e-Land Applications Service
Ministry of Housing

The Problem

Land Applications Service is one of the services provided by the Ministry of Housing for citizens and business firms wishing to obtain residential or Commercial/Industrial land in the Sultanate of Oman. The ministry, from time to time, announces the availability of the land plots in the Sultanate. Citizens/Business firms can apply for the land. The government has put some eligibility conditions and if the applicant meets those conditions, land would be allocated to them.

Traditionally, the applicants would have to submit the manually filled application form along with the required documents to the Ministry of Housing via the headquarters or through the various regional offices in 7 regions and 2 governorates or through the post offices where the Ministry has tie-up with to provide that service. However, since there is only 1 office per region, it was very difficult for the citizens to submit the application and follow-up with the status of its approval. The process involved was not known to all and was not transparent. In most of the cases, the citizens had to travel long distances to submit and follow up. Since the government is giving free land, the number of application was enormous and it was a tedious job to categorize and scrutinize. Many applications were rejected simply because they did not meet the eligibility criteria. The process was really time-consuming.

This manual application created several problems such as;

1. Overcrowded and chaos at the offices were the service was delivered.
2. Eligible applicants losing fair opportunity because usually there would be a time frame in which the application has to be submitted.
3. Loss of applications and the attached documents while transporting the physical documents between the post office and the ministries regional offices.
4. Applicants overcrowding at the ministry offices to know the status of their request and the action taken.
5. Difficulties in tracking incomplete applications like lack some of the required document as attachment. (Such cases are not rejected, but the applicant is contacted again to furnish full details)
6. Tedious data entry into the Ministries business application (Land Information System) and overloaded of work to check if the applicant meets the conditions as well as ensure the availability of the attached documents.
7. Increase in the number of paper files which led to an urgent need to increase the number of physical cabinets to store these files and the difficulty of referring to it and the necessity of archive it.
8. Difficulty to administer changes. According to the Land Law the citizen is awarded the land in his place of residence or his place of work as he prefers, but in some cases the citizen may prefers his request, for example, in the place of residence, but later on he wishes to transfer his application to the place of his work and this require from the Ministry to transfer the request and its documents to where he wanted manually. In this procedure, the request must be transferred by an official letter from the ministry , archive it and transfer it to the authority where he wants, which sometimes leads to the loss of this file and delaying the action taken to sometimes a period up to more than two months . In addition, the ministry seeks to facilitate transactions of the citizen and providing the service at any time and in any place whatsoever.

The manual application for land took 4-6weeks to be completed for Residential and 4-6 months for Commercial Land application.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The best alternative was to offer the service online to the citizens. The implementation of the electronic forms where planned in three phases. In the first phase, the residential land request for the citizens was put online in parallel with the existing manual process. In the second phase, the commercial/Industrial land request for the business firms was also put on live. The phase 1 and 2 were considered as separate since the process involved and the fields captured were in these phases were entirely different. The third phase was planned as a complete switch over to the online forms and stopping the manual forms which are running in parallel.

For that, the citizens/business firms were first allowed to make a profile with the ministry of housing website using the user profile service. Each user has his own authentication details to login to his account. The user is then allowed to login to their account and allowed to fill the electronic form. They have to upload the required documents in pdf or jpeg format. The system checks the eligibility conditions and validates the application and attachments. If the application is found valid, the application is posted and a confirmation SMS is send to the user with this application ID. The citizen can login any time to check his status and to see the action taken on his application. The back end system of the application provides an interface to the users in the Ministry to recheck the application and the attachments associated with it. If some data is missing, it is alerted to the citizens through SMS using the SMS gateway integrated with the system and the status is also updated in the online application so that the citizen can see the status. The citizen can login and fill the missing data or upload the missing attachment. If the application is found to be valid by the user who verifies the application at the ministry, it is automatically transferred to the business ERP, the Land Information System.

To be transparent with the process, the application ID allocated is a running number. And the land allocation for the accepted applications is given on a first come first serve basis. Moreover, the allocation of the land and the application IDs are published in the website.

During the second phase, to increase the reachability, the online forms were made available to 550 SANAD offices and post offices where citizens who don’t have access to IT resources can apply. Each such office had unique authentication credentials to the online system so that they can login and post the applications.
The electronic system is designed based on revised processes and facilitate the applications and the Ministry staff processing the application. With the electronic system, application for land is processed within 2 weeks. The process of submitting an application, verification of eligibility and validity till up loading to the internal system takes 2 weeks. The process of land allotment depends on the availability of plots (lands) in the region plan.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Ministry seeks to create better services for citizens and reduce the time effort for both the citizen and the ministry. The Directorate General of Planning and Studies collaborated with all divisions concern in the ministry especially the land authority design, to create the system and implemented it.
The Ministry of Regional Municipalities was also contacted and contributed to this system. Great emphasis was given to gather proper users’ requirements. Hence a survey was conducted to gather feedback from citizens and various stakeholders.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The key objective of the system was to automate the residential land request system using internet and web-technologies so as to eliminate the existing paper-based manual procedure and hence providing better services from the Ministry of Housing to the citizens of the Sultanate of Oman. The Directorate of Land in corporation with the Department of Information Technology formulated the action plan. The team was aware that an immediate switch over from the existing manual system to the automated system would be difficult to achieve. Educating the staff and citizen about the new web based system would be also be time consuming.

Hence, the strategy was to offer both manual and online service in parallel for the first and second years and complete switching to the online system from the third year onwards. As part of the strategy, the online system was opened to the public in December 2008. Concurrently, the manual system was also functioning. The response from the public for the online system was tremendous that in first two years, as many as 40,000 applications were registered online. By the end of year 2010, the manual system was completely removed and the all the transactions are done through online system. The application had two interfaces. The web interface is exposed to the internet for the citizens for request online service. A backend application verifies the online applications and helped the ministry user to take a decision on the request.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The development of the system was done by the Department of IT of the Ministry of Housing. The process had three phases.

Phase 1 – Residential Land Request System

In Phase 1, the applications for residential land were put online. It was a kind of parallel run where the manual system also co-existed. The data from the e-service were ported to the Land information system (LIS) automatically and the data from the manual system were entered manually into the LIS during this period. The process involved in the development of the system in Phase 1 as below.

1) Analyzing existing manual system of residential land requisition (Requirement Analysis 01 NOV 08 to 01 DEC 08).
2) Preparing software requirement specification document (SRS) for the proposed automated e-land requisitioning system.
3) Create System Design for the new e-land requisition system (03 DEC 08 to 15 DEC 08)
4) Coding and testing of the new system. (17 DEC 08 to 30 JAN 09)
5) Preparing help documents and release document.
6) Deployment of the new system for production environment and provide training.
7) Release the application to the users (14-FEB-09)
8) Handling different types of Maintenance Work such as Ad-Hoc and MR (Maintenance requests) are covered under Maintenance contract.

Phase 2 – Commercial/Industrial Land Request System

In Phase 2, the commercial/Industrial Land Request System was put on live. The procedure, fields captured, rules involved and the process/workflow for requesting for residential and commercial/industrial land were entirely different. Hence the module had to be re-designed. Since the phase 1 was highly successful, this time the committee decided to stop manual system and depend only online version of this service. Gaining from the previous experience and learning, it was much easier to for the team to execute phase 2. Since the service is offered only online, it needed care to address the needs of those citizens who were IT illiterate or for those who does not have access to internet or PC. So the services are also offered through 550 SANAD offices (citizen help center) and through post offices. These offices were having their unique authorization to login to the system and post the request for the citizens. The citizens were alerted the status of their service requests through SMS. The system development lifecycle was similar to the Phase 1. It was completed on 30th March 2011 and was put live to the business on 4th April 2011.

In the Phase 3, the Manual system existed in the phase 1 was removed. This was done on August 6’ 2011 and ever since, the Ministry is fully of electronic form to deliver land request service.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
There were objections from some officials to provide this service online because of fear of the inaccuracy of the data recorded and attached documents to be sent through electronic form. Through discussions and regular meetings these officials were educated on the benefits and the process of automation. Once they were convinced that in case of errors in data input or lack of clarity of the attached documents or lack of its completeness, applicants can be informed electronically via SMS to revised, re-scan and download the required documents through the website of the Ministry.

Some citizens also expressed their fears that online application may not be effective as there is no receipt given for their application upon filing unlike the manual system. As a result, there were numerous calls and enquiry made by the applicants to inquire about the seriousness of applications submitted online. However, it was solved through education and awareness in various media.
Another problem related to the collection of fees for the application, as electronic payment were not available through the site and the majority of citizens do not have credit cards. This problem was solved by making the collection of application fees subsequent to the completion of procedures and at the advent of the applicant to the Ministry to ballot for the land.
During peak time, too many requests were received and the servers were clogged by the traffic of data posting and attachment upload. The Applications were hosted at a webserver at the Ministry of Housing data center. To overcome this, three web servers are installed and is load-balanced using a hardware based load balancing device (F5-BigIP).

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Financial Resource

All development resources are in house. Hardware purchased were 2 servers costing OMR 5,000 or US$13,000. Other hardware and software are ridden on the IT infrastructure of the Ministry. They include MS IIS, MS Service 2008 and Oracle 10g R2 Database

Human Resources

The feasibility study, Analysis, Design and Development, Implementation and Support of the project were managed and conducted by the IT project team from the Ministry of Housing. With the help of business users and the subject matter experts from different departments of the Ministry, the team was able to gather all required information, formulate a project plan and execute it successfully within the time limit. The entire IT department worked as a team and helped the project team to execute the task without compromising on support of existing projects. By doing the task themselves, the team helped the Ministry to save time and financials associated in outsourcing the project. After finishing the project, the application was hosted in the web servers of the Ministry of Housing in its data center. Hence, the deployment and hosting costs were also saved. Post implementation support was also done by the project team. The team solved the citizen’s queries and issues on call and email support. The team was also involved in online discussion forums regarding this subject to help the users solve their issues.
The electronic Land Requisition Project Team Organization comprised a team of 7 personnel. The major responsibilities of the team are listed as below.
Program Manager:
• Periodically monitor project related activities and do a status check on the health of the overall project
• Create Engagement level reports for the Management
• Identification and management of key risks / issues
• Capacity Planning and attend periodic meetings

Project Development and Delivery Manager:
• Responsible for the project
• Single point of contact for project related queries/issues
• Assess the progress, success and issues of the project continuously
• Responsible for all project deliveries
• Ensure that best practices are published and followed by the project team
• Coordinate interaction among project team towards delivery
• Participate in Technical as well as Functional delivery reviews

Team Members
• Prepare deliverables (SRS, System design document, Code, executables)
• Prepare test plan, test procedures and test logs
• Analyze and develop fixes for incidents assigned
• Review and test the fix
• Review test log and results
• Participate in peer reviews

Technical Infrastructure is as follows;
1) Software environment: Operating Systems: Windows XP/2003 Databases: ORACLE 10g MS Visual Studio, .NET framework. IIS
2) Hardware environment: Virtual Servers derived from Intel PC’s – Intel Pentium processor/ hard drive/ Monitor & Microsoft OS such as WIN 2003/XP and all other hardware required to perform the services like document scanning, printing and network communication.
3) Programming languages: ASP DOTNET, VB Script, JavaScript, XML, HTML, PL/SQL
4) Process Tools: MS-Office for documentation, VSS/ Manual control for configuration management and document control

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
It is possible for this initiative to be sustainable as long as the laws ensure that every citizen has the right to get a residential land when he reaches the legal age , as well as the Sultanate is distinguished by having a wide geographical area compared to the number of population which will ensure the sustainability of the service, provided that it should be within the framework of studied plans in the preparation of schemes that the competent authority intend to implement with a ratio equal to the applications volume which will be submitted and decisions will be taken in this regard, so there will be no accumulation of these requests.

Improving the standard of electronic service performance is currently underway to facilitate for citizens the submission of their applications quickly and easily, in addition to adding electronic payment feature via the website. Due to the success of the ministry's experiment in providing this service; it has developed electronic forms for other services.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The electronic Land Application System benefitted both the citizens and the Ministry.
From the citizens’ perspective, they do not have to go to the Ministry of Housing office to submit their application as they can access the web-based service anytime, anywhere. They save travelling fees (tax, fuel cost as well as time consuming to reach the ministry). They could check and follow-up on their applications as well as they could make amendments on application and attached documents electronically. With the reduction of fees for applications submitted via the internet to encourage them to use the service, more applications were received online. Submission through the internet, ministry charges the citizen 1 O.R (USD$2.6) for an application and through the post office the charge is 1.5 O.R (USD$3.8).
Through the popular Omani site for collaboration (Sablat Oman), the Ministry received comments, request, initiative of citizen participation in service and proper responses. The effectiveness of the system is also monitored via other medium such as mail, chat, telephonic support etc, to solve citizen’s problems and issues.
The Ministry on the other hand is able to provide better service through automation of the processes. The ability to check up the application and make amendments and transfer it easily and smoothly to other department without any mistake. The applicant receives the application id and using his application profile, he can login and change his details, do follow up, upload attachments etc.
In addition to the above, the ministry noticed how the ability of the Omani society to interact with the online service where the total of 40,000 requests has been submitted within 60 days. This confirmed the effectiveness of the programme. The success of this programme provides the Ministry with much confidence and enthusiasm to provide other electronic services to serve the citizen in the same effective and efficient manner.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Housing
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Siham Al-Harthy
Title:   Engeneer  
Telephone/ Fax:   00968 24681509
Institution's / Project's Website:   www.housing.gov.om
E-mail:   siham.al-harthi@housing.gov.om  
Address:   173
Postal Code:   100
City:   Muscat
State/Province:   Muscat
Country:   Oman

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