Artefact: Empowering Saudi Arabia’s AI and Data Economy

Artificial intelligence (AI) is permeating multiple industries and practices, rapidly emerging as a driving force of innovation and positive change. Realizing the full potential of AI demands a multi-pronged strategy, a well-defined framework, and a technological infrastructure conducive to supporting AI implementation. In its stride to diversify and capitalize on the digital economy’s potential, Saudi Arabia took cognizance of the transformative impact of AI on sustaining economic growth, investing heavily in a growing AI economy.

Just a few days ago, the Kingdom announced plans to create a fund of about $40 billion to invest in AI, taking its commitment to have an AI-powered economy to new heights. This announcement is part of a grand undertaking to catalyze its localized AI economy and position itself as a driving force shaping and empowering the future of AI worldwide.

By 2030, Riyadh’s adoption of digitalization and emerging technologies is expected to contribute 2.4% to its GDP.

To boost private investment in AI technologies, the Kingdom launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence back in 2020, seeking to attract $20 billion in both foreign and local investments by 2030. The country’s rising influence on the tech international stage makes it an attractive hub for global data services companies such as Artefact, a major innovator in the fields of consulting, AI, and data science. 

Rahul Arya, CEO and managing partner of Artefact MENA, underscored that the company’s Saudi foray was a “natural progression” in the company’s expansion strategy, describing the Kingdom as “the land of opportunities.”

Vision 2030: The Catalyst Behind Embracing AI and Automation

Digitization remains a crucial component in accelerating the pace of transformation across key sectors of the economy under Vision 2030, and for Artefact, this was the key driving factor behind its market foray. 

Direct and indirect governmental involvement in spurring an innovation-led economy has opened the door for fresh opportunities and experiences and fueled overall positive market momentum.

Central to the Kingdom’s ambitious economic transformations are AI and data analytics, resulting in a rapid expansion of the industry and making the Kingdom a standout location for global AI innovators to set up an office.

“The market strongly demands advanced technological solutions across various sectors, including finance, telecom, power and utilities, real estate, and retail. Supportive government policies and infrastructure investments provided a conducive landscape for Artefact to establish a presence and make meaningful contributions to the digital transformation journey of Saudi businesses,” Arya explained.

With the help of AstroLabs, the company further strengthened its presence in the Kingdom and chose Riyadh as its regional headquarters in the Gulf region. Arya illustrated that AstroLabs’ on-ground team provided the company with the support and resources necessary to facilitate their expansion into the Kingdom. These resources cover provision of office spaces, acquisitions of licenses and permits as well as navigating regulatory framework and talent sourcing, facilitating hiring processes. 

Arya continued: “AstroLabs played a pivotal role in helping us build our team in Saudi Arabia. From sourcing top talent to facilitating the hiring process and assembling a skilled and dedicated workforce that aligned with our company culture and goals.”

Using its on ground team’s insights and comprehensive understanding of the market, the company was able to tailor its services to meet the needs of local clientele as well as deepening collaborations with stakeholders. This, in turn, provided a jolt to the company’s business development efforts and accelerate project delivery. 

As of late, Artefact has leveraged multiple strategic partnerships, having worked with governmental entities and participated in mega projects across diverse industries. For example, Artefact played an instrumental role in implementing the “Digital Transformation Strategy of Saudi Electricity Company (SEC)” to support the company’s efforts in IT infrastructure modernization and optimizing business services and operations through innovative, data-driven solutions. Moreover, it is joining forces with a new airline to develop a data analytics platform and leverage AI solutions to revolutionize guest experiences.

Artefact’s scope of work extends to giga projects, such as AlUla. Working closely with the Royal Commission for AlUla, the company is currently in the process of implementing a comprehensive data and AI transformation and governance program. 

The aim is to boost AI-driven operations and decision support, next-generation visitor and community services, as well as support the formation of a highly skilled workforce in data and AI.

“These projects exemplify our company’s commitment to driving innovation, fostering digital transformation, and delivering tangible value to our partners and stakeholders in Saudi Arabia,” Arya added. 

Expediting Local Business AI Pivot while Building a Future-Ready Workforce

The Saudi business landscape has undergone a seismic shift, prompting businesses to adjust to shifting customer expectations and changing lifestyles. At the core of these changes is the need to analyze and dissect changing behaviors, anticipate market trends, as well as respond quickly to changing circumstances. These drive the adoption of AI across enterprises looking to accelerate productivity and efficiency gains.

By the same token, Arya made note of the “growing recognition” of the value of data among businesses in Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of the growth of e-commerce and increased demand for personalization. 

“With the rise of online shopping platforms and digital payment solutions, consumers have greater access to a wide range of products and services, driving the digital economy forward. This trend underscores the importance of digitalization and the growing role of technology in shaping the Saudi Arabian market landscape,” Arya explained.

As investments in AI continue to uptick, the demand for talent is also bound to increase. The Kingdom is actively focusing on nurturing AI talents and building a next-generation skilled workforce adept at dealing with AI systems.

One of the flagship initiatives in this regard was the AI Academy, launched earlier by the Kingdom, in collaboration with Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) and NVIDIA.

Aligning with the governmental efforts to accelerate AI proficiency among locals, Artefact demonstrates a keen interest in being an integral part of that drive. Following the success of its School of Data, originally established in Paris, France, Artefact’s founding country, the AI innovator plans to introduce a similar initiative to Saudi Arabia. 

According to Arya, the soon to be launched School of Data in Riyadh is on a mission to “democratize access to data and train 1000 individuals on digital skills over the next three years.” 

In a similar vein, Artefact entered a strategic partnership with the Misk Foundation to host local interns, providing them hands-on practical knowledge and exposure to cutting-edge research. 

According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), AI adoption will generate 97 million jobs by 2025, indicating that AI talent will be in high high demand and pointing to the urgency to upskill individuals through quality training programs. 

Creating a tech talent pool commensurate with the local job market lies at the heart of Artefact’s mission to grow a potent AI industry, with plans to create hundreds of jobs over the next three years in the Kingdom.

“Our primary aim is to foster innovation and empower individuals by emphasizing dedication to local talent, especially women. We strive to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. Through employment opportunities and a supportive work culture, we aim to catalyze the professional growth and empowerment of local talent,” Arya shared.

The company’s commitment to advancing technological innovation also includes sector-specific approaches and action plans.

To expand the utilization of AI analytics and applications throughout the travel and tourism industry, Artefact has recently formed a partnership with the Saudi Tourism Authority for the Data and AI Transformation and Acceleration Program, alongside various other initiatives.

With a workforce of over 1500 employees and a geographical reach spanning 23 countries, Artefact remains at the vanguard of AI acceleration globally including in Saudi Arabia. In its vision to establish a strong foothold in Saudi, it leverages a localized playbook to address the unique demands of Saudi businesses while benefiting from its global focus and wide-ranging capabilities, aiding the ascent of the Kingdom as the global epicenter of AI.