Majority of Saudi companies gearing up for future with AI technology: Business report

Arab News
June 19, 2019

Riyadh, Jun 19: Companies in Saudi Arabia are gearing up to take advantage of the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI), according to an in-depth regional business report.

Although firms in the Kingdom remain wary of committing major investment to the emerging technology, many are already implementing data improvement initiatives to prepare for an AI-enabled future.

New research revealed on Tuesday that 89 percent of Saudi businesses indicated AI to be an important consideration of executive management, with predictive technology seen as the most relevant application by 79 percent of companies who took part in the survey.

And experts believe the Kingdom is well-positioned to “leapfrog” other countries in the race toward achieving the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

According to the AI maturity report covering the Middle East and Africa, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Ernst & Young (EY), the Saudi business community is keeping up to speed on developments.

Releasing the report to the media, Thamer Al-Harbi, president of Microsoft Arabia, said: “Saudi Arabian businesses are taking a keen interest in AI from a strategic viewpoint. This bodes well for the future of the technology within the Kingdom as AI maturity begins with executives identifying business problems that need to be solved.

“Saudi companies are gearing up to take their AI agenda to the next level and moving forward by leveraging AI technology in alignment with the National Transformation Program 2020 toward achieving Vision 2030.

“Although they are still near the beginning of the maturity curve, they are well-positioned to leverage global experience in AI, which could ultimately enable them to leapfrog other countries in the next few years,” added Al-Harbi.

Despite AI activity having been relatively quiet in Saudi Arabia over the past 10 years, with a total investment of around $585 million, the Kingdom emerged strongly again in 2018, said the report.

Across industries, there was a significant buzz around the topic of AI, with 42 percent of companies reporting that conversations on the subject were already taking place at non-managerial levels, the highest percentage recorded by any country in the Middle East and Africa, Al-Harbi said.

AI development, though in its earliest stages, is underway. At least 26 percent of businesses reported that they were planning AI activity, while at the same time actively investing in relevant skills.

Pockets of excellence were also shown to be emerging, with 16 percent of companies saying AI was already contributing significantly to their business processes.

While Saudi executives intuitively sense the value of AI, they are conscious that getting too caught up in the hype might blind them to the dangers of investing in technology that is only just starting to demonstrate its commercial value.

As it stands, the main concern for businesses in implementing AI is the diffusion of their resources.

The report found that at least 32 percent of firms in the Kingdom were cautious of spreading their budgetary and human resources too thin, and that the primary focus for most was digitization. Although 37 percent of respondents viewed AI as an important priority, it was not at the top of their list.

Instead, they were actively building the infrastructure needed for digital transformation, starting with good-quality data.

Steve Plimsoll, MENA data and intelligence advisory leader for EY, said: “The biggest problem to date with AI is that it is not always right. AI has given us the ability to make data-driven predictions, decisions and actions faster than ever before, but it is only as effective as the data and algorithms it relies on.

“So, while it’s great to see local companies investing in adoption of AI, the focus must be on building trust that the underlying data and algorithms are reliable, the models ethical and the predictions are measurable and as accurate as they can be. Without trust, AI will never fully move from fiction into reality.”

The report also revealed that in general, Saudi businesses were upbeat about the future impact of AI on their businesses and 37 percent expected it to impact their core business to a very high degree.

Those quizzed were particularly positive about the potential of AI to assist employees in executing their daily functions more effectively.

Currently, prediction was seen as the most relevant application of AI for 79 percent of Saudi companies, with organizations using AI to predict risk and fraud or combining it with intelligent automation to assign workloads to individuals, ultimately optimizing business processes, the report said.

The study added that 68 percent of respondents indicated that automation was one of the most relevant applications of AI in their pursuit of operational efficiency.

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News Network
July 22,2021

Newsroom, July 22: Thousands of Indians stranded in their home countries unable to return to their jobs in the United Arab Emirates due to covid restrictions and flight ban rushed to buy tickets at unprecedentedly higher rates whenever travel agencies opened booking, albeit briefly. Travellers many countries including India are not allowed to enter the UAE until they spend 14 days quarantining in a third nation.

The UAE introduced the travel restrictions earlier this year to control the spread of the newer variants of covid-19. Since then, the stranded expats have left no stone unturned in their attempts to return to the UAE. 

While some have returned on charter flights by spending a huge amount, some quarantined themselves for 15 days in places as far as Armenia, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Ethiopia and Qatar. Such quarantine packages cost an average of Dh9,000 per passenger. The rest live in an agonising limbo. 

Expats stuck in India were provided a faint glimmer of hope on June 19 when the Dubai Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced relaxations for fully-vaccinated passengers starting June 23. Major carriers have since been deferring final travel dates and extending inbound passenger suspensions on a routine basis. New dates signalling the end of travel suspensions are now announced by airlines more frequent than weekly, sending the stranded passengers on an emotional roller-coaster.

However, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has firmly maintained that the inbound travel suspension will remain in place until further notice. “The UAE government is closely monitoring the situation and will provide further updates and instructions as necessary,” said the GCAA recently. 

While a lack of clarity on when the suspension will end leaves the stranded residents frustrated, we should not forget that the world is navigating unprecedented times. While aggressive vaccine campaigns and Covid protocols bring about a lull in infections in some parts of the world, deadlier and more contagious variants of the pathogen rear their ugly heads in other countries. The pandemic has turned into a never-ending Whac-A-Mole game. 

Thousands of passengers are still glued to updates shared by airlines on social media, booking and re-booking flight tickets every time a new travel date is announced. Travel agents have highly recommended those wishing to travel must await a formal announcement from either the GCAA or the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority on the end date before booking their tickets, instead of wasting precious time and money and losing peace of mind.

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News Network
July 19,2021

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Makkah, July 19: Muslim pilgrims ascended Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Monday in the high point of this year's Hajj, being held in downsized form and under coronavirus restrictions for the second year running.

Just 60,000 people, all citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia, have been selected to take part in this year's Hajj, with foreign pilgrims again barred.

The mask-clad faithful, who had spent the night in camps in the Valley of Mina, converged on Mount Arafat where it is believed the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon, for the most important of the Hajj rituals.

Worshippers will assemble on the 70-metre (230-foot) high hill and its surrounding plain for hours of prayers and Quran recitals to atone for their sins, staying there until the evening.

After sunset, they head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

The scene was dramatically different to past pilgrimages, which have drawn up to 2.5 million people, and this year the mountain was free of the huge crowds that descend on it in normal years.

Privileged few

Being one of the lucky few "gives you a feeling that our God is forgiving and has chosen us to be in this place," said Selma Mohamed Hegazi, a 45-year-old Egyptian. "God willing, our prayers will be accepted."

"My whole body is shivering," she said as she stood among the other emotional pilgrims, wearing the ihram, the traditional seamless white garment worn during the Haj.

Worshippers described a sense of tranquillity descending on the mountain, also known as the "Mount of Mercy".

"To be one of only 60,000 doing haj ....I feel like I am part of a (privileged) group that was able to reach this place," said Baref Siraj, a 58-year-old Saudi national.
The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims with the means to travel at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

Participants were chosen from more than 558,000 applicants through an online vetting system, with the event confined to fully vaccinated adults aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses.

Safety first

Authorities are seeking to repeat last year's successful event, which took place on the smallest scale in modern history with just 10,000 participants, but which saw no virus outbreak.
Saudi health authorities said Sunday that not a single Covid case had been reported amongst the pilgrims this year.

The kingdom has so far recorded more than 509,000 coronavirus infections, including over 8,000 deaths. Some 20 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of over 34 million people.

The Haj, which typically packs large crowds into congested religious sites, could have been a super-spreader event for the virus.

But Saudi Arabia has said it is deploying the "highest levels of health precautions" in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants.

Pilgrims are being divided into groups of just 20 to restrict potential exposure, and a "smart Haj card" has been introduced to allow contact-free access to camps, hotels and the buses to ferry pilgrims around religious sites.

Black-and-white robots have been deployed to dispense bottles of sacred water from the Zamzam spring in Makkah's Grand Mosque, built around the Kaaba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Ibrahim Siam, a 64-year-old Egyptian pilgrim who comes from Dammam in the east of the country, said that high-tech procedures introduced to manage the Haj "have made things a lot easier."

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News Network
July 20,2021

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Beirut, July 20: The Israeli military has fired artillery shells into southern Lebanon, shortly after the regime’s aircraft launched a number of missiles at targets near the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Israeli army said in a statement that two rockets had been fired from Lebanon at the northern part of the occupied territories early Tuesday morning, setting off warning sirens in the Western Galilee region.

The statement added one of the rockets was intercepted by the so-called Iron Dome missile system, while the second projectile fell in an open area. There were reportedly no injuries or damage.

The Israeli military said it later fired artillery shells at targets in Lebanon. It gave no details about which targets were hit or who was behind the rocket fire.

Back on May 19 and amid Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip, the Lebanese territory was targeted by Israeli artillery shells after rockets were launched from southern Lebanon towards the occupied territories.

Lebanese media outlets said the rockets had been fired from the village of Seddiqine in southern Lebanon.

Avichay Adraee, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said in a post on Twitter at the time that four rockets had been fired from Lebanon, claiming that one was intercepted by Israel’s missile systems, another landed in an open area and two others fell in the sea.

Late on Monday, neighboring Syria’s official SANA news agency said the country’s missile defense systems had confronted Israeli airstrikes near the town of al-Safirah, southeast of Aleppo.

No casualties have been reported so far. An investigation is now underway to determine the extent of damage.

Lebanese al-Mayadeen television news network stated that Israel’s target was a factory and research center on the outskirts of al-Safirah. 

Israel frequently strikes various targets in Syria, especially the positions of the resistance movement Hezbollah.

Tel Aviv mostly keeps quiet about the attacks on Syrian territories which many view as knee-jerk reaction to Syrian government’s increasing success in confronting terrorism in country.

The regime has been a main supporter of terrorist groups that have been fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad since militancy erupted in Syria nine years ago.

Syrian government forces have taken back many areas once controlled by the terrorist groups. 

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