Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation

The phrase Digital Transformation is an established corporate buzzword in the west. Post-pandemic, it is taking center stage across Middle East businesses.

Technology enabled large sections of the global population to earn a living and live some version of their pre-pandemic lives. This simply would not have been possible if the world were not as digitized and digitally connected as it is today. The pandemic was a wakeup call for countries – and companies – that have lagged behind in the technology relays especially Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

Many of these countries are implementing grand economic development programmes centred upon technological investment and digitization; businesses from start-ups to large corporates too are doing the same. For instance, between 2022 to 2025, many business leaders in the Middle East plan to increase investments in digital transformation as well as leadership and talent development by at least 10% if not more. Investment in the latter reflects a realization that no amount of investments in technology will be sustainable in the long-term if these are not mirrored by investments in the skills and training of their people. 

Consequently, the Saudi government is actively investing in knowledge-transfer partnerships working with accelerators and investors with the experience and expertise to mentor, train and educate its growing community of ‘techpreneurs’. In 2021, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) launched the Riyadh Techstars Accelerator in partnership with Techstars to support the startup ecosystem across MENA.

Other initiatives include: 

TAQADAM, a start-up accelerator set up in partnership by KAUST and the Saudi Arabian British Bank, in 2016. It supports entrepreneurs by providing the “funds, tools, and hands-on resources to define and refine their companies and bring their businesses to market.” It runs annual bootcamps, workshops, mentoring programs and provides funding of up to US$140,000 to winners of its annual accelerator program. 

The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA) set up in 2019 to ‘create a data-driven and AI-supported government and economy.’ The entity launched DEEM, the largest government data cloud in MENA, in October 2020. 

The Suliman S. Olayan Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an incubator for innovation and entrepreneurship, established in March 2022. This is a partnership between Olayan Financing (of Suliman S. Olayan Foundation) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). 

In 2020, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city ranked in the Start-up Genome’s top five for regional ecosystem funding, talent and experience as well as performance. 

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Saudi Digital Ecosystem – Airborne and Climbing
Source: Genome Startup

Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, is now considered a top internal growth market for companies operating in the MENA region. FocusEconomics forecast 6.2% GDP growth in 2022, compared to 4.7% for the UAE. The government continues to actively invest in the development of non-oil industries and invite global investments by showcasing a host of opportunities across a wide swathe of exciting sectors via multiple conferences, summits and events held around the country.

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