Is technology, big data Saudi Arabia’s new oil?

Riyadh Muawad, STC’s senior vice president of enterprise at telecoms operator STC, outlines how the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plans are increasing investment opportunities in the digital economy
Saudi Arabia, Technology
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Driving into a mall in Riyadh during peak shopping hours, one of the most frustrating elements can be finding a free car parking space. In a bid to solve this headache, Saudi telecoms provider STC has developed a smart parking service which uses wireless sensors to tell users where the nearest vacant parking slots are located.

Innovations like this are all part of a $158 billion global pot of funding set to be invested in smart cities-associated technology investments by 2022, according to a report released last year by research company IDC. Of this figure, around $2.7 billion is forecast to be spent in the Middle East and Africa.

Riyadh Muawad, senior vice president of enterprise at STC, says the smart parking service is just the tip of the iceberg, thanks to the advances being pushed forward as part of the government’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from a reliance on revenue from hydrocarbons and towards a more technologically advanced society.

“STC seeks to connect all things that are not connected to a network with the help of a vast array of services and technical solutions. This helps enterprises reduce their costs and increase the efficiency of their business,” Muawad says.

“We offer fleet control services that target enterprises that rely on fleet of vehicles to transport goods, deliver products or perform other services. Fleet control services ensure punctuality, fleet safety, high productivity and facilitate management and control anytime, anywhere… We also provide power saving services which help enterprises reduce their energy consumption and therefore reduce their costs,” he added.

Data centres
Another technological area STC is involved in is big data analysis. The Saudi market urgently needs to develop its own big data database and STC is helping to make this a reality. The company recently opened the STC RDC data centre in Riyadh. The fourth of its kind in the kingdom, the centres are the largest of their kind in the Middle East, providing state-of-the-art infrastructure that benefits the various sectors operating in the kingdom.

“We live in a world where big data drives business when it comes to large corporations and government entities where huge amounts of data are generated on a daily basis. This huge amount of data can be utilised through analysis, and many enterprises in large and emerging markets are relying on big data analytics to determine their business scope, which in turn changes the way these enterprises deal with the challenges they face. Big data analysis is the best way to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of business processes,” Muawad says.

The centres can be used for data mining and predictive analytics, allowing companies, government agencies, researchers and marketers to look at data that was not previously available to them, while maintaining information privacy.

Job creation
“Saudi Arabia has recently witnessed remarkable technological developments across all fields, in both the public and private sectors. These developments have contributed towards creating new job opportunities for the people of Saudi Arabia,” Muawad says. “In this regard, I would like to point out that technological advancements and human resources are not negatively correlated as some believe. It is a misconception that technological advancements will eventually result in a decrease in the human workforce. In fact, the increased use of technology will help create even more job opportunities.”

At present, 87 per cent of STC’s staff at its big data centres are Saudi nationals and Muawad says they are aiming to increase that figure by offering training courses at the company’s STC Academy to develop a new generation of big data analysts.

Benefit to SMEs
In addition to the misconception about job losses, Muawad says big data analysis and technological investments are not the domain solely of large global conglomerates and the company has set a goal to make sure this support and investment filters down to smaller companies.

“This sector is the backbone of the economy in most of the world's economies. Small and medium enterprises [SMEs] account for more than 90 per cent of the total number of enterprises worldwide and contribute 50 per cent of its GDP. This sector is also an important source of employment. Statistics indicate that between 50 to 60 per cent of the total workforce is employed in enterprises that are classified as medium and small,” he says.

“At the national level, this sector is currently receiving increased attention… STC has made it a priority to provide ICT services for the small and medium enterprises sector. STC has dedicated a special unit to provide customised services for the small and medium enterprises sector. It has also devoted part of its capital projects to building an infrastructure with advanced technologies, such as fibre optics and microwave networks, as well as deploying mobile networks all over the kingdom,” he adds.

The focus on SMEs, big data and job creation is certainly pushing the company in the right direction and reflecting positively in its financial results, as STC reported revenue of the SAR 26.989 billion ($7.19 billion) for the first half of 2019, an increase of 6.1 per cent. At the same time, net income over the same period reached SAR 5.598 billion, an increase of 11.3 per cent.

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