The State of AI in GCC Countries: Overcoming Adoption Challenges for Accelerated Growth

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds immense potential for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the Middle East, with the possibility of delivering real value of up to $150 billion, equivalent to 9 percent or more of the combined GDP of these nations. However, the speed of AI adoption varies across different sectors, and several challenges need to be addressed for widespread implementation. In this article, we will explore the current state of AI in GCC countries and discuss key strategies to overcome adoption challenges, enabling accelerated growth.

Several organizations in the region have recognized the value of AI and are utilizing it, as evident from notable examples. Careem, a company based in Dubai with operations across the region, has successfully employed AI to identify and block 35,000 fraudulent users on its food delivery, payments, and transportation platform. The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has implemented an AI-powered virtual assistant that has effectively handled around 6.8 million queries since its launch in 2017. Additionally, the Fourth Industrial Revolution Center at Saudi Arabia’s Aramco has utilized data and AI to monitor conditions and take preventive action, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in flare emissions since 2010. Although these few organizations have embraced AI in their operations, they only scratch the surface of its potential. The question remains: why is the adoption of AI limited in the region?

The adoption of AI varies across sectors in the GCC countries. Energy and materials companies, operating in a fiercely competitive international market, have been early investors in AI. They recognize the opportunities AI presents for enhancing efficiency in production, distribution, and maintenance, driving their swift adoption. On the other hand, retail companies have made significant progress. It is recorded that 75 percent of the sectors’ representatives stated that their companies have implemented AI in at least one business function.

The varying pace of AI adoption in different sectors can be attributed to a range of factors too. For instance, energy and materials companies are driven by their desire to seize the advantages offered by AI and improve their competitiveness in the global market. In contrast, other sectors may have different priorities or face specific challenges that impact the speed of their AI integration.

To expedite AI adoption in GCC countries, it is essential to focus on the following key areas:

a. Linking AI Strategy to Enterprise Strategy:

Aligning AI strategies with broader enterprise strategies is crucial for successful adoption. GCC companies should identify areas where AI can deliver the most value and develop a comprehensive roadmap that integrates AI initiatives with overall business objectives. This alignment ensures that AI investments and efforts are targeted towards achieving tangible outcomes.

b. Organization and Building AI Talent:

Creating a strong AI-focused organizational culture and building a skilled AI workforce is vital for successful adoption. GCC countries should invest in AI education and training programs, both within educational institutions and through collaboration with industry experts. This approach will foster a talent pool equipped with the necessary AI skills to drive implementation and innovation.

c. Building High-Quality Data Pipeline and Modern Technology Stack:

Access to high-quality data and a modern technology stack are critical for effective AI implementation. GCC companies should invest in data collection and management systems, ensuring data availability, quality, and security. Simultaneously, upgrading technology infrastructure and leveraging cloud computing capabilities will enable efficient processing and analysis of data for AI applications.

d. Overcoming Resistance to Adoption and Scaling:

One of the greatest challenges in AI adoption is resistance from within organizations. GCC companies should proactively address concerns related to job displacement, lack of trust in AI systems, and perceived implementation complexities. By providing adequate training, fostering a culture of innovation, and showcasing successful AI use cases, companies can overcome resistance and scale up AI initiatives.

AI adoption in GCC countries has the potential to generate substantial value for the region’s economies. However, challenges such as data limitations, organizational barriers, and resistance to adoption must be addressed to accelerate AI implementation. By linking AI strategy to enterprise objectives, building a skilled AI workforce, investing in data infrastructure and technology, and addressing resistance to adoption, GCC countries can overcome these challenges and unlock the transformative power of AI. Embracing AI will not only drive economic growth but also position GCC countries as global leaders in the AI landscape.

Mohammed Alzubi

Mohammed Alzubi

About Me

Mohammed is the Managing Partner of Nama Ventures, a seed stage fund focused on fueling MENA tech innovation, particularly in KSA. Mohammed can be reached on twitter @mzu3bi

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