is witnessed by the kingdom currently enjoying the strongest economic recovery within the G20 countries. The scale and pace of our response to the pandemic across the whole digital ecosystem we felt was the ultimate test and vindication of our digital first strategy. But there is still much more to do.

Generally, how is security in digitization important and cybersecurity in particular, to people and businesses?

Due to our digital fist strategy, we now have customers across multiple platforms, whether that is stc play our entertainment service, or stc pay, our digital wallet which is due to become the first digital bank in KSA, having attained unicorn valuation status last year, or our business customers using cloud or IoT or 5G solutions for their increasingly digital businesses. What is critical to all is that data is kept safe and secure across every platform and service they may use. We have and will continue to heavily invest in cybersecurity and the group was a driving force behind our recent set up of our advanced technology and cyber security company sirar by stc.  The company is protecting platforms from threats using artificial intelligence to identify and combat threats before they become an issue. Furthermore, we are changing people’s lives by enabling the digital transformation of public services and industry applications such as utilities, transport and logistics, security, manufacturing, retail, health, and education. As a key enabler of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals, we have to ensure that our technology is enhancing people’s lives whether that’s through entertainment, financial services, healthcare or education.

How is stc leveraging its technology and expertise to enhance the overall culture and business community?

stc is a digital company. We bring the full weight of our digital products and services to help businesses grow (and even remained in business during the pandemic) as well as bringing individual customers unrivalled digital services, such as 5G, cloud computing, IoT and data analytics. We are continuing to evolve and having connected over two million households with high quality fiber optic technology we can see how our technology is improving people’s lives. People are running highly successful businesses from their smartphones and laptops and for that they require the best-in-class connectivity, which we provide. Businesses are operating on cloud-based services and using AI and data to perform at higher levels and to great success. We only see this continuing to grow, as people trust digital services and capabilities more and more. One of the most exciting projects stc is involved in is the smart city of NEOM, which will be one of the most digitally advanced cities in the world. stc is also digitalizing the country’s healthcare system and driving innovation and changing people’s behavior and building trust when it comes to privacy and data. The future is a digital one and we at stc are striving to make it a safe and prosperous one for all.

From culture and business to sustainability, the latter is an important aspect in both fields, tell us about stc’s practices to achieve sustainability? 

stc recently announced its accession to the UN Global Compact aiming to encourage companies around the world to adopt sustainability and social responsibility, to be one of the local networks of the UN Global Compact worldwide. Our accession to the UN Global Compact emphasizes the sustainability strategy that stc adopts in all its businesses, to be one of the leading global companies that support the global movement towards a more sustainable future for the benefit of stakeholders in achieving the SDGs, and the success of the companies’ future plans on the long run. The UN Global Compact operates under a principles-based framework for businesses by aligning its strategies and operational processes with global principles including human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. This will take place by taking strategic actions to enforce broader societal goals like those of the UN sustainable development while focusing on cooperation and innovation, in addition to creating a local network and a platform for discussion and exchange of information regarding the UN Global Compact. This is the outcome of the stc’s commitment to sustainability in its comprehensive and applying responsible business practices to ensure the continuity of business management using the most sustainable methods.

What are the growth opportunities for stc and how is the Group investing in its future?

Our DARE strategy is digitizing stc, accelerating performance, reinventing experience, and expanding in scale and scope everything we do. This has required a complete transformation of our operations, methods, and speed of working. This has transformed our focus and investing from the better understanding of our customers and business clients and investing behind their most pressing needs as they digitize their lives and businesses more and more. So, opportunities are not just telecoms, but multiple other products and services such as 5G, cloud computing, IoT and data analytics.  These emerging technologies, which are expected to represent more than 40 percent of new revenue growth in the technology sector through 2023, will be the fundamental building blocks of this journey. Not only will they be enablers but also crucial sources of strategic competitive advantage for stc. That is why we are already investing heavily in these areas and in related capabilities.

Other examples of our investments is stcpay, our new fintech service. stcpay believes it can change the way the world feels about financial control and turn fear into enjoyment as it becomes as easy to manage and control as any other aspect of their lives incorporating spending, saving, investment and overall management and analysis. Letting customers “simply take control”. stcpay has already attracted more than 6 million registered users, which is a great example of how our payment platform is evolving. Those kinds of figures will help the government reduce dependence on cash as it modernizes the economy. We’re already looking to roll out the service to other countries, with stcpay currently in talks with regulators to expand services into new territories.

We have continued to expand our scope as we have launched the Advanced Technology and Cyber Security Co. (sirar by stc); Cyber Security company focusing on security advisory, advance security professional service, providing cybersecurity platforms (i.e threat intelligence) and managed security services. sirar by stc is enabling enterprises to protect and secure digital assets as they embark on digital transformation. We have also launched stc Play, our eSports and gaming platform that provides casual and professional gamers access to online tournaments, content, and gaming merchants in one platform.

At the same time, we are maintaining our technology leadership position in the region. stc has connected more than two million households with high-quality fiber optic technology. We are also investing heavily in IoT, cloud services, and data analytics capabilities.

Could you tell us about the outlook for the telecom sector in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf?

As I mentioned earlier, we need to look more about all digital aspects, when we think about the future and our role in it. We are at the heart of the digital transformation of Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030, enhancing our customers' digital experience and services, making their lives easier and more fulfilling. To do this, we work closely with our partners to provide innovative, end-to-end ICT services and solutions to meet the needs of consumers and businesses in Saudi Arabia. These solutions and services impact nearly every aspect of their lives, including entertainment, financial services, healthcare, and education. 

We are heavily involved in high priority growth opportunities vision 2030 mega projects such as smart cities like Neom, the digitalization of Saudi’s healthcare system, and a cloud-first policy. We are also driving innovation in private sector companies in financial services, leisure, and tourism to adapt to changing consumer behavior and issues such as integration, privacy, and data.

We at stc are at the forefront of our industry, delivering leadership in terms of cutting-edge technology in infrastructure and its application. Looking at it in the round and the outcomes it provides is what enables us to accelerate the benefits to the people and the businesses we work within a truly transformational way.  

We are determined to maintain our scale and pace of development, because unless we deliver the products and services behind all these incredible and fast-moving innovations, we will not be able to turn ideas into life enhancing and life changing, reliable products and services. That is under our DARE strategy we are creating and incubating companies, with strong focused leadership which we can then let thrive and create additional value for the economies, customers, employees and shareholders through IPOs and funding like we did with solutions by stc and stc pay/bank. Many more are planned as we build out our digital strategy to help the transformation of our kingdom under V2030 and the region as a whole.  

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