Saudi National Portal
Saudi eGovernment Program

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The situation before the initiative can be described in general terms as being disjointed and in some areas even dysfunctional. The delivery of public services and e-government in Saudi Arabia had evolved but this evolution had been in spasms of activity and investments that were made at individual agency or, at best, ministerial levels. This meant that there was a duplication of requirements across agencies, and citizens often had to visit multiple agencies in order to obtain copies of documents. This in turn effectively meant that much time was lost and money wasted in waiting around in often crowded and over-worked offices, with service users sometimes having to travel long distances to do so, inevitably losing valuable time from work or from the home in the process. Thus, while some updating had occurred, there was no compatibility between agency systems, which meant that even when modern technology had been employed, services were locked within a pre-modern bureaucracy and within silos of authority which often had neither the means nor the desire to communicate with each other. From a user perspective, this meant that while there were overt signs of progress and of modern technology, the reality was a time-warp of practices. While their economic and social lives were benefitting from the use of technology through connectivity and seamless communication and interactions, the services that are a necessary part of life, whether in terms of meeting regulatory requirements or accessing beneficial social and welfare services, were not within the same expectations or parameters of the Saudi population. This led to feelings of being disconnected from government and of not getting the benefits of living in a modern welfare state. This situation was, as is often the case, worse for the least able and most disadvantaged groups and individuals in society. This is because people were disadvantaged by levels of literacy, were disadvantaged by being less mobile due to disability, were disadvantaged by being poor (travel and other costs involved in accessing multiple agencies for one service requirement), were disadvantaged by being youths, were disadvantaged by being women with young children and were disadvantaged by the fact of not being within certain groups or cliques that exist within any society. With regard to this latter point, and despite the best intentions of public servants, inevitable associations with people from particular groups or through particular affinities led to differing levels of provision, with the poor and disadvantaged being almost inevitably at the wrong end of the scale. Feedback from users was difficult to gain and measure, charges varied, decisions concerning provision were not consistent and even factors such as opening times varied. Policies were developed in isolation, adding to the myriad of confusion and discontent that existed. It may seem strange, even an exaggeration, to suggest that these negativities existed because there was a lack of a single portal for e-government but the likelihood is that, if anything, the damaging consequences of the situation have been underplayed in this brief account of them.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
It would be difficult, even a little disingenuous, to suggest that the initiative was proposed by one person or even by one agency. This is because it ‘emerged’ as a practical need for society, and this societal expression of need was recognised by the government of Saudi Arabia at senior levels, which led to the establishment of several bodies and the establishment of a First Action Plan for e-government, which ran for the period 2006-2010. The problem, as outlined in the previous section, is that government services were disjointed, often individually isolated, and this created a situation where citizens were required to visit at least one and more often than not multiple agencies in order to meet legal and regulatory requirements and/or to access social and welfare aspects of government services. The creation of a ‘Saudi’ portal meant that this multitude of problems could be solved by enabling the online access to public services by all citizens and visitors to the country, including pilgrims, expatriates and business and other visitors. This service, furthermore, is able to particularly benefit the disadvantaged and the less able because there is no longer a need to find the money for travel, women do not have to traipse from agency to agency with young children, the disabled no longer have to ponder how they can manage to travel and to wait around for often long periods, unemployed youths and others can now access beneficial agencies online and the now ‘sightless’ and non-judgmental system inevitably provides services with equality and fairness. The Saudi Portal provides a single sign-on service which facilitates electronic verification of user ID’s as well as registration in multiple websites from one site using the same log-in details. The portal is also linked to an online payment service and communication can be made through all remote channels, for example the internet, text messages, mobile phone applications, fax and email. These levels of enablement and access can be seen as being a part of the objective of reaching out to and interacting with the main target audiences. These are all of the people of Saudi Arabia and, ancillary to the reaching of this population, another necessary target audience is government employees, particularly those at the front line of service provision. Thus, a main pillar of the strategy for the Saudi Portal is the involvement of as wide a group of stakeholders as possible and the interaction with these groups in order that the initiative has the dynamic to change and to be constantly moving towards optimum levels of services as judged by the users and providers themselves. Feedback is constantly invited via the system, through feedback mechanisms based on the data received and on the experiences of users. Surveys are regularly conducted to establish user and provider satisfaction levels and this means that the feedback is seamless and impersonal so that there is no danger or chance that the experiences of, for example, one influential user are valued more than that of a less influential person. Alongside this, not only is feedback implemented to enhance the services enabled by the Saudi Portal but also the participation of women in the decision making process has been increased. All of these points and more can be summarized by a contention that the vision encapsulated within the Saudi Portal, which is to be “the most preferred portal by users of e-services, information and directories provided by various government agencies in Saudi Arabia,” has been more than achieved.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The Saudi Portal is unique through a combination of factors, which come together to ensure that there is and always will be mechanisms to ensure that it constantly and consistently moves towards optimal levels of service as judged by users rather than by officials and policy makers. Fundamentally, it is a unique universal source that collects all government agency information in one place. All types of government services are categorized according to the interests of citizens, expatriates, the Saudi economy, businesses and government agencies. This has been achieved by factors such as: • Gaining bottom up feedback from users and the system and responding dynamically to these by intervention within the system and by corrective external processes • Ensuring that government agency managers and employees, some of whom may feel that they have lost areas of autonomy and authority, remain motivated and committed to large-scale and ongoing change • The use of internationally considered best practices and the maintenance of these practices as they evolve through the creation of a permanent Office of Strategic Management • Being financially self-sustaining as productivity and office space gains are made and as more government agencies and services are included through the portal

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The origins of the action plans that have been developed can be traced back to 2004/2005 when policies were developed and put in place by the Council of Ministers and the Government Service Bus (GSB) and Yesser were created through the National Communication and Information Technology Plan (NCITP). GSB is the overall initiative and Yesser is the organisation created to facilitate it through actions such as the development of the strategic plan and the creation of a number of groups such as the Office for Strategic Management and the Yesser Consulting Group. This led to the development of the First Action Plan, which ran from 2006-2010. During the course of the action plan, numerous steps were taken which enabled the development and successful implementation of the Saudi Portal: 2006 Strategic planning for the Saudi Portal was undertaken by several bodies, including the Office for Strategic Management and the Projects and Initiatives Group. During the course of this year, furthermore, international best practices were identified, clarified and operationalised by various groups, including leading international consultancy firms which had specific expertise within relevant areas. Further actions in 2006 included the issuing of competitive tenders for the project and the evaluation of the perceived value of bids before work was allocated and awarded. Access layers for users as well as providers were developed and consultations with both groups were initiated and incrementally intensified. One further point of relevance, which emerged during the course of this early period, is that there was an acknowledgment that some of the high level skills required were not available in Saudi Arabia; therefore, international experts were employed but, importantly, alongside this a process of constructive learning and mentoring was instigated so that such national shortages would, over the course of the action plans, be reduced. 2007 Essentially, this was a year where the processes and initiatives instigated during the previous years were allowed to develop and gain some maturity. Two specific actions of note were the identification of the need to strengthen the interoperability framework, which was articulated as the Yesser Enterprise Framework for Interoperability (YEFI), and the beginnings of implementation with the creation of an embryonic Saudi Portal with a single sign on (SSO) capability. 2008 A central electronic store for information storage and retrieval was initiated and the results from progress to date were published, testing of the now developing system was undertaken, and flaws and bugs removed and resolved. Several ministries and their agencies were identified and preparation was initiated for the conversion of their services so that they could operate through the Saudi Portal. 2009 The process of revision, working with ministries and further developing the initiative progressed during 2009, documentation for the system was updated and necessary infrastructure upgrading was completed. 2010/2011 Revisions were made to YEFI, GSB was made operational and the Second Action Plan, which runs from 2012-2016, was developed. More ministries were prepared for the use of the Saudi Portal. Further measures included the conducting of a national survey, which was aimed at eliciting user perceptions of the preparedness of approximately 300 government agencies for using and operating through the Saudi Portal. 2012 Following the launching of the Second Action Plan, attention was focused on making further improvements to human capital, and even greater strides were taken to include consumers in the implementation of the initiative. The Saudi Portal, furthermore, was enhanced through greater GSB capacity, including increased response times. 2013/2014 As the Saudi Portal became more extensively operationalised, the National Call Center was successfully opened, GCloud planning has been extended and public forums and conferences have been established.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Saudi Portal is a central part of the overall plan to ensure that e-governance is the means by which all government services operate. Therefore, in a broad sense, all stakeholders in GSB and Yesser are contributors to the system and these include the people of Saudi Arabia, government agencies, the managers and employees of Yesser and external consultants and expatriate specialists. This involvement came through direct interactions with groups either by virtue of the fact that they were involved in the decision making process, were involved in the planning, design and implementation of it, or their views and opinions were gained through surveys and other forms of interactions. In order to achieve the long term objectives of the NCIPT, the Information and Technology Group at Yesser developed the portal and this was subsequently fine-tuned in order that it could meet the requirements that had been determined by the Office for Strategic Management. External consultants were involved at various times and with differing specialist skills along the path of progress of the initiative; for example, the firm Deloitte was engaged to initiate and distribute proposal tenders for prospective private partners, resulting in the engagement of Smart Link Customer Contact and Outsourcing Services. As the initiative evolved, McKenzie and IBM were included within the teams of specialists, with Yesser overseeing and coordinating the valuable input of these partners. At the most senior levels stand the e-Government Program Supreme Supervisory Committee, which includes executives and managers from ministries and e-governance committees from government agencies.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Throughout the project as well as the specific initiative (the Saudi Portal), the Saudi Government has provided financial support, with agreed funding being released in stages, and where the successful implementation of one part of the plan triggers the release of funding for the next. An estimated SAR 3 billion was allocated for the first phases of the overall Yesser e-governance project and from this the first phases of the Saudi Portal were, in turn, financed. While this funding arrangement may appear as being straight forward, a precise figure for the cost of the Saudi Portal is elusive because it is not, nor could be, a ‘stand alone’ initiative and even at a disaggregated unit of analysis, parts of the system such as the Government Secure Network (GSN) and the Data Center and Government Service Bus (GSB) were necessary elements in the creation of the Saudi Portal. The technical resources used were sourced at both an international and national level. For example, while the upgrading of infrastructure and location and installation of hardware through which the system would operate was predominantly located and implemented at a local level, the development of programs such as the Yesser Interoperability Framework has been developed in partnership with international consultants and expatriate technical experts. However, while the necessity for involving international partner organisations and individuals was identified at an early stage, so too was the opportunity to develop the human resource capabilities of Saudi Arabia. This meant that as the portal and its uses widened through partnerships with entities such as Avaya and SURE, Yesser and its employees were increasingly involved. Programs such as one which uses mentorship to develop the skills of executives and senior managers have operated alongside those such as the Future Experts Program of Yesser, which identifies candidates from the worker and line management ranks of the organisation, as well as sufficiently promising and appropriately skilled and qualified graduates. These people are placed in a specialized program which delivers education as well as practical skills through mentorship and constructed learning methods. The belief that all employees benefit personally in order that the initiative can in turn benefit from enhanced levels of skills, competence and efficiency has been promoted. Examples of this approach can be seen in the recruitment process, which is backed up by initial training and mentoring periods when new employees are familiarized with the Portal in terms of the rationales and underlying reasons for its introduction as well as how it operates. This approach to training and mentoring also includes government leaders and employees who work for the partner agencies whose services are facilitated by the Saudi Portal. One of the key roles adopted by the Yesser Consultancy Group is to train and guide the staff of government agencies in the use of the Portal from a providers’ perspective and another is to interact with the management of these agencies in order that concerns about the nature of the changes and the extent of them can be overcome.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Five concrete outputs that contributed to the success of the initiative are: 1. All government services in one place The achievement of having all services in one place means that e-governance has been moved from being at best a fragmented shadow of the benefits that should be achieved to one which represents the optimum benefits gained from the utilization and employment of modern technology. Services are delivered across a range of more than 300 government agencies through one portal and without the necessity for users to visit, as they had to in the past, one or more of them to fulfill their legal and regulatory duties or to gain access to welfare and social benefits. 2. Equality and fairness for those who depend most on government services Whereas under the old system the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society had the greatest difficulties in using public services to either fulfill legal requirements or to access the benefits of social and welfare programs, these individuals and groups can now not only access them with extreme ease through one portal, but can be assured that they will receive the same levels of service delivery as anyone else. 3. Multiple channels for e-participation Through a national call centre access to the system can be gained by the use of one telephone number or by numerous channels of communication, for example email, texts, fax, the website and even through social media. 4. Complete library of government regulations, by-laws and open source documents The Saudi Portal enables access to a complete range of government publications, which includes all laws, regulations and by-laws. This ensures that users can gain direct and easy access to the original scripts, which in turn means that third party interpretations and misunderstandings that these may entail are eliminated. The portal also includes access to open source documents, which are a useful source of information about available services. 5. Complete source of documents Because documents are now held in a single source, which can be accessed via the Saudi Portal, access to them by government agencies can be instantly achieved, regardless of the agency which originated them, thus eliminating the multiple layers of duplication which the previous system necessitated. It also means that mistakes made, not uncommon under the previous system, have been largely eliminated and, when and if they occur, can be easily corrected from one access point (the Saudi Portal).

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The initiative and the project that was instigated to develop and implement it is one that is subject to constant change and evolution. This means that there have been many unknowns and challenges despite the development of a comprehensive strategy to drive it forward. Therefore, key checks, balances and feedback loops had to be contained within the Saudi Portal as it progressed from being a concept to becoming a functioning reality. One important monitoring and evaluative process, which has been in use since the beginning of the Saudi Portal project, is the use of the Project Management Institute Guidelines (for projects). These are based in a set of periodically updated principles which reflect best practices on a global scale. As each stage of the initiative was developed and implemented, actions taken and progress made at milestone and sub-milestone points have been evaluated against these guidelines. For consultancy firms used, both in the development and implementation phases, the project deliverables as set out have been evaluated and this monitoring and evaluation criteria will not only continue until the finalization of the project but has also been extended to internal groups and entities as they have grown and taken on more significant planning and implementation roles. As more agencies have come within the system, and as the number of users has significantly increased, these (government agencies and users) have become a part of the monitoring and evaluation system both through the inbuilt monitoring systems within the portal (which provides electronically generated data and feedback) and through interaction with government agencies (through the Yesser Consulting Group). Customer opinions and perceptions (via surveys and focus groups) have also been elicited and these monitoring processes are considered to be an integral part of a process which enables regular updating and changes to the system. This allows for optimal user experiences and efficiency. It is planned that these will remain in place beyond implementation and for the foreseeable future. A range of agencies within Yesser have been given or have taken on responsibility for monitoring and evaluation, one example being the Yesser Consulting Group. It was felt that while the work of these groups in monitoring and evaluation could only be beneficial, there was a danger of overlapping or even a misalignment of priorities or solution options. Therefore, regular contact, which includes all relevant parties, takes place under the auspices of the Office for Strategic Management.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
A number of serious problems were encountered during the course of the development and implementation of the initiative but the most challenging has been resistance to change. This was not unanticipated and sprang from a natural resistance to change that is known to exist among humans with regard to changes in their work, and this was enhanced by negative perceptions of the consequences of the changes. This was most prevalent among the management and staff of government agencies and resulted from a combination of fears, the main two of which were the loss of authority and identity by becoming a part of one e-government system and concerns that streamlining and efficiency gains would put their jobs at risk. It was considered important in order to gain the confidence of the managers and employees at government agencies not to make promises which may not be met. Therefore, in formal meetings and informal discussions with the Yasser Consulting Group, staff were told that there were no current plans to reduce staffing levels. The resistance with regard to losing authority and identity were overcome through discussions highlighting the common good that the Saudi Portal would bring to the Saudi people as a whole and by giving inter-agency responsibilities to staff and managers so that they had important roles within the new and inclusive system. Another problem was unexpected delays due to time over-runs by teams in their delivery of project milestones. One way in which this was overcome was by anticipating at the outset that such delays may occur and providing a ‘time cushion’ (extra, unallocated time) which could be ‘borrowed’ from and by an assumption (based in the Project Management Institute Guidelines) that while some milestone deliverables would overrun, others would be completed before schedule, which was indeed the case.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The impact of the initiative can be seen in many areas and at different levels. At the widest level, it has transformed the way that public services are delivered and, perhaps even more importantly, in how public services are perceived. The Saudi Portal now enables up to 300 or so government agencies to be accessed via one point, remotely and seamlessly, and can enable the facilitation of these services, or multiple services through that same portal. In practical terms, this means that whereas the previous system required that users visit the office where the service was provided, and often other offices which held necessary documents, they can now access the service providers, as well as necessary documents, remotely. If they wish to know what the laws and regulations governing services are, for example eligibility or the nature of available services, all of this can be accessed via the Saudi Portal. This ability to interact with and gain direct and immediate benefits from e-government via the Saudi portal not only means that the population as a whole is connected with and feel empowered by the service but also that previously alienated and disadvantaged groups can have that same sense of connection and empowerment. Many examples can be given – the disabled who had difficulties in walking or using public transport can now access the services at the same level as anyone else, as opposed to hoping that they will be able to afford the costs of transport to and the discomfort of waiting in government offices. Disaffected young people, who are feeling increasingly alienated as youth unemployment grows and their prospects diminish, had, under the old system, limited levels of access to programs that are designed to help them to get into work and/or to retrain compared with the new system, where access can now be gained at important levels of communication, information dissemination and access to help and guidance. There are many more examples – healthcare professionals can now gain access to the medical records of people injured in accidents and whose history can, in some circumstances, be of critical importance. It now doesn’t matter what time of the night or day it is and no one has to rush about seeking the records because they can be accessed through the Saudi Portal. Further examples include the person who has never been unemployed before but who has lost his or her job and hasn’t got a clue of how to go about claiming welfare support, or the prospective student making a late application for a graduate course who must get his or her certificates verified quickly, or even the person who, late at night, decides that there is an important question with regard to an aspect of public services that they want an answer to – information and help, the answering of such questions and access to such services can be gained via the Saudi Portal. These are all concrete examples of how the initiative has made significant differences in the delivery of public services in Saudi Arabia and the impact on the public has been extremely positive, as can be seen from the usage rates, which have increased, and continue to increase in comparison with such rates measured within the previous system. That the feedback will be positive is, furthermore, effectively guaranteed because that is a part of the system itself – it is designed not only to learn through the collection of management information data within it but also through the ongoing implementation of the feedback results through the strategic management system that is now a permanent feature of the initiative. All of these points can be encapsulated in the fact that the services provided through the Saudi Portal now, even in these still early phases, regularly and consistently gain customers satisfaction survey scores in excess of 70 per cent, while the previous system regularly and consistently gained customer satisfaction survey scores that were below 10 per cent.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Evidence of the sustainability of the Saudi Portal and the services it provides comes from the fact that it has been an ongoing initiative for nearly 10 years and in this period it has been developed from being a concept to being a successfully and nearly wholly implemented project. At a financial level, the service is indirectly recouping at least some of the investments made by the fact that people no longer have to take days off work to visit government service agencies for such matters as renewing a work permit, obtaining a driving license or even arranging to pay community taxes. More directly, the cost per agency of going live within the system and using the Portal decreases incrementally as more agencies come on board, to the extent that the cost is now estimated to be $122,000. This can be compared with the costs of running approximately 300 individual agency offices and the fact that in order for them to be individually upgraded, they would require their own systems, their own call centres and their own document stores as well as maintaining high levels of staff, who would almost inevitably be overworked and de-motivated. At a social and cultural level, people are much more contented with the services that they receive from their government (as evidenced by user satisfaction surveys), they feel that they have been empowered and connected as well as now feeling that the government has listened to them and shown that they understand their needs and the frustrations that they felt under the previous system. With regard to economic sustainability, this has been seen from the points made about finances and the efficiency of the initiative, and these can be extended by noting that at some point public sector employees can be released into economically productive occupations in the private sector (a recognised need in Saudi Arabia) and the connection of the private sector with government services means that businesses will be motivated to enhance their connectivity as they experience the benefits, as citizens, of the Saudi Portal. As significant investments have been made in developing the system, ensuring that it is embedded within internationally recognised best practices, and having overcome significant levels of resistance to produce a model for e-government, ways of extending the service model to all other areas of government are being considered (the Portal, having been designed for one specific purpose, cannot in its exact format be transferred). In a sense, the model in its entirety is more suitable to being replicated at an international level because it is designed to be at the core of public service delivery and there is little doubt that as its success becomes increasingly recognised, it will be adopted by other governments both regionally and globally.

 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)
The primary lessons learned revolve around the underestimation of the resistance to change that existed within government agencies and the importance of stakeholder inclusion from the earliest possible point of an initiative such as this one. While much care, attention and planning was given to the inclusion of users as stakeholders from the beginning of the project, not enough attention was paid to middle management, line management and employees of government agencies. Thus, while the executives of these agencies were effectively brought on board at an early time and were involved within the strategic decision making processes and planning, other levels were not engaged to the same extent. This means that they knew there would be significant changes but they did not know precisely what these were, nor did they know the extent to which they would be affected. This in turn meant that assumptions were made – that they would either lose their status and be demoted or transferred or would lose their jobs. These feelings affected the performances of individuals and sometimes of whole agencies. By the time the Yesser Consulting Group, who were tasked with managing the processes that would lead to each agency going live, arrived, they faced an uphill struggle, and one which would not have been so onerous had higher levels of inclusion been undertaken from the outset. The problems were eventually overcome through the diligence of the Yesser staff and the strong sense of duty within the public servants and, but for these factors, the situation could have been far more serious. In an associated sense, there is a need for continuous evaluation as the planning, development and implementation processes evolve and assumptions should never be made. For example, an assumption that the existing infrastructure was sufficiently robust and strong enough to easily embrace the new portal and the system that it was enabling would have been a gross error but it was one that, but for a determination to cover all contingencies and risks, could have transpired. Another area of importance in terms of lessons learned is ensuring that all parts of the project are achievable and measurable. This may seem a conservative view, but it has been learned that it is the opposite – by ensuring achievability and measurability at the most micro levels, it is possible to ensure the delivery of an exciting, dynamic and valuable service such as that which has been enabled by the Saudi Portal. This leads to the recommendations for the future and these are: • That the role of every stakeholder group should be carefully evaluated at the outset • That all stakeholders should be engaged from the earliest possible time • That care and attention is paid to every detail of strategic planning • That all parts of such an initiative should be achievable and measurable • That global best standards should be adopted and maintained • That valuable skills gained in the course of this project should be developed and used in future initiatives

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Saudi eGovernment Program
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Faisal AlMuteri
Title:   Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   966114522487
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   fmuteri@yesser.gov.sa  
Address:   Saudi eGovernment Program (Yesser)
Postal Code:   11112
City:   Riyadh
State/Province:  
Country:  

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