Bringing it back home to Saudi Arabia – by UM’s Nadeem Ibrahim

The Kingdom has fast become a pioneer of new technology and fresh thinking, writes UM Saudi's head of digital, Nadeem Ibrahim

Today, Vision 2030 is in full force, with many organisations aligning their businesses to be in line or at least following the path of this vision. We must reflect on the futuristic initiatives under the megacity Neom to truly appreciate the level of transformation the country is undertaking. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) is leading the national strategy for digital transformation in KSA. The Kingdom is aiming to become the global leader of the digital economy through the enablement of technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, robotics, big data and 5G across public and private sectors.

Now, what does this mean for marketing and communication agencies? The market has inherently had a desire to offshore its agency partners whilst procuring talent from overseas. But that’s set to change over the next few years. We’ve now been issued with a golden ticket to reshape our industry in Saudi Arabia for the next couple of decades. There will be a raft of exciting transformational changes in media, technology, data, and quantification, but the real excitement is around the transformational shift towards Saudisation in talent and businesses.

Media communication is forever developing, whether it’s related to the foundations of planning and buying or the emerging topics of Web 3.0, NFTs and blockchain technology. Arguably, talent today is limited, but we have a duty of care on our side to nurture the media and communications sector. Organisations in media, creative, consultancy and tech need to take active measures to invest in, upskill and train local talent. I’ve seen some agencies and tech partners be one step ahead in actively recruiting, training, developing, and promoting local talent.

The transformational changes cascade to other critical areas that will help sell Saudi brands on a global scale, but from Saudi Arabia. Developments in technology to help service advertising or the management of customer data is already taking centre stage. Saudi is naturally an app-first culture; therefore, customer data is central to many businesses across the Kingdom, in how it is protected and used in the right manner. From a communication perspective this is challenging but is one of the key transformational areas that we will see develop in the coming months and years ahead; perhaps shifting from on-premises to a cloud-based approach. The pandemic also helped kickstart some of these changes, particularly in media. The rise in augmented reality, 360-degree e-commerce stores through to programmatically buying DOOH would not have been considered 18 months ago.

We’re already witnessing some great achievements in Saudi Arabia that we ought to celebrate and be proud of:

  • Saudi hosted the first NFT Forum in Riyadh earlier this year.
  • In 2020, STC Pay became the first unicorn (company worth $1bn without a stock market listing) in the Middle East.
  • Saudi is attracting the best in talent from across the globe, fuelled by the initiatives at Neom.

The government is expecting to invest more than $1bn in entrepreneurship to help support digital content, backed by an initiative called The Garage that will be based in Riyadh to host start-ups specialising in new technologies. For now, technological advancement is already taking place and being piloted across many Saudi advertisers. The most recent innovation is around chat bot advertising in display and search with Google and a fully immersive AR shopping mall experience with Snap. It’s just the beginning of what is yet to come, and we haven’t event touched upon the metaverse.

Vision 2030 is a catalyst for transformation across Saudi Arabia. There’s a plethora of projects being unleashed across the Kingdom requiring the support of our industry to communicate to the world. The industry needs to consider reinvesting revenue driven by Saudi growth into research and development. We are faced with a once in a lifetime opportunity to invent and redefine what communications mean for the end user.

There’s no doubt that, thanks to Vision 2030, our industry will harvest the best in local talent, advance technology that is unprecedented, and rejuvenate our industry within Saudi Arabia to become world-class and a thought leader on the global stage.