Here’s how Saudi is emerging as the tech hub of the future
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Here’s how Saudi is emerging as the tech hub of the future

Here’s how Saudi is emerging as the tech hub of the future

As it boosts the adoption of digital government and pilot technologies, the kingdom is also preparing to host LEAP, which set to become one of the major tech events in the world

In August, Saudi Arabia launched a series of technology initiatives worth over $1.2bn as part of efforts to establish the kingdom as a global technology hub. From announcing events such as LEAP and @HACK to the launch of the Tuwaiq 1000 Bootcamp and CoderHub, the kingdom is also partnering with several multinational corporations including Amazon, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Informa and Microsoft to create digital capability centres and innovation hubs for tech startups. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) also established the National Technology Development Programme with a budget of SAR2.5bn, with the goal of making the kingdom the world’s leading technology country.

The kingdom’s efforts within the sector have already started to see traction – Saudi climbed to the 43rd position on the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI) in 2020, up from the 52nd spot in 2018. The index, which ranks the 193 UN member states in terms of digital government, found that the kingdom had jumped into the ‘very high EGDI group’ mainly due to a significant acceleration in its e-government services.

“The pandemic has renewed and anchored the role of digital government – both in its conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN under secretary-general for Economic and Social Affairs.

The report highlighted the adoption of emerging and frontier technologies such as blockchain and AI for the delivery of government, financial and commercial services in the region.

The launch of several new initiatives has accelerated the government’s digital transformation, as part of plans to achieve the goals of Vision 2030. For instance, the kingdom’s ICT Strategy 2023, released by the MCIT, aims to:

• Increase the ICT sector contribution to the GDP by SAR50bn over five years
• Grow the level of Saudisation in the sector to reach 50 per cent
• Increase women’s participation in the sector by 50 per cent
• Boost IT and emerging technologies market size by 50 per cent
• Create more than 25,000 quality jobs in the sector

The MCIT is also focused on developing a strong digital infrastructure, as part of which it plans to further develop its telecommunications and IT infrastructure – especially high-speed broadband; create building standards to facilitate the extension of broadband networks; establish an effective partnership with the private sector; support local investments in the telecommunications and IT sectors; enable smart government; and strengthen the governance of digital transformation.

A giant leap

Beyond the initiatives taken to digitise the government, the MCIT has identified the following seven technologies as having a game-changing impact on the transformation of the Saudi economy:

• IoT and connected devices
• Artificial intelligence
• Big data analytics
• 3D printing
• Robotics and drones
• Distributed ledgers
• AR/VR

The market value forecast for these technologies is expected to reach SAR60bn by 2030, and then grow annually in double digits, according to the ministry.

It is to support this vision that global tech event LEAP will be held in Riyadh in association with event organiser Informa Tech. The event, which will run from February 1-3, 2022 at the Riyadh front Exhibition Centre, will delve deep into how emerging technologies are set to revolutionise the world, while also serving as a special marketplace for tech companies from across the globe.

The event expects to attract over 40,000 technologists to Riyadh and include more than 500 of the world’s thought leaders from enterprise, investment, government and academia to promote networking and learning.

Michael Champion, regional EVP, Informa Markets said: “We launched LEAP and @HACK in Saudi because the kingdom is the current and future epicentre of tech activity in the region. LEAP will be the largest tech event ever launched – globally.”

One of the goals of the event is to bring the world’s most disruptive pilot technology to Saudi Arabia, enabling the executives and investors in the kingdom to adopt it first.

The kingdom is already making strides in this space: giga-project NEOM, announced in 2017, aims to become a living laboratory when it is completed, offering “a vision of what a new future might look like”. The $500bn mega-city, which is slated for completion in 2030, hopes to emerge as a hub for innovation, and develop new solutions to prominent global challenges across strategic sectors including food, energy and water.

Other giga-projects in the kingdom, including the Qiddiya Entertainment City – which will focus on culture and the creative industries, and the Red Sea and Amaala projects – which seek to redefine luxury tourism – are also being designed as smart destinations with technology elements embedded in the masterplan.

With the big tech event LEAP, the kingdom hopes to provide a greater understanding into how it is giving life to its tech ambitions, while also offering a platform for the best business ideas from across the world to take flight.

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