Going Digital: KAUST Talent Can Help McKinsey Drive KSA’s High-Tech Transformation

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is cultivating the next generation of science and technology leaders who can spearhead Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation, propelling widespread adoption of cloud computing across industries. This unique value proposition has drawn the attention of McKinsey & Company, which recognizes KAUST as a premier regional institution for research, innovation and advanced education.

“For us, KAUST is a campus where we have a huge commitment within Saudi Arabia because it’s a pioneer in the context of science and technology,” said McKinsey partner Chandrasekhar Panda, leader of digital and tech across Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “It’s also one of the brightest campuses. There’s an appetite for critical questions.”

As part of KAUST’s In-Kingdom Career Launch Program (IKCLP), McKinsey conducted a digital workshop to delve into the challenges and opportunities arising from technological advances in Saudi Arabia and the broader region. McKinsey insights suggest that 92 percent of companies currently perceive digitization as rendering their business models obsolete, creating huge opportunities for those who can support technological adoption and advanced analytics.

Fortunately, said Dr. Najah Ashry, KAUST Vice President for Strategic National Advancement (SNA), KAUST students possess the essential skills and research experiences necessary to help employers drive this transformation. “Through KAUST’s advanced focus on science and technology, our graduates are well positioned to support the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives, providing expert advice and services within the digital realm.”

Saudi Arabia is rapidly advancing its technological landscape, as suggested by Justin De Niese, associate partner and co-lead of Cloud by McKinsey, EMEA. Changes are set to permeate across society. For instance, in healthcare, cloud adoption could facilitate remote medical procedures using robotics, while advanced analytics could expedite pharmaceutical trials.

According to De Niese, there is approximately US$3 trillion to be potentially created just from the cloud. A major portion of this value arises from innovation — contemplating ways to enhance speed and utilize analytics, the Internet of Things, augmented reality, and more, to improve our products.

Opportunities in consulting

Recognizing the essential role of cloud computing in enhancing efficiencies and reducing costs on a societal level, Riyadh Alghamdi, a second-year electrical engineering master’s student, attended McKinsey’s Nov. 29 workshop. “It’s very important for the economy, especially here in Saudi Arabia, where digitization is still on the horizon.”

The KAUST Gifted Student Program alumni is a co-founder and president of the KAUST Consulting Club. The group boasts more than 130 members on Campus Connect and 250 members on LinkedIn. McKinsey is a leading global management consulting firm, Alghamdi noted, and so most students at the digital workshop are active consulting club members. “This session was a real eye-opener and a door-opener for a much-accelerated career path.”

Consultants gain unique experiences by working on many projects simultaneously, said De Niese. This exposes them to changes across organizations and sectors. For software engineers, he suggested, such multifaceted encounters foster a profound understanding of regulations, business and strategy, which ultimately serve in entrepreneurial pursuits. In fact, added De Niese, former McKinsey staff members are responsible for many startups across the Middle East.

KAUST talent matters

According to Panda, recent graduates from KAUST enhance their overall value by gaining worthwhile experience with a diverse range of clients through consultancy. He sees McKinsey as an excellent environment for continuous learning. He said numerous prospects for KAUST talent persist, especially as the Kingdom keeps digitally transforming. As for McKinsey, he added, it aims to keep collaborating on research and engaging with KAUST and its top-tier students.

“There’s an emerging scene behind the scenes, which is digital. That’s why we believe [KAUST] students will be subjects for our internship program. Hopefully, they’ll also be part of the career program, and we’ll be able to attract some of our greatest talent from this campus.”