Investing in digital ecosystem for post-pandemic era is key: FII panel

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The pandemic has fast-tracked the world’s journey into innovation and the digital ecosystem, with investments in infrastructure and large-scale projects, the world is set to enter a re-imagined way of life characterized by technology and futuristic infrastructure and ways of living, speakers at the FII Institute’s summit highlighted on Thursday.

The FII institute launched its summit in Riyadh on Wednesday, mobilizing speakers both virtually and physically to discuss the latest pressing issues the world is facing and how investments in certain areas can really make a difference.

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The nature of our reliance on infrastructure has changed and the digital ecosystem has been emphasized due to the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak took the world by storm, causing industries and entire countries to rethink their way of living.

During a panel discussion surrounding the topic of ‘Social architecture: What investments in infrastructure will enable the next wave of growth’, H.E. Mohamed Ali Rashed Alabbar, Board of Trustees member, FII institute and Founder of the UAE’s Emaar properties PJSC, said, “Everybody's talking about the digital ecosystem. I really think that if you look at our e-commerce giant, Noon, you will realize that our e-commerce business is generally about Wi-Fi.

But what goes beyond that, is all the talent that you need, which is I think the best thing for infrastructure.”

Alabbar noted that the importance of infrastructure and the digital ecosystem have been emphasized by the pandemic.

“We need the digital ecosystem which is evolving and changing all the time and society is going that way. Especially after the coronavirus situation, pretty much everybody's going that way. For the digital infrastructure and ecosystem to operate, you still need the old boring stuff. You still need the hospitals for the wellbeing of people, the roads, the airports and the warehouses, and the list goes on,” he added.

Co-founder and CTO at US-based firm Hyperloop-One, Josh Giegel echoed Alabbar’s sentiment, stating that, “: I think for us, for everybody, it's really the idea of connectivity.

“When we took that first ride in the Hyperloop three months ago, it marked the beginning of what we’re calling the ‘Hyperloop decade’. This starts off with myself being the first person on it and by the end of this decade, you will all be able to ride Hyperloop, but we still need the backbone- it is connectivity that is going to power this,” said Giegel.

Hyperloop might be available within the next decade or so, says Giegel, ensuring a more efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has enhanced their infrastructure and investments in smart city technologies.

Saudi’s NEOM project, perhaps one of the most pioneering projects of its kind in the region, promises a reimagined and more sustainable future.

“Nothing embodies the word ‘bold’ more than the Kingdom’s NEOM project, which is fundamentally about building the city of the future. It is one of the most transformative projects ever undertaken anywhere in the world, ever,” said Brendan Bechtel, CEO of US-based Bechtel Group.

Saudi’s NEOM project is going to be 100 percent driven by renewable energy in a highly integrated system. It will focus on commercializing clean energy industries and digital infrastructure. Longer term investment in this is “so critical for humanity”, he added.

The future relies on a more sustainable way of living. Matthew Harris, Founding Partner, Global Infrastructure partners, said that governments would have to play a major role in this.

“When we think about new energy technology, we think not only about solar and wind, but also about batteries, about biofuels about direct air capture, carbon capture, utilization, and storage. All of these areas need significant investment on the power and utility front,” added Harris.

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