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Kingdom connect: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Economic City

James Dartnell | April 22, 2014
Anyone taking a brisk drive through Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Economic City would be easily misled. At the moment, it doesn't look like much of a city. There is a road network, a scattering of office and residential buildings, and a stunning coastline.

With 50 percent of Saudi Arabia's 27 million people under the age of 24, Saudia's Finance and IT Chief believes that an investment in the nation's budding talent is not only imperative, but long overdue. He is certain that a failure to capitalise on the opportunities that KAEC and new e-banking legislation presents will equal a missed opportunity to establish Saudi as an economic force. He is also mindful that the potential of the nation's young people is being damaged by the high cost of living standards and the inadequate training they are receiving before finding work. "IT and communications are central to supporting a knowledge-based economy which will drive Saudi's growth," he says. "At the moment there is serious wastage in this country. Instead of hiring skilled Saudis, companies are opting for foreign talent. On top of that there are millions of intelligent young Saudi women who have massive potential, and who deserve investment. This country is the energy capital of the world, and we should be in a stronger position than we are now."

Following legislation introduced to the Kingdom in 2010, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency has prohibited Saudi-based financial and banking firms from outsourcing their cloud requirements to foreign providers. Once Saudia's cloud system is fully operational in 2015, Albakri is eager for the company to capitalise on the waterfall of firms that will be looking to move their cloud operations back to home soil. "We intend to target a range of organisations, including banks, schools, businesses and financial firms," he says. "But we won't exclude SMBs. By providing a scalable, OPEX model cloud system, we want to drive economic growth throughout the Kingdom." He sees cloud as a key driver of economic development, "Look at how cloud has improved the implementation of SAP HANA," he says. "Without cloud, this used to take months, if not years. Now it can be done in a month. That is a serious value-adding time-saver to any business. That is the kind of progress that we want to bring to the people of this country, and the near future presents huge potential for Saudia, and Saudi Arabia's people."

Central to Albakri's philosophy of graduate education is Saudia's 'Sinnovate' programme. Saudia has enlisted engineering firm CH2MHill and Microsoft to build state-of-the-art technology facilities, and ensure first class, pertinent training within them. "We have agreed deals with some of the top vendors in the world; the likes of Cisco, SAP and HP have all agreed to provide training to Saudi graduates," Albakri says. "We are creating a synergy of world class vendors to inspire our data centre, and to educate our people."

The Sinnovate centre features a 14,000 m² IT HQ at KAEC business park, and a Tier-3+ data centre which will occupy more than 42,000 m². As the heart of Saudia's 'Sinnovate Cloud', it will provide infrastructure-as-a-service, hosting with managed services and unified communications services amongst others. It will also have an 'Innovation Nucleus,' an R&D centre designed to educate Saudi graduates.


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