Saudi emphasis on technology during Deputy Crown Prince US visit

Analysts say technology plays into the wider picture of realizing the goal of diversifying Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy

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In a bid to translate the promises to develop and advance Saudi Arabia’s digital infrastructure as part of the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, the kingdom’s deputy crown prince has been busy meeting technology giants in California.

As of Tuesday, Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with executives and signed memorandums of understanding with Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Under an agreement with Microsoft, the company is set to train young Saudis and support Saudi Arabia in its ambitious digital and knowledge-based innovation transformation under Vision 2030.

“One of the things we have found is when you have a broad agenda like the kingdom has around human capital development it has to start right in your primary to middle schools all the way into the industry,” Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella told Al Arabiya’s correspondent Muna Shikaki.

Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" reform plans unveiled in April set out a specific goal of improving high-speed broadband access in the kingdom and to exceed housing coverage by 90 percent in densely populated cities and 66 percent in other urban zones.

In order start achieving that goal, Saudi Arabia has also partnered with Cisco Systems, the largest networking company in the world at a market cap of $146 billion.

Advancing digital infrastructure

Following a meeting between Cisco executive members and Prince Mohammed, a memorandum of understanding was signed with Cisco Systems to help develop the digital infrastructure in the kingdom.

Enabling the Saudi private sector is an important objective under the Vision 2030 as it only currently contributes less than 40 percent of the GDP.

Microsoft CEO: Digital transformation key to implementing ‘Vision 2030’

“In technology, we will increase our investments in, and lead, the digital economy,” a line in the plan read.

“Additionally, we will improve our regulations and establish an effective partnership with telecom operators to better develop this critical infrastructure. We will also support local investments in the telecommunications and information technology sectors,” another line in the plan read.

Analysts say the focus on technology plays into the wider picture of realizing the goal of diversifying Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy.

That is why Saudi Arabia are also looking to invest in start-up companies, in the hopes that future partnerships will play closer to home once they truly go global.

Looking to the future

A key example is Saudi’s massive $3.5 billion cash input into Uber earlier this month. Uber, a private firm, has an estimated value of between $51-61 billion. Saudi’s fund is likely hoping for a large payout when – or if – Uber goes public.

“In order to realize Saudi Vision 2030, Silicon Valley technology offers the kingdom a number of platforms and remedies to not only help push the National Transformation Program (NTP) along, but also to make tech-savvy Saudi youths a part of the effort,” said Gulf-based analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik in an op-ed published on Al Arabiya English.

Uber CEO: We will develop innovative technologies in Saudi Arabia

“The point is to corral the potential talent of Saudi youths, who are some of the most impressive users of social media in the world, and give them employment. Innovation from Saudi Arabia will be the mantra,” Karasik added.

“80% of our riders in Saudi Arabia are women who can get around the cities and have access to everything that Saudi cities have to offer and we are proud of that and that was apparent to the people investing,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Al Alarabiya News Channel’s correspondent Muna Shikaki.

“We are a global company, we serve 500 cities and over 70 countries and so as Saudi Arabia looks to go global to connect to the world and look for the most innovative technologies, Uber was a natural choice,” he added.

Washington observers also agreed, saying that the deputy crown prince’s visit to California posed a win-win situation for both sides.

“In California, the technology capital is primed to showcase its futuristic plans to the man who decided that his country must join the technological revolution as a partner and contributor,” Arab columnist Raghida Dergham said in an opinion piece on Al Arabiya English.

At the US-Saudi CEO Summit held in earlier January, Thomas Donohue, head of the US Chamber said: “There are incredible opportunities for competitive American companies to bring their technology, knowledge, and financing to the Kingdom and to partner with and support key Saudi companies.”

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