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SAUDI ARABIA - Telecoms & IT

Abdullah bin Sharaf Alghamdi

President, Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA)


Abdullah bin Sharaf Alghamdi is currently President of SDAIA, at the rank of minister, and a chairman and a member of several boards and committees. He was formerly appointed director of the National Information Center (NIC). His Excellency has broad experience in digital transformation for over 30 years, in which he has made many outstanding achievements at the national level. He received the King Abdulaziz Sash of the Second Class. He also attained a full professorship in software engineering and a post-doctoral certificate in web engineering from the University of Ottawa. He obtained a PhD in computer science and an MSc in computer science (Distinction), both from the University of Sheffield in the UK.

"We emerged from the pandemic with many excellent lessons."
An integral part of SDAIA’s mandate includes fostering entrepreneurship and supporting start-ups in the area of data and AI.
What lessons have you learnt during the pandemic?

We emerged from the pandemic with many excellent lessons. The main lesson is the value of the national data bank, which we built right before the pandemic. It is a national-scale data exchange platform that collects and curates relevant datasets from government entities through both real-time integrations and batch processes to create a single source of truth of data assets that can support decision-making and business applications across the Kingdom. It is the integrated data repository of the government. Data played a central role in managing the pandemic; we developed Tawakkalna app to help manage curfews and allow people to acquire permissions to go out and do their necessary tasks under certain rules and regulations. It helped us to better know people and link their medical statuses. The app was built in just three weeks and sets the foundation to enable new apps to be developed in a short time span. We have 29 million users of this application, covering almost the entire population of Saudi Arabia. The re-opening of the economy was also done with the help of our application. With that being said, the app made life easier for citizens and residents of the Kingdom during the pandemic. SDAIA, represented by Tawakkalna, has been awarded the United Nations Public Service Award 2022 for institutional resilience and innovative responses to COVID-19 pandemic.

What initiatives does SDAIA promote to foster entrepreneurship in data and AI?

The role of data and AI is crucial for the economic prosperity of Saudi Arabia. SDAIA has launched many initiatives to promote the development of the sector: first, we started promoting accelerators and organized a smart cities accelerator aiming to connect early-stage start-ups with investors, venture capitals, and the world’s largest corporations, 12 local and international start-ups participated in this event. This is just an example of the many initiatives that we carry out and will continue to initiate many more in the future.

How do you work with international entities to meet your objectives?

Our partnerships with the international community are two-fold. The first is a technical partnership where we have an MoU with international IT and data companies such as IBM, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, and Alibaba. Our goal is to build our infrastructure, exchange knowledge, and transfer experiences. We also have other partnerships with formal institutions such as the UN, ITU, and the World Bank. Saudi Arabia, represented by SDAIA, has also joined the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership (DDP) to utilize data and AI to overcome challenges in some parts of the world, such as poverty and the population in need, provide solutions using data and AI, and accelerate safe and inclusive digital transformation in developing countries. We are partnering with ITU to work on an AI Readiness Framework that explores countries’ readiness and international collaboration on AI to facilitate sharing best practices. Also, we have a collaboration with Google Cloud that aims to empower women globally to pursue careers in AI and machine learning, where we target to empower 25,000 women over the next five years.

How do you ensure to make open data accessible and available to local entrepreneurs?

Open data is crucial for any business, including start-ups. We have launched the open data platform that is operationalized completely by SDAIA, and we are now encouraging government entities to make their data available as much as possible according to specific classification schemes. We are working on pushing as much data as possible toward the bottom level, which is the open classification. We participated in establishing the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence (SCAI), a company wholly owned by PIF that will promote AI and emerging technologies industries in Saudi Arabia to foster innovation in strategic sectors. The National Data Bank (NDB) is the integrated data repository of the government. Consequently, we want to make the data available to the private sector through a specific monetization scheme.



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