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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Eng. Olayan Alwetaid, stc Group CEO, sheds light on their digital transformation process, data center innovation, 2023 collaborations and the importance of effective management of environmental aspects.

What strategies has stc Group pursued to address the different challenges in the digital transformation process?

At stc, we take pride in staying ahead of the curve. Recognizing the importance of driving digital transformation relatively early on, we launched our “DARE” strategy, which stands for digitize stc, accelerate performance, reinvent experience and expand scale and scope. We continue to operate under this strategy, which instills a digital mindset in our employees as well as subsidiaries and partners, to unlock the full potential of our digital capabilities.

Against a backdrop of rapid global digital transformation and an even more accelerated pace in Saudi Arabia, stc has taken concrete actions to ensure it can champion the digital transformation of the MENA region and beyond. stc has invested at pace in creating a full range of products and services to be able to provide integrated solutions, from its telecommunications roots to fintech, TV, IOT, 5G, cloud computing, e-gaming and cybersecurity.

To highlight some examples of our range of products and services, in 2018 we launched stc pay bank, which offers consumers a variety of digital payment solutions, supporting the region’s shift towards a cashless society in line with Saudi Vision goals. Gaming and e-sports are sectors where we see significant growth potential, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it through our dedicated e-sports and gaming platform, stc play. Our world-class connectivity has been core to the transformation of the Middle East’s gaming industry, enabling gaming service providers and gamers to have the best gaming experience possible. stc has also invested extensive technology and talent in its data privacy and cybersecurity businesses. The key focus was to clearly understand the threats and risks faced by our customers and to protect data for individuals and businesses.

We are focused on developing world-class infrastructure to support our world-class products and services and ensure the most reliable, geographically widespread connectivity to every existing and potential device that allows people around the world to adopt a digital way of life and create more meaningful, enriched experiences.

Please explain how center3 advances the group’s digital goals and the broader importance of backing up mobile technology with submarine cables and data centers.

center3 — our carrier-neutral data centers and submarine fiber optic network — is a significant milestone in stc’s aim to provide world-class connectivity and our commitment to positioning the Kingdom as the region’s digital center.

By providing the latest communication and hosting technologies as well as elevating connectivity capacity to meet the needs of the markets across Asia, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world, we are putting the Kingdom at the heart of international connectivity and further building our ability to deliver high-speed, low-latency connections.

What is more, center3’s cohesive ecosystem of cables and data centers is designed to attract hyperscalers, big data and local and international service providers. We have built on this offering, since the launch of center3, by introducing other complementary digital companies, including cloud computing, cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT), to provide a complete digital ecosystem.

What collaborations might we see from stc group over the rest of 2023? What are your primary focus areas when striking such deals?

Globally, Saudi Arabia has been ranked first among the G20 countries in the Digital Competitiveness Report for the year 2021. This accomplishment originates from the empowerment and wise leadership of the Saudi government. From a private sector perspective, we contribute to the Kingdom’s ICT infrastructure, digital capabilities development and mega digital projects in line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030. Our core focus is connectivity and digitalization. Moreover, we seek to contribute to positioning the Kingdom at the heart of the digital economy and use technology to enrich our customers’ lives and benefit the broader economy.

That means we will continue exploring opportunities to unlock cutting-edge technologies such as AI, IoT and cloud computing and further build stc’s position at the forefront of innovation.

With increasing attention around environmental initiatives, how hard is it to balance these with the broader needs and goals of the business?

Effective management of environmental aspects is of primary importance to us; we view this as fundamental to our business needs and goals, not in opposition. Many opportunities exist for linking our environmental responsibility to such growth.

For instance, our business in GCC is underpinned by fundamental sustainability principles, including maximizing our economic impact, supporting progressive social development and, more relevantly, creating a positive environmental impact and minimizing our footprint.

Furthermore, the range of our contribution is evident in our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We recognized the importance of each of the 17 SDGs. We identified nine that we see as priorities for our business due to their relevance to our community, geography and business strategy. Furthermore, we are fully committed to supporting the SDGs and aim to ensure our business practice is in line with the goals so that we are not operating in a way that could be detrimental to the future of society and the environment.

With good corporate governance as our foundation, stc is able to focus on creating lasting impact for the members of our digital ecosystem. Through initiatives such as “InspireU,” our incubator program for digital innovation startups, stc group invested over SAR 500 million and provided more than 600,000 jobs.

Finally, to play our part in tackling climate change, we aligned our business with the Paris agreement to reach net zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050 and are working towards an ambitious carbon reduction by 2030.

All this reflects our aim to be role models by taking responsibility and positively contributing to the environment, society and economy.

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