The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the largest economy in the Middle East, is universally recognized as the world’s largest producer and exporter of petroleum. In recent years, however, it has emerged as a visionary leader in leveraging networked technology, especially in developing a number of Smart City projects to attract business while controlling sprawl and congestion.

Cisco Consulting Services estimates that KSA alone can gain about $84 billion of total economic value from the Internet of Everything, which is the connection of people, processes, data and things. Nearly $16 billion of this is in the public sector, with profitability, cost savings and enhanced experiences coming from urban services such as smart street lighting, smart traffic management, mobile collaboration, chronic disease control, connected learning and healthcare, to name a few.

Globally, Cisco sees a total $19 trillion opportunity for both the public and private sectors. 

Last week, I revisited Saudi Arabia for the 16th time in five years and saw first-hand its progress in developing Smart Cities, or what we at Cisco call, Smart + Connected Communities. I had the honor of participating in the Cityquest KAEC Forum, jointly organized by the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and New Cities Foundation, which assembled global thought leaders in some of the most advanced Smart City projects.

I had the pleasure of participating in an enthusiastic panel discussion on local and global urban innovations made possible by “Connecting Through Technology,” moderated by Andrew Sewer, journalist and former managing editor of Fortune Magazine.

As reported in The Arab News, Abdullatif A. Al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), kicked off the conference by emphasizing that public sector investments to diversify the economy are “… the most promising and significant in terms of job creation, technology transfer and exports development,” pointing to KAEC as a prime example.

“Digital native” cities such as KAEC have the benefit of starting from the ground up to incorporate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the master planning process. Here, it is recognized that technology is the fourth essential infrastructure for cities, along with water, gas and electricity.

I had the opportunity to see first-hand the amazing progress KAEC has made since it was announced in the summer of 2008 with Cisco’s partnership as the ICT master planner. In addition to its urban planning foresight, KAEC represents a global model of how government, its people and investors worldwide can create a smarter and more sustainable community.

I also visited Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city, where a tremendous transformation is under way to build one of the largest rapid transit projects in the region, Riyadh Metro. Built on the strong vision of Riyadh Governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah, in combination with the strategic plan of Arriyadh Development Authority as well as all the hard work being done by Riyadh Municipality, Riyadh Metro is expected to be the beginning of a modern 21st century digital city.

My take-away is that public and private sector leaders throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognize the power and potential of the Internet of Everything. They are diversifying their petroleum-based economy by embracing the digital era, focusing intently now on Smart City projects.



Wim Elfrink

Executive Vice President, Industry Solutions & Chief

Globalisation Officer