Ministry of Higher Education

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s economy has been primarily dependent of consumable oil. The Kingdom has realized the importance of working of diversifying its resources and adding more sustainable economy sources. At the top of the list of initiatives the Kingdom selected to implement was the transformation of the Saudi society into Information Society by the year 2020. This transformation aims to institutionalize many non-oil dependent industries in the country where Saudi nationals become the primary resource. Hence, the need to prepare a generation of Saudis with international education and training emerged. King Abdullah Ibn AbdulAziz AlSaud, of Saudi Arabia, had initiated a national strategic program to provide educational scholarships opportunities to Saudi nationals to study abroad. This 15 years long initiative enables Saudi citizens, equally females and males, to select to pursue their education and training in universities around the world. Despite the fact that several educational scholarship programs have always existed for Saudi students, this specific program, which is named King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), created a huge flux of students applying to and getting enrolled in an increasing number of educational institutions in more than 60 countries. The program also availed the opportunities for sponsored students to be accompanied by their spouses and families. It also accepts non-sponsored Saudis abroad who distinguish themselves academically into the program granting them full schoolarships. The growing number of students and their companions resulted in laborious operations and administrations at the Saudi Cultural Missions in the host country where the student is placed. Applying for financial support, for example, would take days for a student to receive. Likewise, applying for a flight ticket had to be made weeks ahead of time due to the complex manual work. Students would need to physically visit the cultural missions to fill in the required paperwork and provide the necessary proofs. By the year 2013, there were more than 80,000 students studying in the United States only. Another 15,000 in the UK and over 150,000 students worldwide. These services, and many others, took much longer time to fulfill especially in missions supervising larger number of students. Hence, the need came to think of a more efficient way to serve these students in a faster and more economical manner.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The growing complexity of supervising and serving sponsored students has caused the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) in Saudi Arabia to seek an efficient and effective public solution that is electronic in nature. The solution should allow transactions to be made anytime anywhere. This nature of straight through processing was necessary to reduce the human intervention hence the complexity of processing students’ requests. The growth of sponsored students and sponsoring agencies scaled substantially over the first few years. Reaching out to this complex grid of stakeholders was absolutely necessary to be made almost instantaneously. These requirements were met by the implementation of the online Safeer Program. Safeer employed the basis of an electronic government platform through a number of products. These products included Safeer Student, Safeer Workflow, Safeer Financials, Safeer Mobile, Safeer Documents, Safeer Application, Safeer Graduates, Safeer Reports and Safeer Plus, with each product developed and operated toward serving a specific segment of users in an online way. The impact of introducing Safeer made process measurements easy. At any given time, figures related to students requests processed, pending, accepted, or rejects at any Cultural Mission (CM) was easily presentable. Rich graphical interfaces to depict transaction flow measurements with clear identification of bottleneck and points of congestions are viewable by the different decision makers in the Ministry, sponsoring agencies, and at the CMs’ levels providing the tools needed to make informed decisions to accommodate needs as they occur.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Safeer Program initiative is unique in a number of dimensions. First, Safeer is the vehicle for all students’ requests processing while making available the option of document management capabilities. Safeer integrates information obtained from different sources (like other government agencies) for the purpose of supporting the decision making process. Safeer also resulting in standardizing work practices and procedures in all the Saudi Culture Missions around the world. Additionally, Safeer operates around the clock to serve different users located in different geographical locations and working according to different calendars. The backend processes of Safeer integrate with many Saudi national databases through online and secured integration layers. Using preemptive alerts, Safeer also takes a proactive approach in aiding the students to manage the non-academic part of their studies abroad. Moreover, Safeer’s dashboards give immediate, accurate, and complete information for the decision makers to review the KASP progress and take the proper correction actions.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The fundamental strategy used to implement this initiative was the incremental implementation driven by the significantly large number of stakeholders. In this effort, there are more than 35 CMs, around 140 sponsoring agencies, and close to 150,000 students by the end of 2013. The incremental implementation strategy was adopted primarily not to interrupt the existing manual operations that could cause service downtime. In addition, the different stakeholders have their own organizational cultures that may not be easily changed by the introduction of Safeer. The geographical distribution of these stakeholders added another demand for the incremental implementation. The resistance to change was forecasted to be immense at the beginning of the implementation and the slice-and-dice approach was a key to convince users of the value of this change and how it would result is enhancing the efficiency of the workplace. For example, smaller agencies and CMs were targeted at the beginning of the implementation to pilot with and to build and improve the implementation learning curve. Most complex workplaces were left to the final stages of the implementation intentionally as implementation maturity was built over the course of the program.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Being the primary responsible agency of administering King Abdullah’s vision, the Ministry of Higher Education initiated this effort. The effort started as part of a major initiative made by the Deputy of Planning and Information of the Ministry. Saudi Cultural Missions engaged in the implementation early enough and were driven by the Ministry’s leadership and the immense need to simplify the increasing operational loads at their offices. Later on, sponsoring agencies became part of the implementation in a rather staged manner. It is important to mention that the effort was made solely internally using the resources of the Ministry. Analysts, designers, developers, testers, and operators were all Ministry’s staff. A number of consultancy tasks were made during the design and implementation of this effort as needed.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Safeer Program is a Saudi government strategic initiative. The Saudi government sponsored, and still sponsors, the program. Generous funds are allocated as part of the national budget. Program resources are made available by direct hiring and/or contracting agreements. Resources are solely allocated to operating and enhancing the program and its products. Future resources and funds will be directed to expanding the services and to further automate manual operations. Currently, the program is initiating direct integration with a number of main stakeholders on the system level. A call center with an interactive voice response application is being planned for. As for the human resources –and as explained in question 5-, Safeer was envisioned, designed, implemented and tested by tens of experts and employees of the ministry, the cultural missions and the sponsoring agencies in a staged process starting from the ministry’s employees and affected students and ending with the external sponsoring agencies that expressed interest in managing their scholarships and students through Safeer.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Safeer Program had undergone a number of major milestones of implementation. In 2008, the program starts with the deployment of its core database aimed as a repository of students’ documents and credentials. This was soon followed by the launch of the scholarship admission portal that would allow students to apply for scholarship online. Safeer Financial was then released to automate the students payrolls and monthly stipends. The next milestone of Safeer implementation was the deployment of Safeer Workflow, which allowed students to initiate requests online and CM to process such requests without the need for any physical interaction between students and their respective CMs. The program is under massive improvement and enhancement to add further services and to integrate with sponsoring agencies on the system levels.Safeer Program had undergone a number of major milestones of implementation. In 2008, the program starts with the deployment of its core database aimed as a repository of students’ documents and credentials. This was soon followed by the launch of the scholarship admission portal that would allow students to apply for scholarship online. Safeer Financial was then released to automate the students payrolls and monthly stipends. The next milestone of Safeer implementation was the deployment of Safeer Workflow, which allowed students to initiate requests online and CM to process such requests without the need for any physical interaction between students and their respective CMs. Another major and successful milestone was the launch of direct automated system-to-system integration with the sponsoring agencies to further facilitate the management of their scholarships. The program has reached a very advanced state where it is currently providing added-value services that are outside the scope of administration like Safeer Graduates and Safeer plus. Safeer is under massive improvement and enhancement to add further such value-added services.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Beyond its role in efficiently administering and overseeing the KASP effort, the MoHE also needed to ensure that educational outcomes were in-line with the program's vision and strategic objectives. It was thus essential to establish the necessary platform to allow KASP's stakeholders to evaluate its ongoing progress and detailed status. Such information would be critical if stakeholders were to be expected to proactively manage any gaps within their domains of responsibility. And as the old adage suggests, you can only manage what you measure. Accordingly, Safeer incorporated the necessary processes and technology to collect, analyze, and report on a wide range of service level quality and program performance, measures. In order to develop a relevant set of metrics, Safeer created an internal team to obtain the input of individuals responsible for the various program areas to be measured. Once stakeholders identified the key performance results they were aiming for, it became a simpler task for Safeer to establish the necessary performance indicators. This process of seeking wider involvement in the effort of defining metrics also helped Safeer obtain buy-in from stakeholders. Among the key metrics being tracked by Safeer are (Area/Metric pairs): • Safeer Service Monitoring , Availability, and Incident Management: o Incidents restored within target period o Downtime o Mean time to repair o Mean time between failure o Mean time between system incidents • CM Outreach and Network o Number of participating KASP scholars o Number of scholars that self-registered on the Safeer Student module o Number of system users within a CM o Number of KASP scholar supervisors o Electronic interaction with students o Electronic interaction with employees and payroll o Generation of electronic inventory reports • CM Workflow Digitization and Efficiency o Ratio of electronic transactions versus paper correspondence o Volume of electronic inbound and outbound correspondence o Number of system discrepancies o Average number of applications submitted per CM system user o Percentage of delayed /pending versus all transactions o Date of oldest delayed / pending transactions o Percentage of student files that have been archived o Total number of scanned documents per system user

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
There were major obstacles confronting the implementation and success of Safeer Program. Firstly, it was found that every stakeholder has its own way of doing work. The internal operational practices among stakeholders had few similarities. These large differences in how stakeholders run their internal processes made it extremely hard to arrive to a common model that could be implemented for all stakeholders. This resulted in a great deal of customization at the business and presentation layers. Governing and administering the changes needed to be made on the program was difficult to manage and orchestrate. Many iterations of business refinements had to be conducted to ensure that the automation of manual processes and operations are made with the least possible impact on the stakeholders’ workplaces. Secondly, given the business nature of the different stakeholders and their vast distribution around the world demanded a 24/7 support and operations from the program side. As a result, services had to be monitored and measured continuously to ensure availability and user satisfaction. Additionally, given the massive size of the program implementation and the huge number of users scatters in the premises of the many stakeholders, information security and data confidentiality has always been a major concern. To overcome the potential problem of information leakage and other threats on information security, the program runs information protection awareness sessions on different users levels and conducts a number of precautions on the system level. Perhaps the most challenging aspect in the implementation of this program was that no similar programs were available at the time of staring the program. Had similar programs existed, knowledge and expertise of such programs would have been explored and benefited from. Safeer Program can be considered of the pioneering programs that serve students, cultural missions, and sponsoring agencies in a near paperless environment.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The implementation of Safeer program has improved the public services through fulfilling requirements of many stakeholders. For instance: • KASP scholars wanted to easily access the procedures for application and modification of their study details, follow-up on a wide range of inquiries, and seek counsel regarding their financial aid reimbursements and scholarship awards; • The Saudi Arabian Cultural Missions (CMs) needed to ensure scholarship pathways were as smooth as possible, and thus required a streamlined means to interface with higher educational institutions abroad, monitor and support students’ progress in their studies, and provide case-level reports to the MoHE; • Scholarship destinations required a means to electronically provide feedback of scholars' academic performance, support the request and evaluation of student transcripts, and coordinate the financial processing of matriculation; • KASP managers at the MoHE needed a way to manage and respond to requests and inquiries sent by CMs, archive all official scholarship documents, and obtain relevant data to conduct detailed analysis of the program's efficacy; and • Program managers in other government ministries, such as the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, and General Organization for Social Insurance, also needed to facilitate electronic exchange of information for KASP-related transactional, performance management and reporting purposes. In 2012, the vision of having an integrated system to support the various requirements of KASP stakeholders was crystallized into the modular application suite of Safeer. The Safeer system was completely designed and developed by a dedicated project team at the MoHE with the eventual goal of enabling all KASP-related transactions to be conducted electronically without any need for physical paperwork. Safeer currently has a total of 11 modules and 90 electronic services straddling 4 service areas, namely academic services, financial services, administration services and value-added services. The system enables parties from different departments within the MoHE, representatives at the CM's, KASP scholars, and related parties at the scholarship destinations abroad to use these services. The primary functionalities offered by Safeer modules to various program stakeholders are described below: • Safeer Applications: This portal and service layer enables students to apply online for scholarships and MoHE to electronically and instantly verify students’ credentials and supporting documents via direct integration with other private and government agencies. • Safeer Study: This data repository and profile module allows access to all scholar information, thereby providing the MoHE and CMs with the means to monitor student progress, and interlink these entities with scholarship destinations abroad. • Safeer Workflow: This portal supports workflow management for all electronic requests to the different departments at the MoHE, CMs, and the various scholarship destinations abroad. • Safeer Students: This portal eliminates a lot of the manual processes previously required of KASP scholars by providing students with a range of frequently used electronic services. • Safeer Financial and Administration: This module facilitates all financial transactions between the MoHE and the various scholarship destinations abroad. • Safeer Mobile: This module allows KASP scholars to make requests to the MoHE through a mobile platform. • Safeer Documents: This module allows storage of all student documents and files electronically. It also allows CMs to be linked with the MoHE to simplify the transactions between both parties. • Safeer Reports: This module allows the MoHE to create and review reports about students and system performance of the KASP effort and the Safeer program. • Safeer Academic Institutions: This portal and data repository provides the public with a huge database of the accredited academic institutions and the programs they offer enabling the prospective students to verify the credentials of their intended academic institutions. • Safeer Graduates: This module provides an environment where graduates can market themselves and present their skills and C.Vs. It provides a sort of job marketplace providing a great opportunity for graduates and employers to meet. • Safeer Plus: This under-development module intends to provide the students with value-added services for personal development and knowledge/skill acquisition.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
One could confidently argue that Safeer Program and its products are sustainable. The leadership force behind the program is fundamental in making this argument valid. The Saudi government provided, and still provides, the financial support needed to operate and develop this program. The growing number of stakeholders interest in integrating this program with their own systems in a straight-through-processing manner further reflects the idea that Safeer was made to last. In fact, the interest has been even expanded in exploring ways to standardize the underlying operational tasks Safeer operates. The standardization indicates the well to move to higher levels of program maturity. Safeer is sought to be a service provider to many electronic government programs in Saudi Arabia. Safeer is planned to integrate with programs that manages the Saudi labor market, national human resources planning and development, and in the programs that manages both general and higher education planning and development. Safeer is a unique program that could serve as a model for other nations to adopt. The experiment of Safeer is easily sharable with the rest of the world through conferences and seminars.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Safeer Program has tremendously transformed how students interact with government. Students are no longer looked at as citizens but as customers with themes such as customers’ satisfaction in mind. This paradigm shift of how citizens interact with the government has been leading to improving trust and worth of the role governments have towards its citizens. Although Safeer currently does not directly result in improving citizen participation and elements of government transparency and openness, it indeed resulted in raising the citizens’ expectation from the Saudi government. It is planned to publish performance reports to selected stakeholders as a way of monitoring their performance and enhancing service delivery. The door is open to integrating more components of e-government themes that would perhaps result in increasing citizens participation in such programs.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Higher Education
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mohammad Alsaeed
Title:   Consultant  
Telephone/ Fax:   +966508810236
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Riyadh
Postal Code:  
City:   Riyadh
State/Province:   Riyadh

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