Cisco’s 2019 Global Digital Readiness Index has identified Saudi Arabia as one of the top three countries in the Middle East and Africa in its readiness transitioning towards a digital economy.

Now in its second edition, the company’s report combines analysis from sources including the World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the United Nations to benchmark how well-positioned each of the 141 countries are in their preparedness for digitization.

While traditional research models focusing primarily on technology adoption and penetration rates, Cisco believes that factors such as meeting a citizen’s basic needs, improving access to education and creating a thriving business environment are equally crucial in aiding a positive digital future.

Cisco’s 2019 Global Digital Readiness Index

Cisco’s Global Digital Readiness Index evaluates countries across seven holistic components:

Basic Needs – for a population to thrive (e.g. life expectancy, access to clean drinking water, reliable electricity, etc.)

Business and Government Investment – private and public investment in innovation and technology

Ease of Doing Business – infrastructure and policies needed to support business continuity

Human Capital – a skilled workforce, able to support digital innovation

Start-up Environment – fostering innovation and facilitating the development of new businesses

Technology Adoption – demand for digital products and services, such as mobile penetration rate, internet usage, investment in cloud services and AI adoption

Technology Infrastructure – the ecosystem available to enable connectivity and digital transformation, through elements including IoT and the Cloud

When measured across all seven components, Saudi Arabia places in the top three countries in the Middle East and Africa in terms of digital readiness.When measured on Basic Needs, the Kingdom places confidently in third position across the Middle East and Africa. With the government making strides towards improving access to essential provisions and world-class healthcare marked as a key component of the Vision 2030 agenda, further efforts to improve in this field are already well underway.

For Business and Government Investment, Saudi Arabia places in 10th position regionally. As local entities continue to increase their investments in the creation and expansion of digital infrastructures, ongoing financial boosts and support will further propel the local economy.

When measured on Ease of Doing Business, the Kingdom outranks the world average and is positioned in 8th place across the Middle East and Africa. Saudi Arabia also recently earned a position in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2020’ report as one of the 10 most improved nations in accelerated business climate reforms.

The nation’s Human Capital score places 6th within the region. Aligned with this, since 2000, Cisco’s Networking Academy (NetAcad) has been empowering the Kingdom’s residents to develop their skills in IT, to enter or progress in careers involving networking, cybersecurity and IoT. In Saudi Arabia alone, Cisco has over 100 active networking academies and has amassed over 136,800 students since its inception.

For Startup Environment, Saudi Arabia is positioned in 8th place when measured against neighboring countries. In 2019 alone, total funding in Saudi startups increased by 35%, with the number of deals also increasing by 92% from 2018 to 2019. At the end of 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund launched the landmark SAR 4 billion Jada Fund, supporting small businesses and diversification efforts as the private sector increases its share of GDP. Recently, Cisco also unveiled the doubling of partner investments within the small business market – helping organizations leverage disruptive technologies to realize their digital agendas.

The Kingdom’s ranking for Technology Adoption places it higher than the world average and in 5th position in the Middle East and Africa. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast predicts 30 million Internet users in Saudi by 2022. By the same year, the company estimates a total of 194.2 million devices connected to the network. Much of this growth is expected to be driven by non-PC devices, with machine with machine to machine (M2M) modules anticipated to grow at the fastest rate, followed by portable devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Lastly, Saudi Arabia’s Technology Infrastructure also outranks the world average and places firmly in 2nd position regionally – the nation’s highest score across all criteria. With the establishment of the Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence, modernization efforts are underway to transform this field further, while also considering responsible use and growth of disruptive technologies. Since 2016, Cisco has been collaborating with the Saudi government, local industry and academia to fast-track technology adoption and deliver impactful digital outcomes, as part of its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program – which focuses on contributing towards many of the aspects explored in the Digital Readiness Index.

Cisco’s findings have positioned the Kingdom within the Accelerate High stage – signifying the nation’s commitment to championing digitization. Yet, with the rapid pace of technological advancement, enhancing digital readiness will continue to be an ongoing process for all nations, including Saudi Arabia, irrespective of their current standing.

Recognizing the importance of creating a continuous dialogue on the impact of technology, Cisco frequently conducts research in the field of digitization. From its annual CISO Benchmark Study, to the Visual Networking Index Forecast, each industry-leading report is helping to create an accurate overview of the current landscape and priorities for the future, which include growing demand for advanced infrastructure to support digital transformation.

Research has indicated that countries with greater digital readiness typically also experience higher levels of GDP. According to IDC forecasts, in just a few years, nearly half of all GDP worldwide will come from products and services offered by digitally transformed organizations – proving the need for new capabilities built around digital innovation.

Salman Faqeeh, Managing Director of Cisco Saudi Arabia, said;
Nations are fast realizing the benefits of digitization, from strengthening communications, to transforming industries and stimulating job creation. With our findings, we believe countries can gain a more accurate picture of their economic viability and can make informed decisions to stimulate growth.

The Kingdom’s digital readiness position in the region is testament to the efforts of the government in transitioning towards a digital economy. Today, we commend the positive impacts being made, while also drawing attention to areas which can be improved further, to uphold Saudi Arabia’s status as a leader in digitization. We will continue to work closely with local stakeholders to help the Kingdom transition from the ‘Accelerate High’ to ‘Amplify’ stage, improving the nation’s digital readiness further and working towards creating a more inclusive digital future.