National Contact Centre AMER
Saudi e-Government Program

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The situation with regard to contacting and obtaining useful and efficient services from government departments and agencies can be first considered within a wider context, before the development and implementation of a single e-government service. Alongside a system that was based in single and largely independent service providers, and despite the dedicated efforts of public sector employees, the system was inefficient and inequitable; it was very difficult to access information from departments and agencies short of actually visiting them. Fundamentally, there were different contact numbers for each agency or department, these multitudes of numbers were difficult to memorize, calls were costly due to the long periods before they were answered and the hours when telephone contact was possible were limited and poorly publicized. Thereafter, and as the progress of the wider e-government system, under the auspices of Yesser, was revolutionizing the way services are delivered in Saudi Arabia, it became increasingly apparent that there was a misalignment between these services and the methods for remote contact to the system. Thus, prior to the establishment of the National Contact Center, ‘AMER,’ in 2012, issues such as those described were raised more vociferously by citizens, who were beginning to change their views and expectations of e-government because of these wider fundamental changes. Concerns also started to be raised by some government agencies themselves, those who were also able to see the benefits of the new and holistic approach to e-government on the one hand and the extent to which the system for remote contact remained embedded in the now redundant system of the past. Comparisons were increasingly made between the new e-governance system of accountability with the remote contact system where there was a lack of consistency, a lack of accountability, and a lack of performance indicators and targets Many of these concerns were based in an understanding of the unfairness that existed in the previous situation, an unfairness that had a particularly adverse effect on poor and vulnerable individuals and groups. Taken from this viewpoint, the inequities that existed before the initiative began become clear. Those, for example, with higher levels of education and intelligence would be better able to find their way through the maze of department and agency numbers, while those with less ability would not be so able. The former would, furthermore, be likely to be within informed peer networking groups, while the latter would be less likely to be so positioned. Those higher up the socio-economic and income ladder would have been better able to cover the cost of the lengthy calls than the less well advantaged and they would be more likely to have knowledge of alternative numbers and extensions that could bypass the public numbers. In this sense, and perhaps most damaging of all, those within the establishment system and/or from more privileged backgrounds would be more likely to gain more information and thus preferential treatment because of their status than, for example, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and women.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The government of Saudi Arabia established, in 2005, an ambitious program, Yesser, to resolve a widespread problem that had been widely recognised by sections of the population as well as by public sector employees and government officials. The program provides government services seamlessly across the 300 plus departments and agencies that serve the public using modern information and communications technology as efficiently as possible. The aim of this e-government initiative is to change the arena in which public services are provided through an incremental progression towards a holistic, interactive and seamless entity that is based in dispassionate provision on an equal basis to all citizens. The first action plan, developed by Yesser and now completed, ran from 2006 to 2010. This can be seen as having been a transactional phase in the development of the system, as well as being one of preparation, for example with the installation of the necessary infrastructure that would allow the system to function. It was also a period for engagement and listening, of gathering feedback from stakeholders and it was from this process that the critical need for AMER was established and incorporated into the second action plan, which began in 2011, and which is scheduled to run until 2015. In this sense, therefore, the solution was proposed by consumers of the service, both providers and users, who supported Yasser and were motivated by its aims, but who also foresaw a significant and serious gap, which meant that in one area the program was not aligned with its mission and vision. AMER is the body responsible for establishing the National Contact Center for all e-government services in Saudi Arabia, which solves the problem that existed prior to its existence in enabling easy and fast access to services from locations that are remote from the physical structures of departments and agencies, providing a wide range of options for contact at all times. Essentially, it solves the problems of inefficiency and inequity that were strongly present within the previous system (normally one contact number for each agency or department which, due to staff being fully occupied in dealing with users who were in their offices, often took a long time to be answered, and/or with customers being put on hold for long periods). It also addresses a less obvious but nonetheless important issue, which is the engagement and expectations of users now compared to the levels of these that existed before Yesser introduced the now efficient e-government service options. The National Call Center provides instant responses to users via a number of channels, for example the telephone, email and messaging, to users who have any questions or queries with regard to e-government services. These users may be individuals, businesses, visitors, or one of the approximately 6 million pilgrims who visit Saudi Arabia annually and, because the aim is to assist and to guide enquirers through any problem or process that they are having difficulties with. The trained Call Center staff are also able to considerably reduce the pressures which used to be sometimes intolerable for frontline public sector workers in government departments and agencies. Constantly having to deal with visitors to the individual offices not only inconvenienced users but meant that necessary work was often put aside, which added to the pressures and to the inefficiencies of the previous system. Apart from making a significant and ongoing contribution to the efficiency of public offices, and therefore effectively providing a service to public sector officers and employees, the main target audience of the National Call Center is Saudi Arabian society, including all of its citizens and businesses.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
There are a number of unique features in Amer but the most general one is that it goes to the opposite end of the spectrum when compared with the previous approach to delivering remote services. This can be seen by the fact that whereas the previous situation entailed one contact number for each department and agency, the National Call Center offers as wide a range of communication channels as possible, for example: • Phone calls • Email • SMS • Live online chat • Offline post • Fax, USSD, as well as: • Facebook and Twitter. Whereas the previous multitude of numbers were difficult to memorize, now there is just one number, 199099, and whereas in the past response rates were contingent upon the availability of staff in busy offices, now there is a dedicated, welcoming and knowledgeable team whose sole purpose is to serve the public through remote communication. Amer, furthermore, provides the only national call center in Saudi Arabia and in this sense it uniquely provides a futuristic vision of how public services can be and should be provided to the citizens of Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, to those of other nations that are beyond the nation’s boundaries.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Amer Project for the establishment of a national call center is an important part of the wider Yesser Project, which establishes a new e-government service that replaces an archaic and dysfunctional system with one that not only aims to serve the public but to do it dispassionately, equitably and efficiently. This system combines the provision of public services into one whole, where there were previously more than 300 fragmented parts. Yesser has aimed, in one leap, to shift the parameters of public service provision from one which was modern, or even pre-modern, to one which is post-modern in philosophy as well as in functionality. In order to remain aligned with these aims, Amer has separately faced similar challenges, both technical and societal, to those faced by Yesser. Therefore, it can be contextualized as a stand-alone project as well as one which is a key segment of a wider national vision for the provision of services to the Saudi people. The action plan for the development of the National Call Center was initiated in 2011 following confirmation of its need during the implementation of the first action plan for Yesser, and it was incorporated within the second action plan (of Yesser). There were two major phases, one which lasted for six months, and one of thirty six months duration. The first phase therefore began in 2011 and the second phase is now drawing to a close. The chronology, key development steps and main activities are shown below: 2006 – 2010 One critical aspect of the first action plan of Yesser was engagement with and listening to stakeholders. Based on the feedback received, existing plans to introduce and fully align the National Call Center with Yesser were refined and drafted. 2011 – 2012: The solution development phase (6 months) By the third month of this phase, the following were delivered: • The final analysis documents for NCC CRM and the Portal • The call center system architect and workflow document • An SLA was signed with government agencies, departments and Yesser By the sixth month of this phase, the following were delivered: • A completed NCC CRM and portal implementation plan • A completed National Call Center systems implementation plan • A completed plan for the integration of government agencies systems and databases with Amer By the end of this first phase, the following had also been initiated: • A quality monitoring plan • National Call Center operations The major deliverables for this phase included: • A project charter • A project scope documents • A recruitment plan • A project management plan • A project schedule • An employee training plan • The identification and funding of all necessary software and hardware • A quality management plan • The identification of a suitable customer relationship management (CRM) system that could be adapted to the NCC 2012 – 2015: Integration across government agencies, Yesser and society, shared infrastructures alongside the installation and implementation of the NCC (in chronological order) This action plan included: • The complete updating of the knowledge based system for GA services • The delivery of quality monitoring results and the improvement plan • Signature for final acceptance of the NCC • Closing of the implementation of the project and its handing over to Amer The final deliverables for Phase 2 are: • A fully integrated call center, with all business processes having been identified and implemented • Fully integrated in-bound and out-bound services • A functioning NCC portal with related information and modules • The full integration of data and telecom functions with all relevant government departments and agencies

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The germination of the initiative existed within the original vision for Yesser, which in turn was initiated by the Council of Ministers, who had become increasingly aware of the fact that the people of Saudi Arabia were being let down by the existing system for public service delivery. Thus, it stemmed from the recognition of societal dissatisfaction, and from a recognition by Yesser that in order to provide that which the people of Saudi Arabia demanded, such an additional facility was of critical importance. This understanding, furthermore, was developed through consultations with stakeholders, particularly government agencies and departments and service users, during the course of the first action plan of Yesser. Following the cementation of the initiative within Yesser, a request for proposals was developed and distributed by Deloitte to private companies and from the tender documents submitted, a successful operating model was put forward and accepted by the firm Smart Link Customer Contact and Outsourcing Services, which resulted in a project plan for the National Contact Center. Once the partnership between Yesser and Smart Link was established, Amer was created and a number of government agencies joined the scheme, such as the Saudi E-government Portal, The Department of Zakat and Income Tax, The Ministry of the Civil Services, Saudi Post, The National Center for Digital Certifications, The SADAD Payment System, The Communications and Information Technology Commission, and The Saudi E-Government Achievement Award Body. The range of public, private and community stakeholders subsequently widened as the project evolved and developed. For example, the technological aspect was a joint venture between several entities that included Avaya, who provided knowledge related to the configuration and integration of the unified support number and calling systems and SURE, who provided expertise on the configuration and development of a dynamic customer relationship management system.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The Saudi E-Government Program (Yesser) is funded from the general budget of the Government of Saudi Arabia. The initial amount allocated was SAR 3 billion (USD 800 million) and the incremental release of funding over the course of this wider project has remained stable. Funding for Amer (the body which oversees the National Call Center Project) has been allocated from the Yesser budget and this is SAR 40 million (approximately USD 10.6 million), which has been (and is being) distributed over the 42 months, covering the two main phases of the project. Approximately 10 per cent of this budget was allocated for the first (6 month) phase of the National Call Center Project. The majority of this was used in developing the required technology, including software, acquiring premises, the development of necessary plans, the production of necessary documents, seeking the appropriate human resources for future employment and initiating training and development plans to enhance the skills of those who will be employed. A process of evaluation was undertaken by the Project Team to consider and select the technological systems that would represent the right solution for the needs of users and of government agencies and departments. This important task led to the selection of the Avaya Aura Contact Center System, which combines all of the necessary engagement channels on one screen, regardless of the many potential communication channels chosen by users. This facility means that the core principle underpinning Yasser, of multiple provisions within one system, could be maintained. The dynamic of continuously updating the system based on the demonstrated preferences and expressed views of users was a key requirement and this was met by the development of a Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management System, which has a reputation for being both user friendly and up to date. Following the successful installation and implementation of this system, it has been rolled out to partners in government agencies and departments, to further ensure the unification of the system. In order that knowledge is gained and quality maintained, a knowledge management system has also been acquired and integrated within the system. This effectively acts as a repository where information is gained and stored and where updated government agency and department catalogues are kept for easy access by NCC agents as they respond to user enquiries. Consultants were engaged in the Project in order that the process of planning, implementation and evaluation could be carried out seamlessly and professionally. During the initiation phase, for example, multiple resources were used from different parties and Deloitte consultants helped to build and develop the RFP, which resulted in a focused and targeted scope of NCC services. As the technical aspects of the project evolved and became more complex, consultants from Microsoft were engaged to ensure that all of the objectives stated in the RFP were reflected in the design of the CRM solution, which resulted in a very successful implementation of the dynamic MS system.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The program has many concrete outputs and four are listed below: Department of Zakat and Income Tax Because they were unable, due to workload, to provide a dedicated remote response service, this department only received an average of 20 telephone calls each day from users, who had often been kept on hold for long periods. The result was that in order to get assistance from staff, most users had to visit the offices, often involving long journey times. Once there, they had to queue, complete their paperwork and submit it within the office hours of 8am – 2 pm. This commonly meant a day lost from work, from caring for children and families, or from a range of other productive activities. The NCC now has hundreds of toll-free calls daily (approximately 1,500 per week at the last count) from users who can use 8 support channels to deal with their Zakat and Income tax queries and forms in a fraction of the time previously taken. Jadarah This is a program that is within the Yasser framework. It supports a range of vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on youth unemployment. Prior to the implementation of the NCC, and despite the best efforts of staff, the program was fragmented, had difficulties in reaching those it wished to serve (the most vulnerable and isolated in society) and therefore struggled to reach its goals. Now, most if not all of these difficulties have been overcome as disaffected, reserved and uninformed potential clients can (and do) access the service through the National Call Center. The Electronic Medical Board It is not an exaggeration to say that the gaining of access to medical records by health professionals can be the difference between life and death in some accidents and other emergencies. With appropriate safeguards regarding confidentiality, medical records can now be accessed almost instantaneously through the National Call Center, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Education Certificate Services Confirmation and verification of education certificates is commonly used by employers and places of education and higher education in Saudi Arabia. Appropriate authentication has to be obtained for each application and this caused many problems in the past, with much time lost and even people not getting the job or the college place if the records had been misplaced or were incorrect. Now such requirements can be speedily, seamlessly and accurately dealt with through the NCC.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The Project Management Institute (PMI) Global Standards provide guidelines, rules and characteristics for projects whether they are iterative or dynamic and evolutionary. They are, furthermore, based on what are considered as being best practices from the world of project management and these are updated as the dynamics of the wider subject area expands and develops. These were implemented throughout each of the project phases and used as a yardstick for monitoring and evaluating the progress of the project as it evolved. This was the criteria (and the challenge) from the initiation of the project (with the signing of the project charter) to the planning and approval of the project scope, time, cost, human resources, risk and procurement management plans, creating baselines and setting project delivery milestones, to the execution of the plan as per the approved plans. Further monitoring and controlling throughout the lifecycle of the Project was undertaken by ensuring that the Project Deliverables met the set requirements which had been approved by the sponsor. This extends up to and including the final approval and project closure. With regard to the running of the NCC, enduring and customized key performance indicators (KPI’s) ensured that the levels of service provision remained within the accepted time and quality parameters, often exceeding them. These KPI’s incorporated comprehensive service level agreements that included staff availability, quality and service conditions. An applied quality monitoring plan (QM) has been instigated and this measures the extent to which agents comply with internal policies and procedures and in how they interact with customers by phone, email, SMS, fax, web chat and all other interactive services. This plan also extends to the alignment of customer satisfaction surveys with internal measurements to provide a 360-degree view of the customer experience. The NCC Quality Monitoring Program is designed to demonstrate and ensure that the Centre maintains and develops its commitment to users on the one hand and to agencies, departments and to its agents (employees) on the other. This has been identified through researching best practices as they are essential for building world-class contact centers. The key benefits that have accrued from the combination of activities in monitoring and evaluation can be summarized as being designed to ensure increased levels of customer satisfaction, increased levels of agent efficiency and, in line with the comprehensive and ongoing training provided, enhancing the overall quality of performance.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Two main problems were encountered at the implementation stage of the national contact centre, and these were: Time Several technology companies were involved in the development of the Project and the nature of the task meant that there were high degrees of interdependency between these partners. This effectively meant that the progress of the whole undertaking at this stage was limited to the speed of the partner making the slowest progress. One encountered difficulties with the delivery of several technical components and therefore operations commenced several months later than had been planned. This unanticipated delay meant that a decision had to be made, which was whether to continue according to the timeframes set out (which would have meant that the delay would have carried on through the Project), or to find ways of accelerating it without compromising any important aspects such as quality, monitoring and ensuring that PMI standards were upheld. A potential solution was found, which entailed intensifying efforts in the recruitment process and this allowed the time lost to be recovered. In the end, the NCC serviced more customers than originally targeted in the first period after going live. Mindset A potentially more serious problem was resistance from some government agencies as the time drew nearer when they would have to share parts of their operations with the NCC, in some cases even being reluctant to complete the required handover documentation, or comply with the required processes and procedures put in place by Amer. Because this problem was identified at a relatively early stage, it was overcome through extensive formal and informal communication that explained the value of the NCC to government agencies and the positive impact it would have in improving the accuracy, integrity, availability and cost effectiveness of their operations, without undermining their authority or integrity.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Before the NCC was established, most government agencies and departments had no call center facilities whatsoever and no alternative support channels to enhance their services. Even where there were some levels of remote support, these were at most telephone and email, they were limited to the office hours of the particular agency, the experiences of customers were poor, and their satisfaction scores were very low. It is important to understand the extent of the consequences of these situations as the fact of effectively disenabling the majority of users, and particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, meant that there were many more visitors to the agencies and departments than there would otherwise have been. This not only had significant implications for the productivity of customers in their work and in their lives (many had to travel long distances and often spend most of the day obtaining the services they required) but also had an impact on the productivity, efficiency and morale of government employees in the agencies, despite their best intentions and desire to serve the public. This scenario can be contrasted with the aims and aspiration of the NCC, which have now been fulfilled. There is now easy access from any location in Saudi Arabia to government agencies and departments for 24 hours a day and for 365 days a year, using multiple channels of communication that include phone calls, email, SMS, live online chat, offline post, fax, USSD, as well as Facebook and Twitter. While there is much anecdotal and subjective evidence of the benefits that the NCC has brought to the lives of people, there are also objective and measurable benefits. One area in which this can be shown is in terms of quantifiable costs. If an alternative avenue had been pursued, of setting up separate call centers for each agency, or at least for the larger ones, it is estimated that each would have required an average of 30 operatives/agents and, with infrastructure upgrades or new premises, this would on average have required approximately $1 million to set up. The cost per agency for being live within the NCC is $122,000, or 12.2 per cent of the alternative. For users, if they had attempted to call government agencies and departments under the previous ‘system,’ they would have been on hold for an average of 10 minutes which, at $0.13 per minute, is $1.30, without regard to the time taken to actually deal with the enquiry. An estimated 127,750 calls were made annually to government agencies and departments under the previous system, which means that approximately $166,075 was wasted by customers in waiting for the attention of providers, a fact that was not unnoticed by these users, particularly those who could least afford it, as surveys have shown. Apart from the greatly enhanced levels of service that the new service provides, the expected 2 million transactions for the NCC for 2015 would, under the previous system, have cost users approximately $2.6 million just in waiting to be served, where now it costs them nothing as well as saving them considerable amounts of time. A further objective measure comes from the results of customer surveys that have been conducted. Under the previous system, these were consistently scored at below 10 per cent, with user frustrations expressed with regard to a wide area of service provision, ranging from the poor quality of services received, to perceived shortages of resources, and extending to a lack of consistency and follow up. Even though the NCC is in its infancy and even though not all e-government services are live within it, recent surveys have returned customer satisfaction rates that are consistently above 70 per cent and a complete reversal with regard to perceptions of the services provided across a the whole range of areas covered by the NCC. Within the surveys and other feedback mechanisms, it is becoming increasingly clear that the expectations of users are on a steep upward curve, which suggests that they feel empowered by the e-services provided, that they no longer see themselves as alienated nuisances but, rather, as having ownership, as being stakeholders in it. This, surely, can only contribute to a more inclusive and more equitable society.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The NCC is being sustained financially through government funding; however, it is anticipated that the savings made through efficiency and the productivity that is enabled to front line staff in agencies means that the outlays will be more than recouped over time through reductions in other budgets, which will be possible while maintaining a vastly improved service. In this sense, it is also politically sustainable as it has been sponsored and supported throughout by the Council of Ministers, whose support is only likely to continue as the social, economic, cultural, institutional and regulatory, as well as financial benefits increase and develop. Apart from the significant productivity gains at government agencies and departments, there is now no longer a need, in the vast majority of cases, for people to take time off work to travel, often long distances, to the offices. This is an economic gain, and one which will feed through to GDP growth and to economic diversity, which is a national priority. There will also be an associated environmental gain as fewer journeys by car or public transport will be necessary to attend government agency and department offices. With regard to institutional sustainability, this will be enabled and enhanced through the thorough embedding of the system, facilitated through NCC, within the mindset of those who are responsible for maintaining the institutions of the state. This change of mindset will make it easier and more likely that future e-government initiatives will be embraced and developed. The regulatory system will benefit because the fact that NCC staff have access to all contributing departments and agencies means that there will be a seamless and uniform upholding of these regulatory requirements that necessitate many of the services. All of these points are contributing to perhaps the most positive social and cultural aspects of the initiative. These come from feelings of greater empowerment among the population, and particularly among those who were disadvantaged by the previous system – the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, and even women. This empowerment strengthens society because people now feel that they are gaining positively from regulatory requirements, that they are an asset rather than a burden. There are many examples of this within the system – the applicants for jobs or university places who can now so easily have their certificates verified, those whose emergency medical treatment is better because their medical records can be accessed when they were needed, rather than when it is too late, and the otherwise disenfranchised youths whose chances of employment are now realistic where before they were negligible. As noted, the growing recognition of the success and dynamics of the NCC-enabled system means that other branches of government and officialdom are seeking ways of duplicating the success rather than shying away from it and as the governments of neighboring countries compare their continued use of systems made obsolete by this Saudi Arabian system, there is little doubt that new NCC’s, supporting e-government developments, will soon start to appear across the region.

 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 overall experience with the initiative has been one of understanding that accepting the status quo with regard to the provision of government services, if these services are believed by the people to be poor, is unacceptable. When the previous situation is considered, it can be posited that this may have been relevant in a much earlier era, when the number and extent of services was far less, but that as the nation grew and expanded its welfare and other commitments to its citizens, the requirements of the system changed – many more services were required and many more citizens had to use them, but it (the system) remained locked within the parameters of its original concept. This meant that as society and technology evolved and developed, advantage was not taken of modern expectations in terms of ways of doing things – the governance of Saudi Arabia was locked in a time-warp while everything else moved on. This meant that people became increasingly disenchanted, frustrated and felt that they were at a distance from their government and from its desire to provide for them. Thus, the experience is that the process of change will be accepted by the people, to a far greater extent than originally seen, and will be far more likely to succeed because it will be enthusiastically embraced by those involved and by the society that is served. However, the experience was that this enthusiasm for change only came when there was an understanding that the new system would be beneficial to individuals specifically and to society generally. From these experiences emerge the key lessons that have been learned. One is that the mindset of governments and those within it should always be focused on how far it can go, within the whole parameter of modern telecommunications and computer technology in meeting the needs and demands of its population, rather than on making adjustments to what are effectively obsolete ways of doing things. Another lesson is that planning and evaluation in the early stages is critical, as is the adherence to practices that have been demonstrated to be the best available, and that time invested in gaining knowledge from international partner companies and governments is a prerequisite for success. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to recognize that people will overcome their resistance to change, they will lose their skepticism, and they will become involved if they are shown that the changes are beneficial to them, that government is on their side, that there is no hidden agenda, and that serving them (the people) better is the real and only intent. Based on the experiences lived and on the lessons learned, the key recommendation is that e-government should be explored in all areas, based on the question why not, rather than why? Within this, even more attention should be paid in future projects to gaining the support of government officials and employees as well as the population at large at an earlier stage.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Saudi e-Government Program
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mazen Alkhatib
Title:   Product Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   0114522379
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   mkhatib@yesser.gov.sa  
Address:   King AbdulAziz Communication Complex
Postal Code:   11112
City:   Riyadh
State/Province:  
Country:  

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