This article explores the DIGITAL framework’s relevance and application in GCC countries while proposing additional considerations tailored to the region’s unique cultural, regulatory, and strategic elements.


SwissCognitive Guest Article: Ayman Dayekh – “AI Success in GCC Countries: A Framework for Digital Transformation”


SwissCognitive_Logo_RGBThe more DIGITAL a company is, the higher the likelihood that their digital transformation–embedded AI projects will succeed.

In the high-stakes arena of digital transformation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) stands as both a herald of innovation and a beacon of caution. The narrative of AI’s potential in driving business transformation is well-documented, yet the road is littered with tales of both remarkable achievements and cautionary tales of ambition meeting reality. The academic discourse around these outcomes has given rise to frameworks aimed at guiding successful AI integration, among which the DIGITAL framework emerges as a beacon for managerial action in the tumultuous seas of digital transformation (Brock & Wangenheim, 2019).

Understanding the DIGITAL Framework

At its core, the DIGITAL framework identifies seven critical areas for managerial action and implementation in AI-driven digital transformation projects:

  • Data: The lifeblood of AI, where relevance, accuracy, and timeliness of data dictate the success of analytical problem-solving.
  • Intelligence: extends beyond operational efficiency, encapsulating the strategic integration of AI into business models, backed by managerial and technical prowess.
  • Grounded: Anchoring projects in reality, ensuring alignment with current business needs, and mapping out a clear implementation roadmap.
  • Integral: Digitalizing core business processes and ensuring seamless integration of technology into the organizational fabric.
  • Teaming: Identifying and collaborating with strategic partners to bolster the ecosystem and enhance the project’s success.
  • Agility: Maintaining organizational flexibility to swiftly adapt to market changes and emerging challenges.
  • Leadership: Cultivating a leadership mindset that embraces change, actively supports digital initiatives, and communicates progress effectively.

The GCC Context: A Tale of AI Ambition and Reality

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries[1], often celebrated for their bold strides in AI adoption, present a unique backdrop for the DIGITAL framework’s application. According to the 2023 Government AI Readiness Index, several GCC countries notably outperform global averages[2], signaling a regional commitment to embracing AI (Government AI Readiness Index, 2023). The first ministry of Artificial Intelligence (AI was established in October 2017 in United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to McKinsey research, Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to deliver real value in the Middle East’s Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—as much as $150 billion (Berglind, Fadia, & Isherwood, 2022).

However, this enthusiasm is not immune to the pitfalls of digital transformation, as evidenced by high-profile AI project challenges. Real-life examples, such as the ambitious yet ultimately recalibrated AI initiatives in projects across the region, highlight the critical need for a structured approach to AI integration. These examples underscore the importance of not just ambition but strategic, well-grounded planning in leveraging AI’s potential.

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Evolving the DIGITAL Framework for the GCC

Within the dynamic and diverse context of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, both existing elements of the DIGITAL framework and additional considerations assume enhanced significance due to the unique cultural, economic, and technological landscapes of the region.

Let’s explore some of these elements:

  1. Data sovereignty and localization are crucial in the GCC due to stringent data protection regulations and the emphasis on national security. Ensuring data is stored and processed within national borders aligns with regulatory requirements and builds trust in digital systems.
  2. The integration of cultural intelligence into AI systems is vital to ensure that technology solutions are culturally appropriate and sensitive. This is particularly important in a region with deep cultural and religious roots, ensuring technology adoption is smooth and respectful of local norms.
  3. Projects need to be grounded in the economic and social realities of the GCC, where there is a strong push towards diversification away from oil-dependency. This means AI and digital projects should support broader national visions, which focus on sustainable development, innovation, and knowledge-based economies.
  4. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) gain enhanced significance in the GCC, where the government often plays a pivotal role in economic initiatives. Collaboration between the public and private sectors can accelerate the adoption of AI and digital transformation, leveraging the strengths of both to achieve national development goals.
  5. Incorporating Islamic ethical considerations into AI development and deployment is significant for the GCC. Ensuring that AI applications comply with Islamic ethical standards can enhance societal acceptance and support.
  6. The GCC is home to a diverse population, including a significant number of expatriates. AI and digital solutions must be designed to cater to a wide range of cultural backgrounds and languages, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility.
  7. As AI and automation change job landscapes, focusing on education, reskilling, and upskilling programs becomes crucial. The GCC’s investment in education technology (EdTech) and vocational training can support a smooth transition for the workforce into the digital economy.

In summary, the unique context of the GCC not only amplifies certain aspects of the DIGITAL framework but also introduces additional considerations that are critical for the successful implementation of AI projects in the context of Digital Transformation. These adaptations reflect the region’s ambitions, cultural values, and socio-economic goals, ensuring that digital transformation efforts are both effective and aligned with the GCC’s vision for the future.

Conclusion: The Imperative for an Adapted Framework

The necessity of a tailored approach to AI integration in the GCC is highlighted by the region’s ambitious AI roadmap juxtaposed against the global backdrop of AI project outcomes. The disparity between the envisioned impact of AI projects and their actual realization calls for a structured framework that not only accommodates but thrives on the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the GCC market.

This discourse invites practitionairs, professionals, and scholars alike to engage in a critical evaluation of the DIGITAL framework’s applicability in the GCC. Through academic rigor and professional insights, this research aims to contribute a contextualized adaptation of the framework, ensuring that the GCC’s AI ambitions are met with success.

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Brock, J. K.-U., & Wangenheim, F. v. (2019). Demystifying AI: What Digital Transformation Leaders Can Teach You about Realistic Artificial Intelligence. California Management Review, 61(4), 110-134.

(2023). Government AI Readiness Index. Oxford Insights.

Berglind, N., Fadia, A., & Isherwood, T. (2022). The potential value of AI—and how governments could look to capture it. McKinsey.

[1] The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, is a regional, intergovernmental, political, and economic union comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

[2] UAE (18), KSA (29), Qatar (34), Oman (50), Bahrain (56), Kuwait (69)

About the Author:

Ayman DayekhAyman Dayekh is the founder and Managing Director of AZRE Consulting LLC and Board President of American Institute of Business & Technology (AIBT). With 20+ years of experience across multiple industries, he has experienced tremendous success, and gained some valuable skills and experiences along the way. Throughout those years, Ayman was accountable for delivering a wide portfolio of projects in government, real estate, freight management, education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, and banking.