Technology and Government Initiatives

Along with the rest of the world, the Middle East and Africa (MENA) Region is working towards the assimilation of emerging technologies as resources in their development and growth. When talked about MENA region, although a standard list of countries is not considered but it generally comprises of the area covered from Morocco in northwest Africa to Iran in southwest Asia and down to Sudan in Africa. It contains members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). So broadly considering, MENA refers to the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine, and Yemen, where Ethiopia, Sudan and Western Sahara may also be considered. On occasion, Turkey & Mauritania is also considered in the evaluation.

As observed by Dr. Vishu Gupta, Head of Research, TensaX Innovation Lab, the awareness and willingness of the respective governments in these countries is what is spearheading their level of adoption of technology, more specifically, artificial intelligence. This initiative has been successfully integrated to aid in the deviation the economy from its primary dependence on Oil & Petroleum. The leaders and Governments of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar, have developed commendable roadmaps and policies that allow for AI integration. In addition UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel are already seeing applications with AI technology in their working. Furthermore, as opposed to the view that AI and IT my result in the reduction of jobs, it is actually leading to creation of intelligent employment opportunities.

With the abundance of petroleum based products, the shift towards the enhancement of technology has been relatively slow. For the whole MENA region, according to Statista 2019 report, the growth in IT spending on software development has increased and was expected to do so as time went on. Although this area is collectively addressed as MENA, there are significant differences in terms of linguistic preferences, price sensitivity, cultural attributes and price dynamics.

However, majority of these countries are taking significant initiatives to integrate technology with  enhanced Information and Communication Techniques (ICT) along with plans to assimilate Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced Information Technology (IT) solutions. Leaders in this are Israel and United Arab Emirates (UAE) where AI and IT solutions are finding their place in governance, businesses and defense services to name a few. This is also found to be evident in the high global rankings of these countries in the Government AI Readiness Index and the Global Innovation Index. Both these indices evaluate the countries on a number of parameters including technology integration. The technology market is expected to contribute over 3 billion USD in Saudi Arabia’s GDP by 2030.The success of the initiatives in AI and IT technology may be linked with GDP of that country as well. For the year 2019, the GDP of countries with significant roadmaps and initiatives saw a markedly higher GDP.

Since the countries in the MENA region are in different stages of growth, their approach to the integration of technology, as well as their stage of its development, is also different,. However, what is notable is that all the countries have started to take significant and praiseworthy steps in developing policies towards increased involvement of technology and AI. Let’s look at an overview of this. The respective leaders and Governments of UAE, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have not only developed roadmaps and policies for enhancing their technology growth but have also implemented these in several outlets. With Centennial 2071 and the set-up of AI Ministry, UAE is leading the way in establishing significant steps in integration of AI in their day-to-day work and technology usage. Saudi Arabia has integrated the use of AI in industries and has started dedicated AI & IT education programs in its Universities, with additional policies for the integration of Artificial Intelligence in the public and energy sectors. Similarly, UAE and Israel have included AI in their food development, business outlook, governance and defense. Egypt and Lebanon have developed distinct data governing laws that for the initial steps of enhancing IT services and integrating AI in their working.

Several members of the MENA region have seen the launch of government initiatives that aim to increase the involvement of technology in the country’s growth. Tunisia has been promoting the growth of technology based start-ups where are significant number are focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their product development and services. Further, to reduce the bureaucratic challenges that were faced by start ups in the past, the government launched the The Start-Up Act in 2018 which has put forth policies and reforms for encouraging technology in the ecosystem. Similarly, Libya launched the 2020 Initiative in 2018 for encouraging the use of technology and further reduce the tech

nological divide between different age groups. In Jordan, the Government has been working towards increase in investments yoesrds technology for some time now, as was indicated by an 11.64% growth between 2014 and 2018, corresponding to 300 million USD. This is attributed to initiatives such Skilling Up Mashreq which aims at providing training in technology to the workforce and budding innovators. This, of course, supports the Government of Jordan’s overall initiatives of National Employment TVET and Jordan National Strategies for Human Resource Development 2016-2025.

The Kingdom of Bahrain has been a leader in digital transformation in the region, recognizing the role that technology plays in economic growth and creation of empoyment opportunities. Ranking 1st in the Arab region in information and communications technology (IC) Development Index (IDI) and ranks 4th globally in Telecommunication Infrastructure Indes (TII) in the United Nation eGovernment Development Index. With the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and Government Action Plan 2019-2022, the Kingdom of Bahrain has diligently worked to introduce digital technologies in its operations in public service delivery, financial technologies or FinTech. Leading the way in the GCC for establishing standards in Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, Bahrain has encouraged the boost in network services and has been able to launch commercial 5G network services in 2019.

In Oman, the Government has been prioritizing the integration of technology with more focus to Artificial Intelligence and enhanced Information Technology services. The formation of the Oman ICT Group (OICT) in 2019 to focus on cloud and data services along with cybersecurity, smart applications and next generation technology. Furthermore, growth in areas of e-government services, drones and consequently anti-drone systems, disaster recovery systems has also been seen the use of advanced IT services and Artificial Intelligence integration is evident in the smart city initiatives along with data management and collection centers, and the training and development in blockchain/AI and IoT solutions. In the last year alone, Oman has seen a climb of 11 places in the Government AI Readiness Index.

Kuwait has been striding ahead in taking innovative steps in assimilating AI in primary sectors of the country’s operation. Determined inclusions of AI may be seen in retail, production, government services and others, showcasing a significant improvements in segments such as back-office review and manufacturing. Use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been encouraged and has markedly resulted in the automation of high0risk manual tasks. Furthermore, linguistic communication processing utilizing Natural Language Processing (NLP) is being utilized not only in service bots but also in fintech coaching and advising.

Other members of the MENA region are also taking positive strides towards AI integration and technological advancements. Iran has already introduced AI in manufacturing and supply chain activities, amongst other initiatives, leading to the reduction in production error of over 20%. Algeria, Iraq and Morocco have seen the introduction of policies that invite investments into technological startups as well policy integrations for increased AI utility. With a determined outlook for technological growth and AI assimilation, countries in this region are striding ahead to claim a stake in the growing Artificial Intelligence and Information Technology market.