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SAUDI ARABIA - Telecoms & IT

Ibrahim M. Babelli

Deputy Minister for Planning and Vision Realization, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

Bio

Ibrahim M. Babelli is currently the Deputy Minister for Planning and Vision Realization, as well as the Acting Deputy Minister for International Cooperation and Partnerships, at MCIT. His experience spans the public and private sectors in Saudi Arabia, with stints in the UK, France, Germany, the MENA region, and the US. Prior to his current assignment, Ibrahim was the CEO of a family holding company, overseeing and restructuring the holding activities in Europe, the MENA region, and Southeast Asia.

"The Saudi government launched initiatives to digitize processes in 2003 to ensure streamlining and optimization of all government processes."
MCIT is striving to close digital gaps and ensure the population is well versed in future technologies.
What is your mandate as Deputy Minister for Planning and Vision Realization, and how is your department in line with the efforts of the National Digital Transformation Unit (NDU)?

I was part of the inception of NDU when I worked at the Ministry of Economy and Planning, where the NDU was born and incubated before it moved to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). After a break of two years working in the private sector, I returned to MCIT and assumed my current role in January 2021. Planning entails determining what we will be doing and how we will do it. We do significant mission planning, and we help achieve it. I also oversee how we implement the various initiatives under the vision realization programs towards Saudi Vision 2030. MCIT has engagement with the National Transformation Program (NTP), the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), the Human Capability Development Program (HCD), and others. My role is to make sure that we are on track and are executing in a timely fashion and on budget. I am grateful that the teams are achieving the objectives. An example is the mobile internet coverage in Saudi Arabia, which reached 99% of all populated areas. We are working to close the remaining gap; with a focus on connecting all emergency services in the Kingdom by the end of 2023.

How has the digitalization program evolved in the last two years as a result of the pandemic?

The digital evolution in Saudi Arabia started in the early 2000s with the establishment of the eGovernment Program Yesser that provided government services and transactions electronically, evolving into the Digital Government Authority (DGA). During the pandemic, this investment in digital infrastructure, governance and processes enabled the Saudi government to deal with the unprecedented challenges that resulted from the pandemic, including providing stable education systems online, e-healthcare, and e-commerce.

How has this reoriented your strategy, and how are you approaching the post-pandemic era?

When you have a strategy to digitalize how public and private businesses are conducted, and then you are faced with a pandemic that requires that system to work in any and all circumstances, you need to accelerate the strategy. Gig work is a key way in how we conduct business now; remote working used to be unthinkable, and now results are being delivered with people working across the Kingdom and the world. e-commerce emerged as a key sector, and there is a need to look at the entire value chain, from a local content and balance of payments point of view. The realization of the importance of data has also availed new opportunities and ways to conduct business, new start-ups, and companies. The government created the National Technology Development Program (NTDP) to foster the development of IT services, software and hardware that would serve this new digital economy. We have developed sandboxes to proactively deal with new developments in FinTech, ride hailing and e-commerce to ensure that our regulatory framework is not only open and conducive, but also enables further growth.

How is the Kingdom preparing the next generation to be digitally able and fluent?

The Saudi government launched initiatives to digitize processes in 2003 to ensure streamlining and optimization of all government processes. The National Committee for Digital Transformation was established to ensure this was done successfully at both the government and economy levels. Thanks to these and further initiatives, there were massive improvements on how we deal with customers at ports with vessels entering Saudi Arabia, establishing a company, having a document notarized online, obtaining online permits for leasing houses, and so on. We facilitate processes and deal with challenges that used to slow down or impede economic development or market creation efforts. We connected fiber to homes, which helped continue activities from home during the pandemic, and we laid out the foundation for 5G in the Kingdom to ensure there is connectivity for businesses to be conducted. MCIT is at the core of the digitalization of the economy. We just launched the second wave of the future skills development program (Future Skills 2.0). We have successfully trained over 47,000 beneficiaries and secured employment for more than 22,000 in the digital skills program.

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