Digital transformation in Saudi Arabia to expand business and create impact

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The path towards a digitally transformed Saudi Arabia not only boosts business, but also , according to regional manager at SAS, Zafir Junaid.

In an interview with Junaid, who oversees Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan at SAS, sheds light on digital transformation in the Kingdom, its opportunities and challenges in the coming period.

· How can artificial intelligence and analytics help ready regional organizations to follow the goals laid out by the Vision 2030?

Digital transformation is a key pillar of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and by definition, can be relevant to the transformation of organisations, processes, and systems digitally. As proven agents of change in how organisations can reinvent their processes, communication, experience, and overall efficiency, artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics lie at the core of this transformation. Its benefits are being felt across all sectors, whether private or public. For example, automating existing practices and processes with AI will allow IT teams to focus more on business innovation, rather than provisioning the IT infrastructure. Moreover, processes can be refactored to leverage relative strengths of both humans and machines to optimize value generation and decision making to increase business agility. The transformation of the economic sector is with a view to being more productive, more effective, and more competitive in terms of product, services, and solutions delivery, and this ties in closely with the economic goals laid out under Vision 2030.

· How can artificial intelligence and analytics ensure business sustainability and achieve high levels of customer satisfaction?

As data is at the core of both artificial intelligence and analytics, we at SAS believe that businesses can use these technologies to deliver a more personalized experience for customers, automate menial tasks, and help people focus on more important jobs. Large amounts of data, stored for a longer period of time, can help transform the customer experience and retain customer relationships for the long-term. The popularity of virtual personal assistants is also rising, as is the power of artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and machine learning algorithms to anticipate customer queries before they occur. The focus here is on efficiency and business sustainability, as these systems are typically free of any emotional bias that a person may bring to the process.

· How can data analytics be an engine that transforms the way we think, act, and understand customers?

In order for businesses to thrive and succeed, they must make the effort to get to know their customers on a very deep level in order to deliver well and survive in today’s competitive market. SAS encourages businesses to tap into their Big Data resources and leverage them to gain critical insights, and convert these into actionable intelligence. The quality of analytics is dependent on the correctness and completeness of the data that is analysed. Curated data sets can help organisations provide their customers with a tailored and personalized experience that is based on contextual listening and customized for various demographic factors. It is this level of customization that will drive organizational success in a fiercely competitive marketplace, and help realise the full value of the data that is generated through the normal course of business.

· What are the key factors when it comes to digital data transformation strategies and analytics?

The key factor for consideration is whether there is clarity on the kind of results the business expects from analyzing their data and generating intelligence. The worry is not only about expecting too much insight; businesses can also suffer from not extracting sufficient insight from the data they possess. This also extends to the data gathering stage – once the organization knows what intelligence it requires, it can also evaluate the parameters used at data gathering, to ensure that sufficient datapoints are gathered, which together comprise a more meaningful data set.

With the mechanism around data analytics and business intelligence in place, the next key consideration is around the manpower and procedural systems to do with data analysis. The insights and intelligence generated has the potential for direct impact on business success, and so this requires human oversight to ensure that the best results are generated, and that consistency is ensured.

· Does SAS have any initiatives to help develop the skills of youth in Saudi Arabia?

SAS is committed to technology skill development in the Arab world and has been strengthening its work with communities across the Middle East, with a focus on developing the next generation of IT professionals and leaders. We offer a slew of SAS training options for youth in addition to degree or certificate programs with colleges and universities around the world with the aim to enhance skills among the youth and bring them into the regional workforce.

· Digital transformation is problematic for many companies in Saudi Arabia. What is some advice SAS can provide in this regard? Are there any investment problems in the absence of digital transformation?

The first step towards digital transformation is building an understanding of what exactly needs to be transformed, and side-stepping the pressure of investing in technology for the sake of showing initiative. Building a clear understanding of the areas that can benefit from digital capabilities is the first step, followed by a strategic roadmap of how this will be achieved. Luckily for the market, there are a number of experienced and qualified consultants who can guide organisations on their digital transformation journey, with a focus on efficiency and experience rather than on technology infrastructure alone.

Companies that undertake strategic digital transformation initiatives most often prove more competitive and forward-thinking than their peers, and are thus able to benefit from better business performance. The investment in digital transformation from a technology or process perspective will be ultimately justified by the business results.

· How does SAS see artificial intelligence projects coming along in Saudi Arabia in the coming years?

Research from Accenture uncovers that artificial intelligence has the potential to boost economic growth in Saudi Arabia by 1.1 percentage points, adding $215 billion to the national economy by 2035. The same study states that AI will have the greatest impact on the Kingdom’s manufacturing, public services, and professional services industries, with increases of $37 billion, $67 billion, and $26 billion, respectively, in their annual gross value added (GVA), which measures the output value of all goods and services in a sector.

· What are some promising investment opportunities for the Kingdom's digital transformation initiative?

The opportunities are primarily around growth in the Information Technology (IT) and education sectors. In the current environment, it is imperative that Saudi Arabia invests heavily in national IT skills and capabilities to help the market innovate and develop more valuable and impactful products and services. The education sector is also crucial as a future investment area, in order to build an ICT skills base and ensure a sizeable pool of expertise that will help take the nation and its strategies forward.

· One of the most important obstacles facing Saudi decision makers is the localization of technology and the development of the digital environment. How does SAS plan to overcome this?

At a country level, a digital strategy in line with the National Digitization Unit (NDU), a Saudi government entity dedicated to digitizing citizens’ services in partnership with the private sector, is an example of what would be a working model. As the nation aims to transition from an oil-based into a knowledge-based economy, the focus needs to shift from transactional innovation to those with deep socio-economic impact. Under this new focus, we can expect to see new digital citizen services from the Government, public-private partnerships around transforming the human experience, and digitally-enabled experiences in various private sector organisations such as those in retail, healthcare, manufacturing and more.

To top this all, SAS believes that the country’s education system plays a nurturing role around ICT skills, and will, with the right guidance, play a key role in developing innovation within the local context, geared towards local needs today and in future.

· What are SAS’s plans for the Saudi Arabian market in the coming years?

The Kingdom is at an extremely pivotal stage in its history, and it is moving ahead towards its stated goals with determination and precision. In this environment, the call is for companies to bring in their experience and expertise, and work together with the authorities towards a digitally-transformed Saudi Arabia by 2030. We are committed to playing a key role in this transformational journey, and the market interest that we are seeing around advanced analytics and trends such as Artificial Intelligence proves that the opportunity is not one that is purely around business expansion, but about being a part of a larger and more impactful movement.


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