Saudi eGovernment Program

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Despite their best efforts and devotion to public service, the 300 government entites in Saudi Arabia traditionally not only largely worked independently of each other but their efforts were necessarily myopic because they had limited jurisdictions. This is because prior to the foundation and implementation of the E-government program, Yesser, no single agency was responsible for the promotion of a whole of government agenda and cross-agency collaboration was, at best, ad-hoc and limited to a few mature inter-sector agencies. This lack of government-wide frameworks, integration platforms, training, capacity building, and performance monitoring led to inconsistent user experiences, redundant resource acquisition and cross agency bottlenecks. Alongside these problems and inequities in terms of user experiences, several points of frustration can be further noted which exacerbated the issues described. One is the fact that geographically, Saudi Arabia is a very large country (the 13th largest in the world), which tended to stretch the variations in user experiences. Another is that a ‘generation gap’ exists in the nation with regard to the uptake and use of technology, exemplified by the fact that the Kingdom has the world’s highest per capita usage of You Tube and Twitter and a relatively young population (approximately 50% under the age of 30). A third is that Saudi Arabia and its public services are challenged by the 6 million annual pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Thus, every segment of society was affected by the situation but it was disproportionately worse for vulnerable and disadvantaged people such as the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and women. One reason for this is that it was often very difficult to know what was required before making visits to the agencies and access to such information, or knowledge of the requirements, was more limited among such individuals and groups than among the wider population. One example of many can be given to highlight the problems. More than 4 million people across Saudi Arabia must renew their work permits each year. Doing this required visits to several government agencies and often several visits to the same office because of inconsistent processes and requirements, ranging from types of identification acceptable for women, families and types of employers, which required separate visits to non-integrated, service delivery processes. It would be difficult to describe the levels of frustration and even alienation that processes such as the one described caused and therefore the extent to which there was demand for a modern, easy to use and joined-up system which would fundamentally restructure the relationship between the government and the society it serves. This need, this lack of cohesion in e-government strategy, can be seen by the fact that Saudi Arabia’s ranking by the UN for e-government was 80th out of 190 countries in 2005 and this is despite the fact that the nation, in that same year, spent SAR 11.5 billion on improving transportation, communication and information technology.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
While it can be suggested that there was already a widespread recognition of the problem, the solution was formulated and focused into a vision of a holistic approach to the provision of government services by the Council of Ministers, which is one of the most highly placed legislative bodies in Saudi Arabia. This body issued a Royal Decree which directed the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to formulate a plan for providing government services electronically, including a requirement that a whole approach using technology as the solution was adopted. As a result, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) established Yesser, the e-Government Program, in 2005, in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and the Central ICT Regulator, namely the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC). ‘Yesser’ is an Arabic word which means enable and facilitate, and it was given a mandate to create a virtual state through an incremental progression from passive and information focused e-government to interactive and transformative e-governance. To serve as a dispassionate and functional entity. This cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional approach means that services can be efficiently and equitably provided to a target audience that is the whole population of the Kingdom, thereby profoundly changing the way the government functions and the expectations placed upon it by its consumers. A three-pronged strategy has been pursued by Yesser. These prongs are: 1. To provide platforms which will enable the 300 or so government entities to share information through a state-of-the-art service oriented infrastructure. Examples of these platforms are the Government Service Bus and the Government Secure Network. 2. To implement a government-wide enterprise architecture (EA) program to promote a unified whole-of-government model that contributes to increasing both efficiency and effectiveness. This EA program has become the umbrella under which many of the existing standards, frameworks and government wide initiatives have been grouped. This enables government agencies to refer to a single source for guidelines and best practice such as data exchange standards, business reference models and technology standards. The main benefit from the realization of such a whole of government vision will be the avoidance of duplicated investments and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the government as a whole. The National Enterprise Architecture Model is unique as it melds together elements from strategic management and a well known solution paradigm, service-oriented architecture. The seamless combination of these different components into the National Enterprise Architecture has resulted in an end-to-end framework which promotes a whole of government approach to solution development and adoption. 3. To create a central repository of e-services that allows consumers to locate and consume services from a single portal, regardless of which agency actually provides the services. This portal, called, is continuously updated with the latest information and currently contains in excess of 1860e-services. Yesser also provides funds to government agencies that are seeking the modernization of their ICT systems, particularly in cases where the new services enabled will assist underserved members of the population to gain improved access to services. Yesser has published a set of frameworks and methodologies that help agencies focus on the core issue of serving the public rather than on the task of maintaining information technology. Since its inception, Yesser has helped 131 government agencies by providing USD 660 million for modernization and service automation. Yesser also provides consulting services that helps agencies with planning and executing their e-transformation plans. To date, Yesser has responded to 150 such requests.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The central role of Yesser in e-government enablement allows it to roll out a variety of unique initiatives that encourage the desired holistic approach and which thereby helps government agencies to improve their productivity and efficiency. The melding together of the National Enterprise Architecture Initiative with a service oriented architecture and a balanced scorecard approach is an innovative framework that is unique to Saudi Arabia and has helped to shape the development of government agencies in a way that focuses on holistic improvements in service delivery. Other initiatives, such as the Government Service Bus, Open Data and Government Cloud Services, have been created with a focus on using open standards wherever applicable. This helps to proof the resulting solutions for the future as well as encouraging public participation. Yesser also adopts a hands-off method to enforce these solutions, with the only time it enforces adoption is when a project has been funded by Yesser; otherwise, the use of solutions is based on their perceived merits. Yesser also offers training to government employees and CIO’s to help them understand the role technology plays in government and how to reuse the national solutions.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The implementation of the strategy required two wide-ranging action plans. The first focused on ensuring that the infrastructure needed to enable the start-up of the virtual system was up and running and this lasted from 2006 to 2010. This first action plan was more transactional in nature while the second plan, which is still within its implementation phase, where participatory deliberative decision making and engaging with society in a two-way open dialog is the focus. This plan is due to end in 2016. Within these two general strategic plans, further steps and milestones were necessary and these, in chronological order, are shown below: 2005: Yesser was established as a central government body to foster e-government development from a business perspective (financing projects, staff etc. and consulting). 2006: The first action plan was launched and it focused on a shared national infrastructure, e-services and national applications. Initiatives launched include Specifications Guidelines, Yesser Enterprise Framework for Interoperability (YEFI), which was based on various standard setting organizations (IEEE, ISO etc.), the Government Secure Network (GSN), the Government Service Bus, the Yesser Data Center, the National e-Government Contact Center and the Capacity Building Initiative. 2007: Initiatives launched and implemented include digital certification, Yesser Consulting Services, the e-Services Framework, the Government Modular Systems Specifications, the Saudi Portal and single sign-on (SSO). 2008: The indexing of Saudi e-government initiatives was initiated and a central services information hub was established ( The First iteration of the Saudi Government Transformation Measurement, called Qiyas, was conducted, analyzed and the results were published. Supporting skills, specialists, strategies and processes to allow the effective utilization of the above were also established. 2009: This year saw the launching of the Saudi National Infrastructure (Government Secure Network, Government Service Bus). Furthermore, the Second iteration of Saudi Government Transformation Measurement was conducted, analyzed and the results were published. 2010: This part of the action plan progressed with new national enabling services, including e-ID, on-boarding processes, Yesser Consulting Group was established, as was the Center of Excellence for Research and Development, the Enjaz National e-government Achievement Awards and e-Government Capacity Building and Training. The Third Iteration of the Saudi Government Transformation Measurement was conducted, analyzed, and the results were published. 2011: Additional services on the Government Service Bus were added, Yesser Service Awards were established and 22 agencies were funded and supported by the incremental development of e-transformation plans.. The Fourth Iteration of the Saudi Government Transformation Measurement was conducted, analyzed and the results were published. 2012: The second action plan was launched, focusing on the evolution of the components introduced in the first plan, along with the introduction of human capital improvement initiatives, greater public participation in the creation of services and the institutionalization of e-governance. The Fifth Iteration of the Saudi Government Transformation Measurement was conducted, analyzed and the results were published. 2013: The National Call Center became operational, the Open Data Initiative was launched, as well as the National Enterprise Architecture Initiative, a national architecture awareness public forum was set up, and a resulting conference conducted. GCloud plans were formalized, 38 agencies were funded and these were supported in their development of e-transformation plans. was updated and enhanced with wider web accessibility features.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The extent of participation in the implementation was such that it can be proposed that all stakeholders had some involvement, not least the Saudi public, those who would be the end users and (rightly) the main beneficiaries of it. Alongside this group, the e-Government Program "Yesser" was deeply involved and significant contributions came from business owners, senior executives of public institutions, ministers and government employees. Indeed, it was the recommendations and input from all groups mentioned (and others) which not only enabled the modernization of the nation’s e-governance system, but also took heed of best practices that had been developed in other nations in areas of public sector ICT use and development. This, stakeholders are embedded in the overall governing of the operation, planning, and monitoring of Yesser’s performance. This entity strives to include all individuals and groups in both top down and bottom up feedback loops and the first of these approaches is encapsulated in the “e-Government Program Supreme Supervisory Committee.” This is formed by the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology and the Governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission. The Steering Committee includes relevant executives and managers from these ministries and an e-government committee in each government organization is directly linked to the top executive in that organization. The major task of these committees is to supervise the implementation of the e-government plan in their respective organizations through a dynamic process of learning by doing and by experience gained. These efforts and methods juncture with the bottom up effort, which consists of various initiatives. These include the conducting of various surveys of government agencies, using public forums and e-forums, and end user surveys as mechanisms to maintain the valued engagement of these stakeholder groups in the development of e-government initiatives.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
A total of SAR 3 billion, which is the equivalent of approximately USD 800 million, was allocated from the general budget for the initial phase of the Yesser National e-Government Program. This financial resource has remained stable and demonstrates the commitment of the senior leadership of the nation. New processes for vetting and accelerating the funding of e-government projects at ministry and agency levels have been utilized to appropriately allocate and direct this seed money and both the finance provided and the processes involved have significantly assisted in advancing service development. The National Portal is an outsourced project and this also receives continuous financial support, and the same applies for the entire core infrastructure. However, while this financial support and its proper allocation has been of vital importance, human resources have also been a critical factor in the development and support provided by Yesser. The Kingdom has a shortage of some of the skill levels necessary to support the projects and, as previously noted, Yesser is working hard to solve this problem. This has been seen in a number of initiatives, for example it now goes beyond training for technical and front office workers by including CIO and executive level mentorship programs. Yesser has also developed the Future Experts Program to take new graduates and line managers into a specialized e-government education and experiential program. In the course of the development of the second action plan, high levels of attention have been placed on both Yesser and the Kingdom’s e-government leaders to address the on-going skills development need. The organizational structure of Yesser has been tightly focused on utilizing the concepts of continuous improvements and constructed learning, with the goal of reaching a level that can be fairly described in terms of it being a high-performance knowledge organization. Current departments involved in this aim and in the programs described are e-services, the Yesser Consulting Group, the Infrastructure Integration Group and management. In terms of technology, Yesser has focused its attention on using open standards and solutions to lower costs and to avoid re-inventing concepts and solutions that have already become available. In the National Enterprise Architecture Initiative, Yesser has developed its own methodology based on the well-known Open Group Architecture Framework and the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework of the USA. This latter framework was complemented with the Service Oriented Architecture methodology, which was published by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), and the Balanced Score Card for Strategic Performance Management. Other initiatives, such as the Yesser Interoperability Framework, mandated the use of XML and RESTUL web services for sharing and maintaining government data. This focus on open standards has saved the Kingdom a significant amount of time as well as money and other resources in the maintenance and development of solutions.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Some of the most successful outputs of Yesser include: 1. The embedding of solutions that support the settled view of government with regard to the delivery of services by key government agencies. For example, the hosting of more than 40 services by the Government Services Bus that are connected to 65 major government agencies; allowing agencies to subscribe to a shared facility, the National Call Center, and the Government Cloud Service that allows agencies to rationalize the use of hardware, platforms and software. These services have led to savings equivalent to SAR 5 billion annually, which is a ROI of 167% based on the budget allocated to Yesser (SAR 3 billion), and this does not include the add-on effects of training conducted by Yesser to further raise productivity. 2. The provision of funding equivalent to USD 660 million for agencies to adopt whole of government solutions, automate and re-engineer their processes to better enable the provision of e-services to citizens, businesses and other government agencies. This funding is in accordance with the National e-Government Plan and is tied to performance improvement incentives. Through this funding, Yesser has supported 131 government agencies with projects that support the whole of government vision. 3. A web portal has been created that acts as a repository and single source of consistent data for e-services available in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It currently hosts more than 1600 e-services that are provided by different government agencies and can be accessed via a variety of different channels. The number of users of services provided by the site is estimated at 15.4 million, more than half of the whole population of Saudi Arabia. 4. The Creation of the National Enterprise Architecture Framework, which melds together the best solutions from the Open Group, Balanced Score Card, Service Oriented Architecture and the Federal Enterprise Architecture methodology. Support for the relative success of Yesser can be seen in the UN ranking for e-governance in Saudi Arabia, which in 2014 is 36, an increase of 44 places since the e-Government Program began in 2005. Saudi Arabia has also won 4 international awards including the Future eGov Award, the Improving Public Service Award from the UN, and the WSA-National Portal. The participation of government agencies is at an all-time high, something that is only likely to increase as adoption and awareness of the service increases.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The e-Government Transformation Measurement program, or “QIYAS,” is a comprehensive annual survey that is conducted by Yesser and which evaluates and monitors the progress that is being made by different government agencies in terms of improving their ability to provide automated services. A significant number of external auditors, who are independent of having direct connections to, or involvement in, the e-Government Program, are involved with the survey and this group has a responsibility to ensure that the process is fair, that the results are an accurate reflection of the existing situation and have not been skewed or in any way influenced by interactions between the e-government program and government agencies. A second survey, which measures G2C & G2B satisfaction, is used to evaluate public perceptions and satisfaction. This survey takes once every 3 years and the results are published and publically available. These surveys have two intended purposes; one is to provide decision makers with information regarding the state of government in terms of its technology adoption technological maturity, and another is to provide government agencies with an incentive to adopt the whole of government approach in solution creation. As noted, the results are published and are publically available and openness is further enhanced through an annual awards ceremony which gives national recognition to agencies and initiatives that best serve the whole of the government viewpoint that is embodied by Yesser. As well as enhancing transparency, these awards further serve to encourage agencies to adopt the paradigm of whole of government operations as opposed to continuing to struggle within the silos that stand-alone agencies effectively are. With reference to transactional data involved within e-services being used online, these are measured via the transaction monitoring tools built into the web portal. These measure areas such as the quality of services and this and other transactional data is available via an internal dashboard on the portal itself.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Cooperation, participation and teamwork form the basis of success in any endeavor that involves more than one individual, and e-government is no exception to this rule. Therefore, it must be supported by agencies working together to integrate services, which in turn involves the sharing of technology, information and techniques. Emphasis therefore has to be on a shared commitment to the interests of clients rather than on concerns involving losses of authority and power; thus, a coherent and integrated approach is the key to providing better and faster services. Against this background, the major problems and solutions are described below: 1. The involvement of agencies in their technical orientation was one key challenge and was met by the development of processes, training and communications vehicles to educate and facilitate the broad expansion of agency capabilities. The creation of the Yesser Consulting Group was a major step in these directions. 2. The financing of projects and resources had the potential to create fear and uncertainty and this was overcome by the use of agency account managers, who act as internal advocates for e-service development, as well as acting on the behalf of agencies to support the acquisition of funding from multiple sources. 3. The instinct to protect and insulate themselves among agencies has been reduced through two primary means. Firstly, there is the organizational involvement of agencies in developing e-government strategies and action plans. Secondly, adherence to these plans includes customer involvement in the management of Yesser operations. Yesser transparently works for the benefit of agencies as well as for service users; it allows agencies to maintain ownership of their services and data at the same time as providing enabling technologies, strategies and support.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Transforming the diverse and disparate delivery of government services into seamlessly and dispassionately, and making available such services at all times and to all people, with no regards whatsoever to any of their characteristics or assumed allegiances, will clearly have a strongly beneficial impact. However, it is the changes within the vision, within the end result, that will have incremental impacts that enable the service to be successful and enable the final and overall fundamental change. The starting point for Yesser was the development of a national portal, which created a single entry point for centralized service delivery. This repository hosts government services regardless of which agency provides the service and is available to all citizens, which supports the principles of inclusiveness, continuous service delivery and the centralizing of resources. The impact on the lives of all citizens, and those who were disadvantaged by the previous system in particular, can be noted by the fact that within 5 years of Yesser’s existence, more than 1860 e-services are now being offered. There is, furthermore, a rate of growth in these services of around 250 each year and this means that Saudi Arabia now has the largest repository of its kind in the Middle East. This high growth rate of service has an impact on most if not all sectors of the economy, population and government offices, making it a ‘comprehensive e-government hub’ of leadership, technology, services and performance measurement. The provision of and increase in these services clearly opens new opportunities for Saudi Arabian’s to access fundamentally important areas of governance. One example is the e-ID solution, which provides assured identity for private and secure transactions through a highly integrated cornerstone service. E-ID encourages women, men and enterprises to confidently and privately consume sensitive electronic services such as the renewal of work permits. Taking the example of work permits further, this service is delivered by the Saudi Ministry of Labor and there is an annual requirement for at least 4 million individuals. The manual issuance of these permit requests is estimated to take a least an hour for each individual to complete, with their attendance at the office being required, and assuming that no queries are raised. Yesser’s GSB, e-ID and online transaction reduces this time to 10 minutes. This increases the Kingdom’s productivity by around 3.3 million hours per year, or a saving of SAR 1 billion annually. The total savings estimated from holistic government approaches to technology such as this are estimated to be more than SAR 5 billion annually. Furthermore, the productivity gains resulting from the training conducted by Yesser, while somewhat difficult to estimate, is also conservatively believed to be at least SAR 1 billion. Abilities that have been enabled through the formation and progression of Yesser mean that it now has a central role because it is able to identify areas where human resource development in the public sector is needed. By offering training programs tailored to these needs, 27,000 government employees have benefitted during the past 3 years. This training places an emphasis on IT skills and increases in complexity as trainees gain more individual skills. Through this mechanism, the productivity and efficiency of the government as a whole, based on post training surveys, has improved. Fundamentally, these training initiatives are estimated as being 90% effective in raising the skill levels of government employees. Yesser’s Enterprise Architecture Framework is based on accepted standards and melds together the best approaches to solution development using service oriented architecture and strategic performance measurement by using the Balanced Score Card. This EA framework enables the government to save a significant amount in terms of rationalizing redundant investments and re-using solution components. Yesser conducts annual surveys among government agencies and the public to determine the perception, usage, knowledge and satisfaction of the services available. The results of recent surveys indicate that 82% of individuals are aware of the central repository of services, while 58% of them have used these services. A majority (55%) of users is completely satisfied with the services available and 92% of them trust that they will perform as anticipated. These surveys will significantly influence the shape of future initiatives.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Commitment at the highest levels of government to an integrated cross-agency virtual e-government facility can be shown by the fact that an initial allocation of SAR 3 billion was made in 2005. This has been sustained through subsequent budget allocations and the success achieved by Yesser in enabling high value returns and in accomplishing its goals has meant that the initiative is also sustainable in other areas apart from financing. These areas are considered under separate headings below: Social:. Society now expects services to be delivered in a more flexible and centralized manner and people will feel that they have been franchised and modernized, that their society belongs more to them than to public officials. Economic: The savings generated by implementing a holistic government technical architecture exceeds SAR 5 billion annually, with just one project, the automation of work permit requests and issuance, being estimated to have saved roughly SAR 1 billion annually. Thus, the system is not only economically beneficial but can only continue to bring sustainable financial and economic benefits. Cultural: Multiple approaches are being taken to support the cultural adoption of e-government concepts and delivery. Although at one level Saudi Arabia can be seen as being culturally homogenous, at other levels it has diversity with regard to opportunities and disadvantages, for example in a divide between urban and rural communities. This makes initiatives such as national conferences, CIO workshops and summits important events where experiences can be shared. The growing utilization of portal and ministerial services and the inclusion of industry partners in these conferences and meetings helps to sustain them in return for the opportunity to raise awareness of private as well as public services. Institutional: The Second 5 Year Strategy and Action Plan for 2011-2016 is complete and this, alongside the presence of frameworks such as the National Enterprise Architecture, gives institutions a well defined set of paradigms to follow when developing solutions. The adoption, furthermore, of such frameworks within government agencies creates its own momentum. Regulatory: The engagement of Saudi Arabia with e-government, supported by Yesser, has left an indelible mark on the Kingdom’s regulatory landscape. Examples include the e-Transactions Act, the Telecommunications Act, the IT Criminal Act, e-Government Implementation Rules, a Directive to form Government Agencies’ e-Government Committees, Rules Governing Private Sector Participation and a Directive to Shift from Conventional to Electronic Methods. Transferability: ‘Develop once and reuse’ is at the heart of Yesser’s mission. It is now seen in a growing number of products offered to the public and which affect everyone’s lives. These services and strategies cannot be placed into the traditional transferability model and therefore interest in them from international partners, particularly those in the GCC, is anticipated when the stark contrast between the previous model and the new reality is, , transmitted to them.

 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 key lessons learned and recommendations made are: 1. The implementation of a whole of government approach in solving complicated business problems has two main components, which are the technology used to solve the problem and the cultural and organizational readiness of the organization to adopt the solution. In many cases, implementing the technology is relatively easy but educating users and changing attitudes towards the new whole of government paradigm is harder. Therefore, the adoption of technology should be predicated by extensive training and social engagement to ensure greater degrees of initial success in the development and implementation of such whole of government solutions. 2. Raising awareness of the availability of a solution is almost as important as having the solution, with the class of people that benefit most from using e-services often being the most difficult to reach and to show that the change will be of particular benefit to them. People with limited mobility such as elderly citizens, women and the lower rung of society benefit most from being empowered by e-services, but the lack of communication options for advertising these services prevents them from taking full advantage of them. Therefore, identifying vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and reaching out to them should be made a priority in the future and this involves developing, through primary research, the best methods that should be adopted for targeted advertising and training. 3. Balancing the freedom of information with security and privacy is a difficult and often narrow path to be followed. Yesser has a set of common frameworks and technologies to help agencies share information, but the sensitivity of the information at times goes beyond the objective setting and interpretation of set rules and regulations. Fundamentally, specific challenges and dilemmas can arise within different agencies, one obvious example being medical records. The recommendation that emerges from this learned lesson is the necessity of working with each individual agency and its key staff members. Only by doing this can the right balance between open information and the privacy of individual information be achieved. This recommendation can be strengthened by facilitating the co-creation of content in a G2B & G2C setting that is centered on a well-defined and implemented privacy policy that has the flexibility of interpretation at single agency levels.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Saudi eGovernment Program
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Syed Husain
Title:   Enterprise Architect  
Telephone/ Fax:   966114529245
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Saudi eGovernment Program (Yesser)
Postal Code:   11112
City:   Riyadh

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