National Payment Aggregator (NPA)
eGovernment Authority, Kingdom of Bahrain

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Government’s initiative for eServices, who deliver more than 300 services across Bahrain, observed many challenges when coordinating multiple payment service providers and individual merchant outlets. For instance: • Control issues: It was almost impossible to get a consolidated overview of all the payments transactions across all channels, because of multiple payment fulfillment agencies. There was no holistic view of the transaction flow. • Complexity issues: The integration between the service providers and the fulfillment agencies was repetitive and not standardized. Thereby creating complex coding requirement as well as scalability issues. • Flexibility issues: It was difficult to onboard new service provider or enable a new channel because of the integration effort issues. Government needed a way to provide a holistic view of all eService transactions across government in order to: • Eliminate citizen inconvenience of having to travel, queue-up for payments at multiple locations • Mitigate Government operational issues such as managing the reconciliation of payment data across all the concerned parties (Payment Service Providers, Ministries, Ministry of Finance, etc.) which posed a large-scale challenge. • Empower and Simplify payment dispute redressal process. Government foresight and investment in an ICT driven solution like the National Payment Aggregator considerably enhances the single point of payment facility across various government department and ministries, capable of integrating and providing: a) Payment Authorization through PSP’s, b) Integration with existing online channel services (portal, mobile, IVR, kiosks), c) Integration with future payment modes and channels (eBanking, Wallets, etc), d) Provision of comprehensive reporting facility and views, e) Facilitation, reconciliation and settlement of reporting and processes, f) Provision of onsite resource for implementing and managing the solution. g) Facilitation of future growth and expansion in payment transactions and services

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Complementing the Governments agenda of providing convenient, transparent and eco-friendly governance to promote citizen centric eServices, the eGovernment Authority (eGA) strategically created the National Payment Aggregator initiative to: • Improve Government revenue collections • Reduce time and cost of collections • Reduce currency in circulation • Improve ease of doing business • Provide secure electronic payment methods • Streamline data interchange (Industry standard interfaces) • Achieve visibility of revenue collection through MIS and data mining capabilities • Provide, system based reconciliation, settlement and reporting eGA’s vision in implementing National Payment Aggregator (NPA) was to: • Deliver a centralized ePayment collection module • Facilitate, most payment methods and payment types • Enhance transaction efficiency and status view, • Provide comprehensive MIS and reconciliatory reports • Deploy an advanced technology platform with modular architecture :  to achieve business objectives  reduce interfacing effort and time  reduce cost to customers and govt. entities. • Secure convenient payment services (3D, debit & credit cards) • Collaborate with stakeholders to harness additional benefits such as:  Customized Reconciliation process for ministries  Online transaction status query for resolving customer complaints  Comprehensive MIS reporting of overall aggregation views

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Prior to implementation of NPA, each ministry within the Government worked individually; signing up with payment service providers (PSP) and interface coding for payment fulfillment. The reasons which led to the NPA initiative were: • Payment Service Provider’s (PSP’s) demanding higher transaction fees/commission as each ministry would sign-up individually. Thus Government had no bargaining power to reduce the transaction costs • Duplicating of efforts by each ministry by writing their own code to interface with PSP’s • Repeating of compliances or PSP mandates as applied by each and every participating entities • Lack of comprehensive reporting nor MIS view of payment transactions or revenue collections • Poor transaction trace back facilities and customer dissatisfaction Implementing NPA brought about: • A central repository of all ePayment transactions • Single, unified PSP interface, avoiding innumerable duplication of code • Compliances and mandates are updated centrally, one at a time; thereby reducing large effort and cost burdens to each individual ministry. • Transaction trace-back by introducing schedulers, whereby disconnected transactions are queried back at regular intervals • Empowering Government to barter for cheaper fees and commission with PSPs • 360 degree view of all transactions for all ministry participants • Facilitation of an online query service to the National Call Centre for reprint, and/or email of transaction receipts for any transaction status or customer complaint reference.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
eGA has an established Procurement and Program Management Office that enables acquisition and rollout of national projects like the NPA. eGA engaged a professional consulting firm to frame the requirements and identify the solution partner through a public tender. Key considerations for selecting the right platform solution were: • Proven and mature solution with embedded best practices, preferably with previous successful implementations in the region, • Good domain knowledge, and a sound delivery model governed by top-of-line quality and; • Solution’s based on the latest technologies supporting industry leading platforms. The NPA solution was based on leading edge integration centric BPM which supported all leading technology platforms. The high functional fitment, scalability and ability of the proposed NPA solution enabled support of the entire payments ecosystem with a tracking system to handle very large volumes of data as well as diverse messages, formats, and platforms, together with the ability to handle online and offline connectivity. SEI CMMi Level 1.3 (highest level of quality certification) standards and a global delivery model gave us the needed comfort and support to deliver this key project. The system came embedded with multi-level controls, encryption tools and supported industry standard authentication systems. Rigorous testing methodology for security, functionality, data integrity down to coding standards was deployed. Framework overview  Application and services undergo a numerous number of security reviews and checks throughout the SDLC (Service Development Life Cycle). From the initial conceptualization of business requirements to the final product.  eGA’s Security team is deeply involved in managing information risks in accordance to best practices and standards, such as ISO27001, OSSTMM and OWASP.  Each application undergoes a Web Application Security Review and Security Code Review by an independent security specialist, which highlights and identifies risks and vulnerabilities against OWASP guidelines.  Applications are reviewed for potential vulnerabilities and compliance with best practices in information security, in accordance with platform and ecosystem guidelines.  Infrastructure components are subjected to continuous vulnerability scans and analysis by local and cloud based vulnerability scanners.  Web services are also subject to Penetration Tests simulating a full attack by an external entity.  The Penetration Test is conducted as a 'Black-box' followed by the 'Gray- box' exercise, implying that the testing team is not given any prior information about the target applications but is later provided with the login credentials for the Gray-Box activity. This is done to simulate as closely as possible the viewpoint of a completely external as well as internal attacker.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Key Stakeholders of this project initiative includes: Key eGA (Internal) Stakeholders: 1 Project Management Office 2 Services Delivery and Channels Enhancement 3 HR and Finance Directorate 4 BPR Directorate 5 Legal (Policy & procedures) Key External Stakeholders: 1 Ministries and Government Entities 2 Solution Vendors 3 Payment Service Providers (PSP)
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The overall costs (financial, technical and human resources) are fully covered by a budget of $1.9 million from the eGovernment Authority (EGA), Kingdom of Bahrain, funded by MoF (Ministry of Finance). Project Team/Resources: The team comprised of payment domain specialists, integration experts, product specialists, platform support resources, business analysts and development and testing teams with high techno-functional orientation. Most of the senior resources were also accomplished trainers who carried out effective training sessions. The Solution Vendor mobilized their resources to align completely to the project plan. Whilst some resources were fully dedicated and acted as anchors both onsite and offshore, some were only needed for specific interventions. During specific times when we needed some unplanned acceleration in the project progress additional resources were easily mobilized at short notice. The average team size dedicated overall, covering both the eGovernment Authority and Solution Vendor Bahwan CyberTek (BCT), was 30+ resources of varying levels.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
• Key Success factors:  Project Management  Milestones monitoring  Subject matter expertise  Team interactions  Meetings & documented procedures • Solution Vendors :  Product expertise, application flexibility/scalability  Team access to reach at all levels for mitigation of risks  Clear definition of Stakeholder and staff Roles and responsibilities

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
A team formed between the eGovernment Authority, key stakeholders and NPA Solution Vendor ensured proactive and meticulous planning of every project objective, broken down into logical delivery phases and measurable milestones. The teams were conscious that this project involved the coordination and support of multiple departments and external agencies and hence the overall NPA vision was translated into simple win-win factors for each of the participating agencies. Their levels of readiness were also considered and reviewed in order to architect an approach that encouraged easier adoption of NPA. A shared vision delivered through multiple forms of communication and motivation sessions ensured enthusiastic support from all quarters to take on board the system. The following processes contributed largely in monitoring and managing the projects timely deliveries: 1) Base lined Project PLAN 2) Regular Project progress MEETING 3) Status update on clearly defined project MILESTONES 4) Project RISK Management 5) Project defined Issue ESCALLATION Process 6) CHANGE REQUEST Management 7) VENDOR Management reporting 8) Pre-Defined Communication protocol 9) Resource Management 10) Functional/Unit testing 11) Quality Assurance & Certification 12) RELEASE Management 13) Support Management

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Being a National initiative responsible for delivering high level impact across the whole of government, was a humongous task to accomplish. But both eGA and Bahwan CyberTek being professionally skilled, planned a successful win-win plan to deliver a successful outcome. The varying levels of readiness of each of the participating stakeholders/entities were a great challenge. By defining clear project management processes, including the identification of clear user needs at the start of the project, the NPA Team were able to adopt a successful on-boarding strategy through a “path of least resistance” i.e. aligning functions to end-user priorities, addressing their key concerns, minimizing change at their end and even exercising flexibility in timings based on their availability and business priorities. This transparent partnership based approach with stakeholders to work to a shared vision helped us overcome many of the ‘readiness’ challenges. The stakeholder commitment from all quarters, starting from issuing the mandates to empowering the representative teams to the swift handling of any escalations or request for interventions, gave the necessary impetus to deliver and progress the project as per plan.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
By virtue of the NPA all PSP’s are now on boarded under one system; bringing about the benefits of a single integrated payment platform, including government cost savings and the improvement of citizens daily lives through the offering of convenient, easy-to-use payment methods and channels for the services they consume. Impacts include: • Standardized integration of NPA, by way of common modules has eliminated the need for duplicating the PSP integration efforts for each entity by considerably reducing service delivery time lines. • Embracing online transactions delivers all round benefits and lessen Government’s burden of payment transaction fees from PSPs. Eventually, lowering transaction costs for all citizens. • Secure Transaction processing was achieved by implementing 3-D secure and PCI-DSS compliance norms. These were communicated by a variety of marketing campaigns and education programs to increase the trust capacity of the general public to give them confidence in e-transactions, • Major thrusts were given to UI so that it was easy to navigate through the services in a minimal number of clicks to perform transactions. Robust and state of the art technologies were used (h/ware, s/ware) to drive efficient, error free transactions with configurable, parametric set-ups. Stringent usability tests performed on the system helped achieve this objective. • Improved visibility of collections for better Treasury planning by the Finance department. • Greatly helps in reducing cash in circulation • These landmark initiatives free up payment queues and allow government resources to focus on more critical support areas while contributing to the overall productivity of the country. Online payments are fast taking people off the streets; allowing them perform transactions anywhere, anytime. This result helps to ease the crowded roads and reduce queues at payment counters, thereby contributing directly to reducing Carbon Footprints as well as supporting Green Government. initiatives.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The NPA government initiative from the Kingdom of Bahrain is serving the Government, Citizens and the economy through many dimensions. Financial benefits: Just by bringing the citizen onto alternative service platforms such as mobile, portal, IVR, Kiosks etc., the government has created a tremendous saving opportunity on the infrastructure to support citizen services over the counter. Social & Economic benefits: Since Government services are now available across a multitude of channels and options, more and more citizens will be able to consume them. This will improve government-citizen interaction, efficiency and transparency. Citizens are therefore having more frequent interactions with government and the level of citizen satisfaction improves with every consumed service. Cultural & Environmental benefits: The government eServices will direct citizens/businesses to technological alternative channels rather than the conventional methods of payment in person at specific buildings. The environment will therefore be positively impacted by reducing numbers of cars on the road travelling to these venues, thereby burning less fuel and conserving the natural resources contributing to the green-earth ethos. It also brings a cultural shift in nature of the citizen since they will be better aware of the government policies, procedures, facilities, etc. Citizen will also be able to provide feedback on various issues and be proactively responsible for better and efficient environment. Institutional & regulatory sustainability: Government institutions want to improve their citizen friendly/efficient interactions. At the same time they want to comply with regulatory guidelines. The NPA eGovernment initiative fulfill’s these objectives by accounting for accessibility, visibility, transparency and accountability. The central monitoring authorities are completely in control of the citizen transactions. The payment dispute redressal mechanism can be handled in an efficient way and the coordination between various government agencies is well managed. The National Payment Aggregator is a part of the eGovernment strategy of the Kingdom of Bahrain. NPA services are proliferated across various government departments to conduct their payment transactions between themselves as well as the citizen. It is designed to be flexible, therefore all the ministries, service providers, and fulfillment agencies can be on boarded efficiently thereby eliminating the redundant processes. The theme of this initiative can be applied to any scenario nationally or internationally wherever different department have a need to coordinate better, standardize and gain control and visibility on payment transactions

 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 major impact from the NPA initiative can be summarized as • Enables governmental organizations to operate more efficiently and provided a seamless payment experience to its citizens to make easier G2C interactions • Establishes controls to protect data and prevent misuse through enhanced collaboration and interoperability between systems and agencies. • Delivers the adding of new agencies and multiple payment collection options with ease and flexibility • Enhances Security of information by protecting the integrity of data and payments received through the entire process. • Automates the entire payment process of consolidating payments for various service providers, enabling aggregated fulfillment of the payment transactions and performing settlement with the respective banks whilst complying with internal and external control requirements • Overall, Citizen delight and ease of doing business with government agencies is increased The main lessons learned may be summarized: • Governments should proactively reach out to citizens for service feedback using IT processes and systems, without waiting for citizens to first complain • System solutions must be able to be fine-tuned and adapted to allow for changes to policies and legal frameworks • Intensive communication and training activities must be carried out aimed at conveying the benefits of the initiative to increase public adoption • Need to establishing a clear and collaborative partnership/relationship with all major stakeholders, particularly with public buyers and SMEs • New practices and systems must be documented to provide an uninterrupted and dependable service (no gaps due to discontinuity!) during the entire life-cycle of the project. Introduction of the NPA system revolutionized the way payments are handled and processed across the Kingdom of Bahrain, thanks to the clear perception of benefits for all stakeholders.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   eGovernment Authority, Kingdom of Bahrain
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mohammed Hammad
Title:   Chief, Information Security  
Telephone/ Fax:   +973 17388305
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   mihammad@ega.gov.bh  
Address:   Al Barsha Building, Building no. 145, Road no. 2403, Block no. 224, Muharraq Governorate, Manama 75533
Postal Code:  
City:   Muharraq
State/Province:  
Country:  

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