On cloud nine: Saudi Arabia embraces the digital revolution

JEDDAH: Forced to stay at home and unable to travel or be connected to the rest of the world, cloud computing has gone from a technical marvel to almost a way of life for Saudi residents and workers.

“In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, all of us, in some sense, moved to the cloud,” said Dina Abo-Onoq, managing partner, IBM Services, Saudi Arabia.

“Using cloud-based video conferencing, cloud-based education platforms, cloud-based document sharing and signing, and more. For companies that had to quickly establish distributed call centers or chatbots, the cloud provided them with a fast path to do so, without needing to procure hardware or go through a lengthy procurement cycle with vendors. We are seeing more and more firms of all sizes look at how they can move more and more workloads to the cloud,” she said.

As a result, Saudi Arabia has increased its efforts to adopt cloud-computing technology and was one of the earliest countries in the region to adopt specific regulations for cloud service providers.

“Saudi Arabia wants to be a regional hub, number one player in the technology and digital transformation in the region,” Yasser Alobaidan, founder of several technology startups in the Kingdom, told Arab News.

“This means we need to attract investments and technologies to come and host their services in Saudi and invest their services in the country,” Alobaidan said.

As the founder and CEO of leading home-grown digital transformation partner, Jawraa, Alobaidan provides the right models and solutions for governments and corporates to make the transition to digital, and in the last few months some major announcements have been made in this area.

A cloud data center by Oracle was launched in Jeddah and the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology published the Kingdom’s Cloud-First Policy in October 2020, intended to encourage government entities to adopt cloud services in place of traditional IT solutions.

Much more high profile was the announcement that Saudi Aramco and Google Cloud in December signed an agreement to offer services to customers in Saudi Arabia. Days later, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and venture capital fund eWTP Arabia announced a joint partnership with Alibaba Cloud to provide high-performance public cloud services in the Kingdom.

In addition, BIOS Middle East, a leading provider of cloud and managed IT services in the Middle East, announced last month it had established two new cloud footprints in Riyadh and Jeddah.

“Cloud services are essential to unlocking the benefits of digital transformation, which has been identified as a major strategic plank for Saudi Arabian organizations in line with Saudi Vision 2030,” said Dominic Docherty, managing director, BIOS Middle East.

“We started getting so many requests for cloud services in KSA . . . So far, the response has been beyond our expectations, and we are super excited to invest and grow more in the Kingdom.”

The cloud revolution also has a positive impact on jobs as foreign investors hosting and building their cloud centers in Saudi Arabia need to hire local talent, Alobaidan said. From a consumer perspective, having the service provided locally also means faster access to content and more protection and governance over the data, he said.

The cloud also has major benefits for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “Now we are seeing new apps offering diverse services coming every day, this has not been available in the past, and the reason for that is cloud computing,” Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noorenergy, and a former engineer who worked at Saudi Aramco for 10 years, told Arab News.

“The reason why we see this rate of apps coming, of new tech-based startups, is cloud computing, because it is the foundational building block for digital transformation,” Al-Ghazal said.

At Noorenegry, Al-Ghazal offers digital transformation training and consultation services for the energy sector.

According to Al-Ghazal, moving to the digital economy is no longer a choice but a necessity, and adoption of cloud computing is the key to economic growth. “We can see Aramco having a partnership with Google Cloud,” he said.

“So even though Aramco has a huge IT infrastructure and have invested a lot in it, they have realized that cloud computing is going to change the entire game of business and commercial business. . . Looking at Aramco, Google will provide them with integrated solutions that are secure, available and reliable based on the regulations, standards and specification of the client,” he said.

Both Alobaidan and Al-Ghazal agree that effective implementation of cloud-based technologies creates a level playing field for businesses of all sizes; the big ones are vulnerable to lose their business if they do not abide by the market rules, which is going vastly digital, while small enterprises are enabled to look big virtually and operate extensively, thanks to this technology’s elastic and scalable model.

In the cloud, data is stored with a third-party provider and accessed over the Internet. This service brings with it particular challenges and concerns about data security. However, Al-Ghazal believes that such concerns should not be about the technology itself, but about how to use it securely.

“No system is a 100 percent immune to any risk,” he said. “Whenever you are connected there is a potential risk.”

While the risks to security are always evident with all technology, the benefits of cloud computing have not been exaggerated as it is one of the driving forces behind the digitization and modernization of the Kingdom’s business community.

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