Pandemic intensifies need for data-based policymaking, experts say

The use of the Fourth Industrial Revolution-related technology will help countries manage crises better

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the need for data and evidence-based policymaking supported by technology and innovative solutions, according to Saudi Arabia's economy and planning minister.

Fourth Industrial Revolution technology will result in a more resilient and robust growth path for countries in the future and can help them to manage crises such as the pandemic better, Faisal Alibrahim said in his opening remarks on the second day of the C4IR event in Riyadh.

The event, organised by the kingdom's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and managed by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, discussed the impact of emerging technology on the future of transport and finance, the resilience of healthcare systems, future smart cities, clean energy transitions and initiatives to restore ecosystems.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to generate non-oil revenue worth 1 trillion Saudi riyals ($266.66bn), according to Abdullah Alswaha, the kingdom's Minister of Communications.

The use of advanced technology has already affected sectors such as energy, education and health care in the kingdom, experts and policymakers said during the forum.

Saudi Arabia, which is currently ranked fourth in the world in terms of 5G connectivity, managed to efficiently educate more than six million students when the pandemic fuelled a shift to remote learning, said Mr Alibrahim.

The country now has its work cut out for it “to move up the Global Innovation Index rankings, where we plan to be among the leading pack of our G20 peers”, he said.

In the energy sector, Saudi Arabia has been able to improve efficiency through the use of frontier technology and artificial intelligence, the kingdom's energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said.

"Our vision is to transform the energy sector through the application of data and technology … The Artificial Intelligence Centre is our first supportive centre, where the Internet of Things has contributed to monitoring oil transportation and leaks, as well as monitoring oil installations," he said.

Ahmad Alzahrani, Saudi Arabia's Assistant Minister of Energy, said greater collaboration between the private and the public sector has helped the country achieve its energy efficiency.

“Building the ecosystem with stakeholders, including government, research, technological providers, helped us work together," he said.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world's biggest oil exporters, has taken various steps to achieve energy efficiency. It set up the National Energy Services Company, better known as Tarshid, in 2017 to work on its energy-efficiency goals in partnership with the Ministry of Energy.

The kingdom has also effectively used technology to achieve cost savings within the sector.

Earlier this year, state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco unveiled a new supercomputer called Dammam 7, which is among the world’s top 10 most powerful machines.

With 55.4 petaflops of peak computing power, the device is expected to help Aramco process and image the world’s largest geophysical data sets, significantly helping the company in its exploration activities.

Ahmad Al-Sa’adi, senior vice president at Aramco, said the oil company has been “transforming itself for years”, but digitisation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technology are helping the kingdom achieve its clean energy goals.

"We built over our success over the years. We carefully selected world-renowned benchmarking groups where we benchmark our quadrants,” Mr Al-Sa’adi said.

Aramco has also developed a cloud strategy to run its own applications.

“We have partnered with Google and are now working with [Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority] for cloud strategy. As for skills, we are working with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to develop our human resources,” he said.

Mohammed Abunayyan, chairman of Acwa Power, said the company is more market driven, with a focus making its service cheaper, more sustainable and reliable for customers. He spoke about the benefits of digitisation and having smart systems for water desalination plants.

“We are proud to be partners with Aramco and the Public Investment Fund. The [Fourth Industrial Revolution] has helped to make the system smarter, more efficient.” he said. “What we have witnessed in the past 24 months is a role model.”

Updated: August 4th 2021, 7:21 AM