The US company connecting rural Saudi Arabia to Texas

Opinion - Cisco is helping the new crown prince in KSA bring his Vision 2030 to life
By Daniel Bardsley
Sat 09 Sep 2017 03:20 PM

The options available to a medical patient living in a small town in the GCC might appear to be limited.

But Guy Diedrich, vice president of sales strategy and planning at the technology conglomerate Cisco Systems, sees no reason why this should be the case.

Thanks to initiatives to digitise the region, he says that this person could connect to the best practitioners, wherever in the world they happen to be.

“When you’re digitising, you’re connecting the unconnected; you’re making digital what is analogue. You’re doing things that will give people access, [such as] access to healthcare,” he says.

“If I’m in a town in Saudi Arabia outside the city centre, I could go down to my local clinic or, because of telepresence, I’m able to connect to a doctor in Riyadh, or to a doctor in Texas, or in London, or anywhere in the world where a doctor is available. So I have the best healthcare in my rural town in Saudi Arabia.”

Healthcare is one of myriad sectors that Cisco, the world’s biggest networking company, is involved with in the GCC. Many initiatives are focussed on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are part of Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration strategy, which Diedrich heads.

Locally, the company has formed tie-ups with the authorities to promote innovation, speed, economic growth, advance education and develop infrastructure. Diedrich says the partnerships are for the long haul, with some projects on a decade-long timescale.

Digitisation is a central plank of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which is aimed at diversifying the country’s economy and steering it away from a dependence on the petroleum sector. Extending high-speed broadband access is among the measures detailed in the 2030 plan.

During a visit to the US in July 2016, the country’s then deputy crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, who was made crown prince this summer, met with senior Cisco officials and signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the country’s digital transformation.

Cisco’s programme in the kingdom is focussed, Diedrich says, on training digital professionals in networking and cyber security, among much else. There are also initiatives on smart and connected cities, and cloud services.

“It’s creating that intellectual capital so they will have the professionals that will be able to innovate in the digital age,” he says.

“We’re working on incubators and we’re working on start-ups. Riyadh is now number five in the world for the number of Android app developers. There’s a great amount of intellectual capital that we’re really going to tap into and help the country develop with. We’re looking at areas like education and digital health.”

He says Cisco does not create digital agendas for countries, but instead taps into those the authorities have already mapped out.

“Mohammad Bin Salman … created a national digitisation plan. We provide the products, services to make that happen,” Diedrich says.

In the UAE, Cisco’s focus is more around creating a “digitally connected, lean government”. The UAE has said that, by next year, 80 percent of people accessing government services should be doing so using mobile devices. In particular, Cisco has co-operated with the Smart Dubai initiative.

“They want to be very responsive to the citizenry. Sheikh Mohammed [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] is one of the most citizen-centric leaders,” Diedrich says. “He wants government to be very responsive. Smart districts, collaborative health – these are things they called out as critical.”

Daniel Bardsley, business journalist.

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