RIYADH — The Haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah is a religious obligation that every able-bodied adult Muslim must perform at least once in life. It is also one of the world’s largest annual migrations, with more than 2 million pilgrims performing the ritual in 2018.
In addition, millions of Muslims from all over the world travel to Saudi Arabia throughout the year to perform the minor pilgrimage known as Umrah in Makkah and pray at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
On the sidelines of Saudi Arabia’s key Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh last week, the authorities signed two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to enhance its digital capabilities around the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages.
An agreement was signed with German-based technology multinational SAP to develop innovative cloud technologies to transform the operations required to host millions of pilgrims every year. Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammad Saleh Benten signed the MoU with Steve Tzikakis, president EMEA South, SAP.
In a separate ceremony Benten signed an MoU with Salman Faqeeh, managing director, Cisco Saudi Arabia, under which Cisco will help enhance the Ministry’s digital infrastructure and services.
Under the digital transformation MoUs, the ministry will explore using a cloud-based digital platform to unify all pilgrim-related data. By using technology in collaboration with hundreds of travel agencies worldwide, the ministry will gain real-time insights into the entire pilgrim travel experience. This will allow it to improve crowd management, transportation and logistics, while ensuring the health and safety of the pilgrims at all times.
Dr. Benten commented: “The Ministry of Haj and Umrah’s digital transformation is aligned with our vision of making the pilgrim journey easy and predictable within an environment of peace and tranquility. As the number of pilgrims on Haj and Umrah grows steadily, we can easily scale up on the cloud
to enhance our operations. This helps improve the effectiveness of both our staff and infrastructure in order to optimize travel experiences for all.”
It is anticipated that the potential government IT cost saving from moving operations to the cloud will be 25-50 percent. This will be achieved by reducing hardware costs and exploiting synergies with existing cloud-based services.
Khaled Alsaleh, managing director, SAP Saudi Arabia, said: “By using our real-time analytics and Internet of Things solutions in the cloud, the Ministry of Haj and Umrah can enhance travel processes, optimize transportation routes, and support digital payments for the more than 2 million pilgrims from 168 countries who arrive in the holy city of Makkah each year. We are pleased to play an important role in supporting the Ministry of Haj and Umrah in providing a peaceful, more enjoyable, safe travel and visit experience.”
The announcement follows SAP’s commitment earlier this year to invest SR285 million ($76 million) over four years to create a digital hub that supports the digital transformation of the Ministry of Haj and Umrah.
The investment came under the banner of a new initiative “INVEST SAUDI”. With the advent of this program the Kingdom’s investment attraction and promotion plans are witnessing an accelerated progress. INVEST SAUDI forms part of the National Transformation Plan. The aims are to consolidate efforts in identifying, developing and marketing the vast opportunities across sectors that Saudi Arabia has to offer for multi-national, regional and local investors. — SG