Prospects of home-grown IT industry will be discussed

A core objective of Saudi Arabia’s bid to create a knowledge economy is the establishment of a home-grown software development industry.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  April 3, 2003

A core objective of Saudi Arabia’s bid to create a knowledge economy is the establishment of a home-grown software development industry. The National IT Plan Project has outlined initiatives to establish an IT industry that could evolve into the second or third biggest contributor to the Kingdom’s economy. “The long term view is to create an IT industry here in the Kingdom, that could contribute significantly to the economy in terms of money and jobs,” says Dr. Khaled Al Sabti, project manager, National IT Plan Project.

The creation of a localised IT industry will spur the country’s economic diversification programme and provide much needed jobs for nationals. “Information technology will provide a critical avenue in the ability of the economy to create job opportunities,” says Salem Al Fares, IT director of Al Faisaliah Group. “In economies around the world there is a case [for] leveraging IT to create jobs. [This] is crucially needed for Saudi Arabia,” he adds.

At the heart of the proposed plan is the establishment of an independent body to manage, regulate and implement the National IT Plan. The IT body will have to work with all concerned parties to address the most urgent issues — the lack of local development talent and investment programmes to fuel the growth of the fledgling industry.

Riyadh Development Authority and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce are already working to establish the city as an IT hub. Discussions have been ongoing since late last year about creating a ‘science park’ capable of wining foreign investment and supporting local developers. “Such initiatives are key and should be encouraged,” says Al Sabti. “To create a local industry we are going to need incubators and the regulations to support them,” he adds.

Although the plan to develop a local IT industry is facing significant hurdles, one key factor will benefit the initiative — namely the size of the Kingdom’s IT market.

“Although ICT initiatives in Egypt and Jordan have a head start, the market size here will benefit us,” says Essam Albakr, vice president of systems integrator, Digicom and member of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce.

To address the local skills question, plans for the Riyadh development hub have also included proposals for training centres. “We’re looking to create a close relationship with education centres to establish training that offers both theoretical and practical learning,” adds Albakr.

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