Technology and innovation underpins large parts of Saudi Arabia's National Transformation Program. As it seeks to improve economic competitiveness and enhance efficiency, Vision 2030 will necessarily require Saudi Arabia to adopt and invest substantially in new technologies. Find out which tech developments to expect in the Kingdom and how this will impact regulation.
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As the National Transformation Program is rolled out we expect to see new partnerships between the Saudi government and the private sector. Some of these have already been announced, such as the agreements signed in 2016 with Cisco Systems to develop the digital infrastructure in the Kingdom and in 2017 between King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology and Amazon Web Services to help emerging technology companies.
Many of the sector-focused objectives in Vision 2030 will also be driven by technology, including:
- Manufacturing: the Vision anticipates increased automation in manufacturing and the supply chain to increase efficiency and improve competitiveness.
- Healthcare: the ambitions to increase life expectancy and improve quality of life could be delivered through e-health, wearable devices and advanced electronic records.
- Tourism: the use of smart tools and apps will support the Kingdom's investment in cultural and entertainment activities to attract more visitors.
As a result of Vision 2030, we are therefore seeing changes occurring at speed, increased investment, potential privatisation opportunities, increased government support for technological solutions, and more widespread adoption of technology. The Kingdom will need to balance this fast pace of change with regulation to protect companies and consumers.
New Tech Laws
In order to facilitate change and encourage innovation, we expect more focus on laws recognising digital transactions. At the same time, we also anticipate legal and regulatory measures to establish higher standards for information security and data protection.
By way of example, the Kingdom's telecommunications sector regulator – the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) – issued a public consultation on a proposed regulation for cloud computing in July 2016. The consultation document highlighted uncertainty of the regulatory status of cloud computing in the Kingdom and security risks connected with cloud usage as key factors in the need for regulation.
It is refreshing to see the Saudi regulatory authorities, such as the CITC, taking a proactive and consultative approach to new regulation. By inviting comment on significant legislation such as the proposed cloud framework, the outcome will hopefully take into account the range of industry views and result in comprehensive and practical legislation.
Opportunities for Tech Companies
The opportunities for technology companies arising from Vision 2030 are significant. The chance to shape the future of the Kingdom presents a fascinating and rare chance for companies to deliver solutions that can make a real difference. We expect that suppliers will be encouraged to be creative and to offer products and services that can integrate with the vision of Saudi Arabia's future.
At the same time, all organisations will need to monitor the developing legal and regulatory frameworks around the use of technology and the processing of data. We expect that information security and data protection will be significant themes for future legislation, in addition to specific regulation on particular technology products and services. In some cases, this will create additional administrative and licensing burdens that will need to be considered alongside the market entry opportunities.