New research from Cisco has uncovered a growing embrace of artificial intelligence (AI) by private firms in Saudi Arabia spurred by the need to improve workplace productivity and efficiency.

The report, titled “AI Readiness Index in Saudi Arabia,” surveyed over 8,000 companies across 30 countries to ascertain their plans for AI integration into their processes. Cisco’s report comes ahead of the LEAP 2024 conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, dubbed the “world’s most attended tech event” in its third iteration.

A deep dive into the survey reveals that while 93% of companies in Saudi Arabia have advanced strategies for AI integration, only 8% of firms are ready to fully deploy the technology into their systems.

A significant chunk of the firms cite the absence of robust infrastructure to handle complex AI processes, while a small demographic points to an unclear regulatory framework as a reason for stalling the embrace of AI.

31% of surveyed firms surmise that a shallow talent pool is a significant reason for the hesitation to go all in on AI, with 82% pledging to increase investment in equipping employees with new AI skills.

Despite the factors standing in the way of Saudi Arabian firms, nearly all surveyed enterprises are eyeing an increase in productivity in the workplace via the use of generative AI models by employees. 30% of firms are mulling the prospects of new revenue channels with AI, while others are eyeing the perks of personalized services for clients.

Cisco’s index notes that only a handful of firms in the country can prevent cybersecurity attacks by bad actors on AI systems. However, the report submits that a combination of the private sector and the Saudi government’s ambition to embrace AI is expected to plug in any gaps militating against AI adoption.

“As the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is working to implement the National Strategy for Data and AI, the insights from the index can help inform the prioritization across important pillars including strategy, infrastructure, data, governance, talent, and culture,” said Salman Faqeeh, Managing Director, Cisco Saudi Arabia.

A brave push for AI

Saudi Arabia has been making concerted efforts to transform its digital economy with AI. The country’s efforts have seen it spend on new Nvidia (NASDAQ: NV) chips and roll out a national AI education initiative to deepen the talent pool for global AI firms. To distance itself from U.S. and Chinese dominance, Saudi Arabia unveiled AceGPT, a native large language model (LLM), to capture the nuance of Arabian culture.

“Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in recent years to establish itself as a leading player in the field of AI,” said Faqeeh. “The Kingdom recognizes the transformative potential of AI and has placed it at the center of its Vision 2030.”

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