Saudi Arabia’s focus on promoting innovation has earned the appreciation of global business executives with more than one in three saying the Kingdom has created an ‘innovation-conducive environment’, according to the latest edition of the GE Global Innovation Barometer.
The confidence of global business executives in the Kingdom’s innovation environment has surged 11 percent over 2018, the largest increase recorded by any of the 22 countries surveyed. In its seventh edition, the Global Innovation Barometer surveyed over 3,400 business executives in 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia, in two separate studies; one concluding in February 2020 and a second Pulse study in September 2020. The Pulse study was conducted to understand any changes in executive sentiment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Announcing the findings of the Barometer’s Saudi-specific findings, Hisham Albahkali, President of GE Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, said: “With innovation being foundational to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, at GE, we are honored that we are able to deliver the results of the Saudi GE Innovation Barometer to further support the good work of many players in the Kingdom. The progress made in the critical sphere of innovation following the pandemic has served as a catalyst in accelerating innovation in areas such as e-government services and particularly in healthcare.”
He added: “The key factors that have contributed to the enhanced global standing is the focus of Saudi Arabia to diversify its economy and the success achieved on futuristic giga-developments. The report provides highly credible insights that support the actions taken to promote innovation, which is a key driver of competitiveness, productivity as well as creation of new sectors.”
As countries increase their focus on innovation, Saudi business executives have a strong belief in the Kingdom’s ability to innovate on its own. This sentiment has gained strength since the pandemic; compared to 58 percent in January 2020, 62 percent of Saudi respondents said the Kingdom is self-sufficient in driving innovation.
Innovation for long-term social benefits
Saudi business executives believe innovation should deliver long-term societal or environmental benefits, with two-thirds (66 percent) rating this more important than short-term profitability in January 2020. Since the onset of the pandemic, the importance of societal impact in innovation remains key, with almost 9 in 10 (88 percent) saying it is more important than ever for innovation to focus on the challenges facing society and public health.
As a result, Saudi companies are three times more likely to have increased innovation budgets now and nearly all said for innovation progress to be maintained, both global (91 percent) and domestic (83 percent) economies must recover from the setbacks.
Healthcare as Innovation Champion
Not surprisingly, 86 percent of Saudi business executives said the industries that lead on innovation have changed with 81 percent stating healthcare has set a great example for others to follow on speeding up innovation and 60 percent saying the healthcare sector has made significant progress in relation to innovation over the past six months.
AI as a catalyst for innovation
Over three-quarters (76 percent) of Saudi business executives said innovations using AI, Automation and Machine Learning will be important to their company in a ‘post-COVID-19 world’. While 89 percent said AI and machine learning will be important because of its benefits to the working experience, 47 percent said they will facilitate further innovation and 53 percent said AI/ML will improve the remote working experience for employees.
The role of partnerships
A majority of Saudi business executives also said partnerships across countries (86 percent), industries (85 percent) and with government (84 percent) should be a priority for driving innovation progress. Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of Saudi business executives see MNCs as leading innovation while the role of government has increased dramatically between 2018 and 2020 from 9 to 20 percent.
The highlights of the study were shared with industry leaders in the Kingdom at the ‘Dhahran Techno Valley Subject-Matter Series’ webinar on 22nd December 2020 with attendees from the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Saudi Aramco, DTV and the scientific community. Dr. Halim Hamid Redhwi PhD, Deputy CEO of DTV, hosted the event with Stephen McCallion, COO of GE Saudi Arabia & Bahrain, and Rob Kitchen, Account Director, Edelman Data & Intelligence, presenting the findings.
Dr. Abdullah Al Raddadi, Director of the General Directorate for National Planning and Coordination at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), who also leads the newly established ‘National Observatory for Research, Development and Innovation’ presented the strategic role of the Kingdom’s R&D and innovation ecosystem, highlighting the need for all stakeholders to collaborate and further build localized innovation.