Saudi Arabia can turn crisis into opportunity with digital shift transformation
The renowned physicist Albert Einstein once said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” and the ongoing crisis is no exception.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has been a test of resilience for companies and governments alike. Supply chains have crumbled, and almost entire sectors of the global economy have all but grinded to a painful halt. Even the most essential things we have all taken for granted, such as schools for our children to learn from and the supermarkets from which we purchase food, are undergoing a complete transformation. They’re actively being replaced by 21st-century manifestations of themselves, like virtual classes and delivery services.
Where the economy continues to function, albeit in a limited capacity, we see a common factor: A lack of dependency on the physical presence of human workers. For years now, companies the world over on the cutting edge of efficiency and innovation have, for reasons not necessarily related to an altruistic concern for workers, been investing in products and processes that minimize the necessity of the human factor in their lines of business.
Although the coronavirus did not initiate the global shift toward automation and location independence, it accelerated it. It is possibly causing a permanent paradigm shift in what we consider “work.” With employers undertaking costly investments, it remains unknown whether or not the services of those who lost their jobs in the outbreak will be needed again. What’s clear is that the economic value that will be created in the not-so-distant future will stem from finding new and better ways to use existing technological capabilities.
Saudi Arabia, as it currently stands, is in a unique position to adapt to the difficulties of continuing economic production under a substantially reduced labor force.
Saudi Arabia, as it currently stands, is in a unique position to adapt to the difficulties of continuing economic production under a substantially reduced labor force. It goes without saying that the main export of the Saudi economy is suffering, not only due to the difficulty and increased cost of ensuring the safety of workers in labor-intensive production processes, but also due to hampered global demand for oil amid reduced usage of energy. Had the outbreak occurred a mere few decades ago, one could argue that it would have brought significantly more damage to all of the non-diversified, oil endowments-based economies, including that of Saudi Arabia.
In the context of COVID-19, Vision 2030 is fortunately very well-timed. Non-oil related industries are at a crucial point in their development cycle, since implementing the latest technological capabilities is not only possible, but also economically feasible and worthwhile. Needless to say, Vision 2030 and the steps that were taken toward achieving it have played an integral role in reducing the potential long-term impact of coronavirus on Saudi Arabia’s residents and businesses.
E-government services have cut a great deal of red tapes for companies, and a great deal of support has been provided to small and medium enterprises that use digital technologies in all aspects of their day-to-day operations. Alongside investing in digital infrastructure, Saudi Arabia’s focus on developing human capital, entrepreneurial capabilities, and innovative capacities through world-class educational institutions, like Mohammad bin Salman College of Business & Entrepreneurship (MBSC) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), will pay off well in the long-run.
Saudi Arabia’s technologically savvy young people, whom I’ve personally worked with, are undoubtedly capable of building the digital economy of tomorrow. From this point on, the continuation of the Saudi Arabian success story becomes a matter of seizing the opportunity to satisfy the global need for new products and services, including those relating to information technology infrastructure, cloud networks, analytics, robotics, industry 4.0, e-learning, e-commerce applications, cybersecurity, digitalization, and digital transformation. If Saudi Arabia maintains its focus on digital transformation by means of creating and implementing current and future disruptive technologies in these areas, it will inevitably emerge from COVID-19 and its aftermath as a stronger and more robust economy and nation.
• Prof. Erman Coskun is a professor of management information systems and operations research. He has an academic career of more than 17 years, having held positions in the US, Turkey, Cyprus, and Saudi Arabia.