Digitalisation efforts in the Arab world

Gulf ecosystems

Let's take an interesting look at a remote location and see where digitisation is in the Arab region! The 22 states of the Arab world are located in Western Asia and North Africa and cover more than 13 million square kilometres. Looking at developments, trends, ongoing and planned projects, and the overall state of the region, we can see that in recent years significant steps have been taken not only to catch up, but also to become world leaders.

The most developed countries in the region are the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia. In addition to high GDP per capita, these countries have the highest levels of the so-called digital economy, high internet penetration, high literacy rates and low unemployment.

It is worth looking in more depth at the level of digitisation development, the results of digital transformation and the related perceptions.

The development of the digital economy will, among other things, foster economic growth, job creation, improve productivity and transparency, and help achieve sustainability goals.

All of these countries have a National Digital Strategy (NDS). Both the digital society and the digital economy are given high priority in these documents. They also aim to focus on:

- Increasing ICT infrastructure and broadband capacity

- strengthening e-government services

- ICT in education (e-learning), health (e-health) and transport (ITS)

- Increasing equal opportunities in accessibility (e-inclusion)

- Involving low-income groups in financial services

- Improving digital literacy, promoting a higher share of female workers in ICT

- Improving cyber security

The UAE also stands out among the GCC countries with a 50-year digital start-up strategy. Beyond the Mars mission and 6G, the UAE's vision is centred around renewable energy and artificial intelligence (AI). They have also become the first in the world to create a separate ministry to manage affairs in the latter area, with the intention of becoming the best prepared country.

The use of digital services is in line with the way digital strategies, policies and action plans are being adopted and applied by governments and businesses.

The digital transformation of sectors has led to visible progress in many areas. For example, many cities and governments have launched ambitious Smart City investments to provide an accessible and sustainable digital ecosystem for their residents. Countries in the region have a strong advantage in the development of smart cities, as there are significantly fewer trade-offs in the design of entirely new cities/neighbourhoods.

It can be argued that there are no longer sharp dividing lines between different 'smart solutions', and that the role of building digital ecosystems will become increasingly important.

There is also a significant overlap between ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) and Smart City. Smart transport, as part of the Smart City, covers ITS solutions in many areas. In the countries of the Arab region, ITS mainly covers road vehicle and traffic camera networks, passenger information and electronic ticketing/tolling systems.

The United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI) illustrates the recent tremendous progress in e-government services and related areas in the GCC countries. Today, these 6 countries are among the most advanced in this respect by global standards. The Government of Dubai is the first in the world to achieve 100% paperlessness.

In terms of digital customer identification, most of the countries surveyed launched their national eID programmes on a common basis in the first decade of the 2000s in order to implement eGovernment. EID-based identification also represents an entry into virtual world services: not only in public services but also in market services. Most countries are also offering additional services: biometric identification, e-wallet for document storage, electronic payment, COVID, mobile app.

As regards fintech solutions, it can be seen that there is still considerable potential for electronic migration. The cultural bias towards cash plays a major role in this, The low participation rate leaves room for the uptake of mobile accounts and mobile payments, but local regulatory systems and databases need to be made interoperable for the systems to work. Many pilot projects have been implemented, but there is no single system yet, so the integration of systems is still an open area.

Based on the above, it can be concluded that the level of development of the GCC countries will increasingly shift from "standard" needs to specialised, high value-added knowledge and services that connect systems, exploit the opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data and digital ecosystems - a huge opportunity for businesses and professionals in the sector, and if you haven't already, now is the time to put the region on our virtual map!

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