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How Saudi has the opportunity to use data like never before

5 minutes
Paul Bogan Chief Digital Officer of Serco Middle East
Kristine Pitts Director of ExperienceLab Middle East

According to reports by DataReportal, there were 33.58 million internet users in Saudi Arabia in January 2021, showcasing an increase of 1.3 million people between 2020 and 2021. Additionally, internet penetration in the country stood at 95.7% in January 2021. Data is the bedrock of progressive and developing countries and will grow in significance with each passing year as it supports growth, productivity and innovation.

In Saudi Arabia, ever since the 2030 vision was announced, there has been an uptake in developmental efforts including enhancing the country's infrastructure, designing, and building giga projects, strengthening tourism and more.

Constant development and expansion involve increased use of technology which ultimately culminates into targeted usage of data and intelligence that helps make informed decisions and grow businesses. It can help executives make data-driven decisions and it provides businesses with agility and ways of optimising both their staff and services as well as the overall output. With this in mind, the Kingdom is at the frontier of advanced technology capabilities enhanced by visionary leadership.

The country is building futuristic capabilities in managing and using data to support growth, security and economic wellbeing.

Paul Bogan, Chief Digital Officer of Serco Middle East, and Kristine Pitts, Director of Serco Middle East ExperienceLab discuss Saudi's position as a frontrunner in utilising data and advanced technology:

Empowering the Youth through Education

Young people are one of a country’s greatest assets, impacting economic growth and progress. 

Courses such as programming have been effectively embedded in the last few years into curriculums, and as a result, can aid the learning in subjects such as data science and business analytics. From using and managing large data assets to drawing new insights, combining that with new policy guidelines from a data management perspective, analysing and finally using the analysis to make informative decisions – the youth are building capabilities. This investment in skills development will deliver an adept and fit-for-future workforce to help accelerate the success of business in years to come.

Data inforgraphics

Data inforgraphics

Using Data Well

With advanced technology, many organisations collect significant amounts of data for purposes such as offering personalised services, faster actions and quicker turnarounds. Data can provide businesses with more agility and ways of optimising their staff, services and the overall output. However, government entities and businesses do not always use data to their advantage.

User Journey Mapping

Take for instance customer experience (CX) data – collecting and combining customer satisfaction data with both qualitative and operational data is key to understanding where and how to improve CX.

However, unless the collected data is turned into intelligence and information that helps companies support a customer's journey, it is a waste. For example, think of the customer journey through an airport – customer satisfaction surveys at security might highlight a peak of unhappy customers that happens at irregular intervals – this highlights an area of interest to investigate further.

Operational data, such as processing times (e.g. measured by sensors), number of passengers, number of open security check lanes, number of staff etc. can tell us a lot about the factors that might impact customer happiness – such as queueing times. Observations carried out by staff and engaging with customers are also important, data on its own can tell us a lot, but what if the issue wasn’t queuing times, but that customers felt the queue was disorganised and unfairly prioritised some passengers over others? Knowing how the data will help the organisation act, is key to unlocking the power of data.

For customer experience, mapping the customer journey and setting a vision for what type of customer experience we are seeking to deliver helps us set KPIs, which in turn helps identify what data we need to collect at each stage of a customer’s journey.

Customer Experience Satisfaction

The collection and analysis of data through mixed methods will then enable the transformation of the customers’ experience by making enhancements where needed on existing services, products and even staff training, and for anything new, designing and delivering exactly what the customer wants. Through delivering such a service, the government can look at driving a transformative change across the sector to help provide world-class health services for patients in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi’s Tourism as an Enhanced Blueprint

While the country has only recently started opening up more actively for tourism, they are making data work. Opening up for tourism brings in exponential operational costs due to increased number of visitors, infrastructure pressure, facility management, operations, security, etc.

Al Ula - KSA

Al Ula - KSA

Identifying what aspects to put in more money and understanding the most cost-effective ways to drive productivity and reduce that operational spend are all key.

The Kingdom has created frameworks to manage all of this seamlessly. There are agreed frameworks to drive performance management through design all the way through to construction. The overall operations for the lifecycle management are solely aimed at doing just that. The country also announced recently that it will start offering more insights into its tourism sector than ever before to help track tourism’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economic output and will provide additional data on the industry, including the size of the workforce, pay and revenue and expenditure. 

These insights will help the sector grow further and in the right direction, and make it, in no time, one of the main supporters to the local economy.

It is a blank canvas utilising the best of international experience and the best of technology to bring tangible changes and accelerate the objectives of Vision 2030.

Making of a Giga City

Looking at how Saudi is building its giga cities from the ground up with the use of the existing data, you can see that the country is creating a blueprint for the future, for the rest of the region and the world to follow.

It is a blank canvas utilising the best of international experience and the best of technology to bring tangible changes and accelerate the objectives of Vision 2030. Nevertheless, a lot of the time data is an afterthought, and often is about what we can do with the data once it has all been collected.

Global data & technology

You’re looking at citizen experience and shaping touchpoints for them to interact with, and collecting data from the beginning of the process is the right way of doing this, but it’s not only about collecting data. You should be able to analyse and turn data into insights that help you make better informed decisions, and eventually mitigate risks. You have to understand how people go through the experience, what they value the most, what they care about and what the business needs from behind the scenes to better understand them. Additionally, some entities look at their target audient as one, rather than segmenting them into different demographics, which will put them at risk of not meeting expectations.

Continuous collection of data is essential, as it’s the key to developing and improving projects, but a lot of times, governments and entities fail in using the data they have collected, and they eventually go to waste. So, unless the data can be turned into informed decisions, then it does not make any difference whether they have it or not. 

Smart cities & data management

Smart cities & data management

However, Saudi is doing just the opposite. It’s been collecting data all the way through the process, from planning to executing, to delivering cities that adapt to people’s needs, for a purpose to help support the country’s vision, growth, and progress.

For example, Neom, the country’s ambitious project, is expected to be the size of Belgium when completed and is set to be the world’s first cognitive city. According to reports about the project, an operating system known as NEOS will aim to seek consent to use data from 90% of the project’s residents, which will help enhance their overall experience. It’s a proactive system that can take action, and support when needed, while collecting data. This visionary project is one of many that the country will complete in the coming years, thereby building smart and cognitive cities. From traffic management systems to 15-minute cities and smart transport initiatives – these all need extremely targeted use of data to come to life.
KSA cityscape at night

KSA cityscape at night


As the existing data resides in multiple platforms, it can be challenging for governments to successfully extract and use it for their benefits, and although the country is building those capabilities, there is still some way to go. The biggest challenge the Kingdom will face as it opens up for the 2030 transformation and for the citizens of the world is to ensure data privacy.

Personal data is not very often offered on a platter; hence, data management is key. For example, we have developed the nationwide manual to create standardisation across all ministries and the Kingdom and it has a two-fold strategy.

Privacy screen

The first one is to bring each ministry up to a level of maturity in their understanding in the application of asset management and operational and maintenance excellence. The second is to raise the bar on asset management competency within each of the ministries. This will further help bring data standardisation which will assure citizens that their data is protected.

Data growth & management

Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of advanced technology and will continue to push the envelope in using data for growth and progress, and in no time, the Kingdom will be regionally leading in data collection and analysis and will create world class models for how data should and could be utilised for the benefit of citizens, residents and visitors.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Chief Digital Officer of Serco Middle East & Director of ExperienceLab Middle East Paul Bogan & Kristine Pitts

Paul has over 22 years of experience working in technology for both the private and public sector within the UK and most recently in the Middle East. Paul joins Serco from Atkins, where he was the Market Director for Digital & Technology and in 2017 Paul received an MBA with distinction at Hult International Business School.

Kristine’s expertise helps Serco’s clients understand how customers use their service, with the insights influencing the development of solutions, enhancements and optimisations that benefit both the client and the user.

Paul Bogan & Kristine Pitts