Dr. Samer Abdallah is the head of ICT Sector at KPMG in Saudi Arabia
Governments worldwide are actively embracing innovation to stay relevant and impactful in today's volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.
The focus of government innovation is centred around creating value for the population, which encompasses various aspects such as improving access to government services, raising living standards, providing resource accessibility, safeguarding citizen well-being, fostering entrepreneurship, adopting new technologies, and generating employment opportunities.
In line with Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP), Saudi Arabia has launched numerous innovation initiatives. The country has established notable innovation hubs like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz University for Digital Sciences and Technology.
Government innovation primarily aims to enhance living standards and promote job creation. Recognising the significance of research and development (R&D)-driven innovation, the NTP has established the Research Development and Innovation Authority (RDIA) responsible for identifying innovation opportunities and formulating supportive policies.
The country has also introduced a programme focused on the research, development, and innovation (RDI) sector, intending to inject an additional SAR60 billion ($16 billion) into the nation's GDP by 2040. This programme will not only contribute to economic growth but also create employment opportunities in science and technology, propelling Saudi Arabia to become the leading economy in the Arab world.
Additionally, the country aims to attract $20 billion in investments for data and AI, facilitating workforce transformation through the training of 20,000 specialists in these fields.
Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in building an innovation ecosystem that drives digital transformation and fosters a culture of innovation among its citizens. Despite these efforts, the country's Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking remains at 66th among 132 economies, indicating a gap between government investment and its impact on innovation.
It is important to recognise that innovation is an ongoing process integrated into the daily operations of government bodies. To foster innovation, governments must invest in internal innovation literacy. Innovation should not be limited to the development of new products and services; it should also encompass finding novel approaches to problem-solving and improving government operations.
Creating an environment conducive to innovation requires investments in research and development, the establishment of supportive policies, and the cultivation of a culture of innovation within government institutions. Only by taking these steps can governments effectively innovate and make a positive impact on society.
The potential of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to serve society is immense. AI can contribute significantly to the development of new medicines, expedite the transition to a low-carbon economy, and assist aging populations. Economically, AI has the potential to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, surpassing the combined output of China and India.
Regulations play a crucial role in shaping innovation, with both positive and negative effects. They can ensure fairness and competition, focus research efforts based on societal needs, and establish equitable rules for economic actors involved in the innovation process.
However, regulations can also pose obstacles to the development of new products, discourage research, restrict technology adoption choices, and increase the cost and uncertainty associated with innovation. Governments face the challenge of striking a balance between guiding innovation and fostering its growth.
While not all countries are currently involved in developing or scaling emerging technologies, all nations need to prepare for their impact. The adoption of new technologies requires increased digitisation, connectivity, and appropriate regulation.
The rapid pace of digital transformation and innovation often outpaces regulatory development, posing a global challenge in keeping up with the evolving landscape and avoiding obstacles arising from outdated regulations.
Even countries at the forefront of innovation can make further progress.
Different countries have varying goals when it comes to regulating innovation, depending on their stage of development. Some aim for widespread technology adoption, while others focus on regulating large tech companies.
Regardless of their objectives, all countries must design adaptive regulatory frameworks to effectively respond to change. The dynamic nature of the emerging technology market calls for a responsive and collaborative approach to co-design policies and standards, both at local and global levels.
Multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to address the complex challenges of data and emerging technology regulation, ensuring the free flow of data across borders, protecting consumer rights, and fostering fair competition.