Saudi Arabia’s digital infrastructure pays dividends in COVID response and recovery

By on 01/07/2020
Riyadh skyline: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy and develop public sectors including health and education. (Photo by B.alotaby via Wikimedia Commons).

Saudi Arabia’s investment in digital infrastructure helped ease the burden of COVID-19 lockdown measures, ensured easy access to e-government services and is likely to support the country’s economic recovery, according to the World Bank.

In a blog post published last month, Dr Zaki Khoury, a senior digital development specialist at the World Bank, said the kingdom’s digital capabilities have provided “a solid foundation for key aspects of the COVID-19 emergency response”.

He cited a number of measures implemented by the government and the country’s telecom operators, including ensuring business continuity by increasing mobile internet speeds and data capacity; rolling out new tools to allow public servants to work remotely effectively; upgrading digital educational platforms; and enhancing mobile money transaction services.  

Khoury added that the government’s main online portal maintained reliable access to over 900 government services despite a surge in traffic after a national curfew was put in place in March. The curfew was lifted on 21 June.

“The digital government platforms have helped various agencies deliver safe, reliable and user-centric services while enabling flexibility in sharing data across the government ecosystem,” Khoury said.

A vision for the future

Over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in digital infrastructure and digital government platforms, accelerating this agenda since the publication in 2016 of its Vision 2030 strategy. The strategy aims to diversify Saudi’s economy, reducing its dependence on oil, and develop public sectors including health and education.

The World Bank reports that three million Saudi homes are now connected to fixed broadband and that 91% of the country’s population has access to fast 4G mobile broadband. According to the Oxford Business Group, its mobile internet speeds are the 10th fastest in the world following a series of upgrades last year.

The Kingdom continues to strengthen its digital infrastructure by deploying 5G networks and investing in 6,500 towers essential to provide effective coverage, Khoury’s blog notes.

“Saudi Arabia’s government is showing digital agility in addressing the COVID-19 crisis and continues its efforts to strengthen national resilience. By harnessing secured emerging technologies and data, expanding broadband connectivity, focusing on citizen and business needs and expectations, and leveraging multiple stakeholders’ interests and engagement, governments will be well positioned to reap rewards from such digital capabilities in the future,” Khoury concluded.

Meanwhile a report published last week by economic research specialist the Oxford Business Group, in collaboration with telecoms company STC, corroborated Khoury’s assessment. It said Saudi Arabia’s digital infrastructure has played a part in containing the spread of COVID-19 and that the Kingdom shows promising prospects for economic recovery as a result of its digital investments.

The report provides detailed analysis of the country’s resilience ahead of the pandemic and its preparedness to withstand an unexpected shock; the speed with which policies were implemented and their effectiveness in response to the outbreak; and the direct impact of its response on public health and the wider economy.

Global Government Forum is running a free webinar on this topic on Wednesday 8 July. The curative power of connectivity: using digital tech to support public health and economic growth will examine how technology and connectivity can both release populations safely from lockdown, and provide the basis for income and productivity growth.

More information and registration is available here.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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