Geographical building permits system
Jeddah Municipality

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
There are many factors which contribute towards development and growth and which contribute towards improving the lives of the weak and the vulnerable in society. Some of these factors are high profile and gain much attention, for example relative child poverty, the rights of women and seeking equality for the disabled and in economic terms GDP growth and levels of education and infrastructure. Others have a lower profile but this does not mean that they are not important, even critical, cogs in the wheels of growth and one of these is the systems that enable the systematic, orderly and equitable development of urban (and rural) areas. Through the issuing of building permits, a government and its citizens are able to ensure that a fully integrated environment is created which benefits the present as well as the future and the need to modernise the system for authorising (or not authorising) plans and drawings as well as requesting changes to them was recognised more than a decade ago in the Municipality of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. As a result, several methods were employed which included a tracking system and the use of internet enabled digital technology. This was, at the time, considered as being a big step towards modernity but even though the amount of paperwork was reduced and even though user information could be gathered online, the key issues had not been resolved. This is because the amount of time it took to process applications was not significantly reduced, there was a lack of integration between departments within the Municipality and the fact that human interface was often required meant not only that time was consumed but also that errors still occurred, one example being the system for land registration. An investigation by the Municipality found that under this apparently modernised and automated but still disjointed system, the following problems remained: • Most citizens were not aware that improvements to the system had been made and they continued to feel that it was a barrier to progress, a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution • Submitted permit requests were often initially accepted despite an unacceptable level of irregularities and errors, which meant that weeks were often taken up in ensuring that re-submissions were of sufficient accuracy • The efforts of employees were often wasted due to bottlenecks and inefficiencies in parts of the system, some of which had potentially serious consequences, for example missing spatial and visual determination of protected areas, an uneven distribution of tasks, a lack of accessibility to the Land Registration Department by staff from the Building Permits Department, a tracking system which often did not function properly and difficulties in identifying potential land violations • In an overall sense, the automated system was not fundamentally flawed, nor were the employees inefficient or unable to do their jobs. It was the incompatibility of the manual aspects and the automated aspects which was creating difficulties and these were negating the potential benefits of automation

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The initiative can be seen as having several sources which progressively proposed the solution over a period of time. At the core was the recognition by the Government of Saudi Arabia in the early years of this century that the system of government required modernising and a vision that this could be best achieved by transforming, over time, from a pre-modern and bureaucratic system to one which reflected the best world practices of e-governance. At the forefront of this initiative was the Municipality of Jeddah, which was an early mover towards an automated system as described above (see previous section). However, this automated system did not resolve the core problems and a comprehensive review by the Municipality identified key points where the system and the human element (both users and employees) met and which were causing bottlenecks and inefficiencies. From this came the identification of a key system change and enhancement which would lead towards a full automation by enabling the easy detection of the effects of building footprints as well as land violations and ensure that submitted permit requests were efficiently and equitably tracked. This extended automation would further allow for the re-engineering of some parts of departments in order that the output of employees was optimised and always moving in a positive direction. The most important change in the system, which can be seen as being proposed by the Municipality following its extensive review, was for an automated spatial validation system which could check and transform static drawings provided by a range of departments and from user stakeholders to a CAD format which could then be used seamlessly throughout the permit granting process. The main target audience for this initiative is the people of Saudi Arabia because although there is no direct connection to this wider stakeholder group, there are strong and important indirect ones. As building permits are more efficiently dealt with, and as they more accurately reflect the underlying policies of the Municipality and the Government, there will be better use of ‘brown field’ sites (existing urban areas that can be redeveloped) as well as new land that is being built upon. The new efficiencies encourage more applications, which in turn has created higher levels of competition in the construction industry, which can only be of benefit to those buying or renting their homes. One estimate of the extent of the changes made is that now 87% of the services have been automated and the dynamics of the system and its inherent ability to constantly evolve can be seen by the fact that since 2008 the issuing of building permits has been unified under one municipal authority and from the fact that by 2009 the electronic system for residential permits was a fully electronic system and by 2011 this had been extended to further areas such as commercial and service sector buildings as well as residential ones. Subsequent to this, a fast track system has been introduced to enable the fast issuing of permits in economic sectors that have been identified as being key drivers of non-oil growth, for example engineering offices.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
At one level, the initiative was creative and innovative because it effectively digitalised that which previously required close human scrutiny. At another level, it was creative and innovative because it challenged held norms and values, assumptions that the system could not be digitalised to the extent that it has been. Before the final and important linkages had been made in the digitalisation chain, there was an air of belief that the best had to be made of what existed then. By thinking beyond this parameter, by asking questions such as ‘why not,’ there was a sea change in thinking and belief which effectively changed a stratified and bureaucratised entity onto one that became innovative and forward-looking. In more specific terms, the initiative allowed for functions such as the mapping of land and building permits to be completed by an automated validation tool and for submitted information to be via computer-aided-design (CAD) rather than by the scanning of paper drawings. Alongside these, there has been an operations support system, which includes training for users and stakeholders, and for engineering office users in how they can best produce and submit their work.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
While it would be tempting to outline and itemise the whole history of implementation from 2004 when the decision was made to automate, this would dilute the important elements which brought success to an otherwise mediocre system and which is, effectively the initiative that is being presented. Although the Municipality is richly endowed with human resources, it did not have sufficient skills to design and implement the system to the required international standards and best practices. Therefore, the task was tendered and a contract awarded to the winning bidder, namely Esri Northeast Africa. In partnership with the Municipality and other key stakeholders (for example employees and users), this company was responsible for the implementation of the whole project. This main project and its project teams which carried out parts of the implementation was not managed in the form being a customer and service provider company but, rather, by the adoption of an agile software development approach, which was considered to be the most appropriate for this type of project. This is because it was more exploratory that iterative, where the project management team developed the system to the specific requirements of the Municipality, learning and exploring solutions as they created it in partnership with other stakeholders. This approach not only meant that the requirements of the Planning and other departments could be accounted for but also those of users through collaboration and interchanges between the project teams and the project management. The development steps can be divided into five and in chronological order were: Stage 1 In this initial stage, there was a comprehensive analysis of the existing processes and the software that supported them. The duration of this stage was approximately 2 months. Stage 2 The system was developed over a five month period during this second stage, which included testing and piloting what was called the ‘GIS for Building Permits’ system. Stage 3 This stage was mainly concerned with data-related activities which included the standardisation of data and its migration to the system and it lasted for approximately 2 months. Stage 4 This stage, which lasted for approximately one month, was mainly concerned with building the capacity of the new system to users, for example other departments internal to the Municipality and engineering offices. Stage 5 The fifth stage involved the provision of operational support and lasted for 12 months. Although these stages are self contained and were of a given duration, it is important to note that not only is monitoring an ongoing process but also that there was a monthly system for reporting as well as a number of workshops during the duration of the stages described above.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
In a wider sense, there were a number of key stakeholders, the Government of Saudi Arabia and its ministries through which the original e-governance plan was developed, delegated and financed. More directly, there were a number of groups of stakeholders who contributed to the design and/or implementation, including: • The citizens of Saudi Arabia in the important sense that they created a demand for the building and development of the city • Investors in land and building who recognised the demands of citizens and transformed them into concrete and financed plans • The engineering offices who converted the plans into workable and practical designs that could be submitted to the municipal Planning office. This group had a further input in the design and implementation process as they were regularly consulted and their ideas and expectations were incorporated into the system as it evolved • The management and employees of the Municipality generally and the Planning Office specifically as they were involved in and were a part of the team which, alongside their specialist partners from Esri Northeast Africa, created and implemented the system. • Esri Northeast Africa was the company appointed to design and implement the whole project, albeit that this was done in constant consultation with the needs of the Municipality and of the engineering offices • A further key stakeholder with a strong interest in the initiative and which was very much involved in the implementation and design of it is the Electric Authority. This company must not only have satisfactory plans for the provision of services within building designs and plans but must also be able to plan for future utilisation and demand and this can be optimally achieved by monitoring and being involved in the city planning processes.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
With regard to financing, the initiative was funded through and therefore incorporated with the existing budgets of the Municipality. The technical costs were the necessary infrastructure upgrades for the Municipality in order that the system could be technically enabled, hardware and software and the costs of providing technical and operational support and upgrades to the system as they were identified, created and installed. Human resource costs can be divided across stakeholders and Esri Northeast Africa provided those that were necessary to manage the project through all of the phases of its development and implementation life cycles. This included project initiation, identifying the requirements of the project as well as its specifications, design, implementation, testing, installation and post implementation review. Alongside this, the company was closely involved in the identification of stakeholder requirements, in developing these as feedback loops so that adjustments could be made where necessary and in assisting with the training of Municipality and engineering office staff. Further human resource investments included the maintaining of seamless communications with the project awardees and periodically formally reporting progress via workshop presentations. The Building Permits Department and the Municipality invested human resources in defining the project scope, monitoring the progress of it, coordinating and providing feedback and coordinating between internal and external stakeholders. They also liaised with stakeholders with regard to formal and informal (on the job) training and organised sessions where required. Other departments of the Municipality and external stakeholders also invested considerable human resources in the initiative. These included the Information Technology Department, which coordinated the implementation of integration points between contractors and the IT systems and the GIS Centre, which was involved in the monitoring process as well as with the implementation of integration points between contractors and GIS data and systems. The engineering offices provided feedback and suggestions for enhancing the system as well as testing it and the relationship management of engineering offices coordinated training and workshops for engineering offices and were involved in publicising system inauguration announcements.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
A number of concrete outputs can be identified and five of the most significant are: 1. Prior to the implementation of the initiative, it could take lengths of time to issue permits which were a minimum of 15 days and a maximum that is hard to quantify (as delays due to failures within the system and errors could mean very lengthy times). The time now required for the issuing of permits is 4 days. 2. One significant problem in the past, and which has been noted in a previous section, was the quality of building permit requests and the fact that they were very prone to errors. The new system ensures that they are free from these and are submitted in a consistent and templated format. 3. The efficiency of the new system and the fact that it does not allow for substantial errors to exist or for bottlenecks to develop means that employee time is now spent much more gainfully and positively; therefore, employee productivity has been considerably enhanced. 4. The uniformity of the new system and its spatial data output means that different departments and entities, such as planners and property registration offices, do not have to rework plans and drawings and therefore considerable time is saved by them, also enhancing their productivity. 5. The use of electronic bar-coding for permits means that they can easily be tracked and can easily be converted across uses, which may vary as the process continues, for example from Auto CAD to GIS format and then to PDF.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The primary monitoring task was taken on by the Building Permits Department as it was felt that they were in the best position to take on this responsibility and had a primary interest in ensuring that the initiative was not only successfully implemented but also had the dynamics for ongoing improvements and updating. Thus, a project implementation manager was appointed from the Department, with a coordinating role which entailed communicating with stakeholders and monitoring progress. In detail, this included the sending of a daily email asking for an update on work done (this did not mean that it was expected that there would be daily reporting but, rather, was an open invitation for feedback and the communication of any issues which may be impeding progress if project groups were off target with regard to reaching set milestones). Every two weeks this project implementation manager would convene a meeting to further discuss progress and to gain a good understanding of progress to date. Furthermore, Esri Northeast Africa held monthly meetings where they reported on and summarised activities and made recommendations with regard to the ongoing work. The need to plan and implement formal and informal training was identified at an early stage and this was also organised through the Building Permit Department and the Project Implementation Manager. It was believed that while this would be a continuous and ongoing need, its intensity should be focused on the period prior to full implementation and the first few months after it, with ongoing monitoring and evaluation as well as training for the period of one full year, after which this would be scaled down to routine monitoring and evaluation so that the then mature system could be updated without causing any serious disruption. The focus on the early period was vindicated as it was during the first four months that some employees were challenged by the changes. The above monitoring, evaluation and training activities were alongside the normal project contract requirements, where Esri Northeast Africa had a responsibility to regularly report to senior management, to formally report at the end of each milestone and to provide end of project implementation reports.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main problems that were encountered as well as the steps to overcome them are shown below: Adoption of new technology by employees Employees, and particularly those in bureaucratic working environments and cultures, are often resistant to change; however, for this initiative they were generally enthusiastic and recognised that there was a strong need to make the necessary alterations. However, while this enthusiasm existed in the Building Permits Department, the nature of the new technology and the extent to which the new practices and systems differed from the old one meant that many members of staff struggled to cope, particularly with the change from a CAD culture to a GIS and spatial one. This problem was overcome by the early recognition of it and the use of formal and informal training that was intensified as the implementation process proceeded. Alongside this, managers were encouraged to use their motivational and communication skills to encourage and reassure their staff. Capacity building, orientation and external training As the capacity of the system grew and was extended, staff members from other departments within the Municipality, as well as those at engineering offices, also had difficulties with their adaption to the new system. There was a common interest in ensuring that external as well as internal staffs were able to work with and use the new system; therefore, formal and informal training was extended to include these stakeholder groups. Infrastructure Despite improvements made, the infrastructure was unable to cope with the change to GIS and therefore had to be further upgraded, which cost time. Within the project timeframe was an allowance for unexpected events. Because of this, lost time was made up and the project remained on schedule.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Impact The functions of verifying plans and the ability to exchange drawings of land and buildings have always existed and this included cooperation and dealings between Municipality departments as well as with external stakeholders, notably engineering offices. Therefore, the problem was not the lack of a system but that the system was found out by the extent of development and growth within the nation and was becoming increasingly outdated in the modern world and in comparison with practices in developed countries. Against this background, the impact of the initiative is in having transformed the bridge of communication between the Building Permits Department and other departments and external stakeholders and in streamlining the inputs and outputs across this realm of activity. There is now a fully integrated cycle that begins with the receipt of the drawings spatially rather than in hard copy and develops this to the point where the permits are spatially returned to the originators complete with all necessary details and a barcode for diverse uses. Indeed, it can be argued that the whole cycle is wider, beginning with citizens and investors commissioning engineering offices and then being able to track the progress of their permit applications from that point to completion through a publicly accessible portal ( The further and less tangible impact is that rather than fearing delays and being put off from even applying for permits, people can now feel that the process is on their side and that they are a part of it, a part of the edifice of e-government that is being and has been developed and built in Saudi Arabia and that the people can have confidence in and ownership of. The impact on employees as well as on the working environment and organisational culture has also been positively enhanced. Working with the previous system meant a demoralizing amount of their time was spent in correcting mistakes and returning submissions for changes that had to be made by engineering offices before re-submitting. Enquiries and questions about why the process was taking so long had to be answered and justified. Now, there is a new confidence, a feeling that the Department is doing a good job, that there are good relationships with other departments and with external stakeholders, a positive and forward looking environment that is more dynamic and progressive than could have been imagined in the past. Concrete examples Apart from the key but more general examples of how the initiative has had an impact on the delivery of public services shown above, the staff of the Department had, in the past, to deal with reams of paperwork involved in activities such as the validation and granting of permits, reviewing and investigating large scale construction projects and approving or rejecting them, representing the department in law courts in cases of violations and maintaining protected areas. The level of paperwork now involved in carrying out these responsibilities has been reduced to the point where it is rarely rather than always used. With regard to specific timeframes, the time from receiving permit requests and granting them is now 4 days, while under the old system it was a minimum of 15 days and sometimes considerably beyond even that, and similar time differences are also true of large scale projects. With regard to security, the fact of having a barcode means that investigators can verify real as opposed to fraudulent permits instantly, the number of violations going to court has been considerably reduced and, using GIS, construction sites can be verified and protected areas monitored without the need for a constant physical presence. Measuring using key performance indicators The system can be utilised to produce key performance indicators as well as identify any prospective problems and this information can in turn be used as part of the ongoing processes for improvement. For example, the average length of time taken from submission to a decision can be accessed by management, as can the length of time for specific types of applications. If these time frames start to show patterns of increasing or decreasing, the reasons can be explored and the reasons for decreases exploited further while reasons for increases can be identified and eliminated.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The initiative is sustainable and is cost effective in several ways. In economic terms, it is a means of increasing economic efficiency and competitiveness because more individuals and companies have been encouraged to apply for building permits and this means that there have been more market entrants (increased competition) and the fact that applicants can be certain of decisions within a given period of time means that there is more certainty with regard to investments etc. (economic efficiency. At the Municipal level, staff productivity has increased, which means that greater value can be gained from investments in human resources, In terms of society, this system can be seen as one of the e-governance initiatives that are bringing people closer to their government as they see the benefits of the new and improved levels of service that are available. Environmentally, it is clear that a more efficient and effective system for building and land permits means that a better planned and more pleasing urban landscape will, over time, be built. With regard to the institution and regulatory requirements, the former is now a more motivated and forward looking entity which is able to maintain appropriate and optimal levels of regulatory control. As the system has already been funded and as its running costs incur only marginally more expense that the previous system, its financial sustainability is guaranteed. At a national level, the system has already been of interest to other municipalities and some are in the process of implementing it, one example being the Makkah Municipality. As the focus of the system has to date been on Jeddah, relatively little attention has been paid to international interest. However, it is undoubtedly a very transferable system and any enquiries would be met in a helpful and cooperative manner.

 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)
Although the successful implementation of the initiative has been challenging, it has been a rewarding experience because it has shown that problems can be overcome, as can attitudes and assumptions about what is and is not possible so that progress can always be made. The effect of this experience is one of empowerment and a feeling that more is achievable in the future than was previously believed. One important lesson has been not to make assumptions about what exists. This initiative could have been seriously delayed because we assumed that the infrastructure changes that had recently been made would be able to carry this new system but we did not make sure. This meant that considerable delays occurred as the infrastructure had to be further upgraded and we were fortunate that the relatively few stumbling blocks from the implementation were quickly overcome and thus time could be made up. A further lesson is to prioritise training at an early stage in such a process and to not underestimate the challenges that are being faced by staff. In this initiative, they effectively had to learn many aspects of their jobs again from the beginning and they should have been given more time for training. It is recommended that future such initiatives have a longer lead in phase to allow for more comprehensive planning and selection external partners; furthermore, that staff at all levels be kept informed and fully involved from the outset so that any resistance to change can be patiently overcome and so that training and development needs can be identified on an individual basis.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Jeddah Municipality
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Abdulrahim Halawani
Title:   Mr  
Telephone/ Fax:   0126149887
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Jeddah B.O.Box 7687
Postal Code:   21146
City:   jeddah
State/Province:   Makkah

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