Tareq Amin, who made his mark as CEO of Rakuten Symphony, details his ambitions to create a digital platform company for the Middle East in his new role as CEO of Aramco Digital.
Aramco Digital’s Tareq Amin spells out platform service ambitions for the Middle East
When Saudi Arabia’s Aramco approached Tareq Amin to head up Aramco Digital his first question was: “What does an oil and gas company have to do with digital?”
It turns out that the answer is quite a lot. “It’s probably one of the most digitized companies … that I have ever seen,” says Amin, pointing out it uses supercomputers and AI to aid in exploration and drilling, and has developed sophisticated cybersecurity systems.
More to the point, Aramco, which is seeking to diversify beyond its traditional oil and gas revenues, spied an opportunity to build a digital services business in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East.
“We are entering the market at the right time, at the right junction of a massive transformation that is happening across our region,” says Amin.
And Aramco has the means to invest in its new digital arm, having recorded a net income of $161.1 billion in 2022, making it one of the world's biggest companies in terms of revenues.
Under Amin’s leadership Aramco Digital will build enterprise services around six key pillars: cloud; connectivity; cybersecurity; data and AI; sustainability; and customer solutions and services.
The company is looking to innovate in “the operational, billing and marketplaces on top of [and] independent of the infrastructure layer,” explains Amin, who believes there is room for disruption by making it much simpler for enterprises to buy and use B2B services that rely on connectivity.
“We’re not thinking like a telco,” he says. “My dream is to have an industrial marketplace for connectivity … [and] to stand up the Middle East’s only platform company.”
Amin sees the speed and flexibility of cloud-based application layers as a game changer in the region, where enterprise digital transformation lags more digitally mature markets.
When it comes to “the growth rate for cloud we are in the infancy stages and … [the] advantages of elastic cloud computing provide us with a significant opportunity,” he says. To this end Aramco Digital has signed a joint venture with Google Cloud Platforms to support and sell Google services in Saudi Arabia, as well as with Oracle Cloud. In addition, Aramco Digital will provide sovereign cloud services. A sovereign cloud prevents foreign access to data and ensures that all of it, including metadata, stays within a country.
Currently Amin, who surprised the telecoms industry when he left his role as CEO of Rakuten Symphony in August this year, is focusing on laying foundations, “so we can … accelerate the building blocks of the six business units and move into this platform business and really make it very, very profitable.”
The customer solutions and services pillar, for example, will serve as Aramco Digital’s consultancy arm. “They are vertically oriented subject matter experts in oil and gas, energy field, fintech, and connectivity services. Their job is to discover problems and build digital blueprints for productivity improvement,” explains Amin.
“In this region – not mature markets -- the power of what we could become has a good chance to succeed if we build the right foundation … to help people in … this journey of transformation.”
Aramco Digital’s connectivity infrastructure strategy is still under development. But what is clear is that, despite the importance of connectivity in delivering solutions, it is not the starting point for Amin’s team, who come from oil and gas rather than telecoms.
“They’re jumping on these ideas in a way I could not believe, because they’re not programmed with ‘no, this cannot be done, there is a 3GPP … I have to follow’,” he says. “They just see a problem. And they are thinking about a digital solution to how to address the problem.”
But Amin may nonetheless be able to draw on the experience and lessons of his telco past.
“Nobody has felt the pain and the effort to build an open RAN architecture the way I have,” he jokes. “I know what works, what doesn't work, and in time I think I might be able to do something that the world might ... benefit from – a true open-source community,” says Amin, adding that industrial digital solutions may be “the clear winning use case for a disaggregated architecture.”