The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has one of the fastest developing economies in the Middle East region. The country has been attracting foreign investors, especially in the petroleum industry, finance, and tourism. This means that the central government at Riyadh has been under pressure to meet the growing demand for government services. According to Hana (2011, p. 7), with the increasing relevance of this country as a regional economic hub, the government departments have had to expand the service delivery capacity in order to meet the demands of the stakeholders. The government of this country has been concerned about the time it takes for the investors to access the relevant documents for registration or their normal operations. Alshehri and Drew (2010, p. 1053) says that, in the current society, information is very important for both the public and private sectors. However, using some of the conventional methods of passing information from government institutions to the public and vice versa has been proven ineffective.
The improved information communication technology has brought the ways through which the government can integrate all relevant information to various stakeholders and make them available on demand through online means. The Saudi government realised that it could improve its service delivery by introducing e-governance. In 2005, the government launched Yesser, an e-government program that was meant to decentralise government operations. The program was intended to ensure that the stakeholders in different sectors can access the relevant documents and make some of the transactions with the government through online means. Although the initial plan that lasted till 2010 was not as successful as it had been anticipated, the government did not pullout from the program, and currently, the society is enjoying its success. This research analyses the e-governance that was launched by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Yesser was a concept that was hatched by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology following a Royal Decree No. 7/B/33181 which made on September 7, 2003. The main focus of the decree was that the country should be transformed into an information society (Alshehri, Drew & Alfarraj, 2012, p. 5). The government had come to appreciate that the economy had become attractive to both the local and foreign investors. This meant that the country will have better chances of development. For this reason, the government of Saudi Arabia realised that it had to revolutionise its information system to be able to meet the increased demand brought about by the international stakeholders. The discussion on this concept started on July 7th, 2003 when the cabinet was briefed about it. However, it was not clear how Yesser would be implemented in order to ensure that there was a smooth transition from the analogue to a digital way of handling information within the government institutions. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, in collaboration with the ministries of Finance and the relevant commission, initiated a research that would help develop an appropriate prototype that would be used in this new governance approach. A team of experts was hired to work into finding the desirable prototype. According to O’Kane (2014, p. 50), e-governance system that works in one country may not necessarily be successful in another country, especially when there are huge variations in the two systems. The experts had the task of developing a system that would meet the international standards, but based on local needs. Although such systems were up and running in some of the Western countries, it was necessary to develop a system that was sensitive to the local needs in order to gain the local acceptance. The final plan was finally approved in 2005 when the program was launched under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, which was named Yesser.
First Plan: 2005 to 2010
Yesser was the first e-governance action plan that was meant to support the government of Saudi Arabia in digitalising its governance process. This first plan started in 2005 and was expected to run for five years till 2010. The vision of the plan was to develop a user-centric e-governance initiative that would help the stakeholders in the society access the relevant documents from the government, process most of their transactions with the government through online means, and decentralise most of the government functions. In essence, this program was focused on helping the government to provide better services to its people. It was believed that this new initiative would help in eliminating some of the long queues in the government offices, especially in the lands ministry, business registry offices, and even in the courts. With a free flow of information between the government and the public and among government departments, it was expected that the duration of approving business applications would be shorter and less expensive. This would not only encourage the local investors to venture into various businesses, but would also attract foreign investors. This plan was divided into three specific stages.
The first stage was the development of the infrastructure. This was the most complex task because the government had to invest a lot on the infrastructure and find highly skilled labour to be involved in this process. The process of eliminating the old analogue systems and replacing them with a digital system was expected to start from 2006 to 2008. Within the two years, the government’s expectations were that the project would be completed. According to Kalathil and Boas (2003, p. 79), this process took a little longer because, part of the new system had to be imported. It was also evident that the initial cost of the project had to be inflated as the reality on the ground proved different from what was in the plan. The pilot services project at this first stage indicated that there was a need to improve the system with some new features that were not factored in when developing the original plan.
The e-services projects were the second stage that begun in the late 2007 as soon as parts of the infrastructure were in place. It is important to note that this was important to help determine the effectiveness of the infrastructures that were installed. A team of experts was keen to ensure that the data that was available in the huge government files was transformed into digital form and stored in a central database. From the central database, the experts tested the ability to offer similar services, but in a digital form. The original information remained in the files in order to ensure that the normal operation of the government was not disrupted during this process. At this stage, the technocrats would determine some of the minor changes that would be needed on the project as long as it did not bring massive deviations from the original project.
National application projects
The last stage was the national application projects. At this stage, the experts developed regional databases that were linked to the central databases. The rational was to determine how the regional databases could be fed with information from the central databases. It was also necessary to make these databases interactive. This meant that the experts had to find ways in which a database in the City of Riyadh could positively share data with a database in Mecca. This process started in 2008. At this stage, the public was involved in order to determine how well they could be served using this newly digitalised system.
There were a number of limitations on the project when it had finally been brought to completion by the initially set date. One of the main limitations was the inability of the system to be interactive. Although regional databases had the capacity to retrieve data from the central data, the desired interactivity between the regional databases was not achieved. This meant that the process of decentralising the system was not complete. The primary outcome of the system during this first plan was very complex to use, and was prone to breakdowns (United Nations 2010, p. 57). This compromised the efficiency of the system in terms of service delivery. The speed expected of a digital system was also not achieved in this first plan.
According to Hana (2011, p. 11), another limitation of the first plan was that it failed to integrate the initial systems of governance that was being run through analogue system. This meant that the government could not fully shift from the analogue system to this new system at this stage because of this lack of integration. The system had to be improved before the government could be allowed to use it.
Reasons for failure
According to Worrall (2011, p. 58), when the plan was put into practice, it was realised that the budget needed was larger than what had been initially allocated. This meant that the team had to strain the resources in order to achieve the desired results. The inexperience of some of the government officials involved in the project could also be blamed for the failure. This was a completely new system that no one had used within the government in the past. This meant that many errors were committed by the people involved in the process of learning the system. Public expectations could also be blamed for this failure. It could be factual that this plan was successful in its own standards, but because of the over-expectation of the public, it could only be seen as a failure. It could have failed to meet their expectations, but it was a success towards achieving a digitalised government system. Alshehri and Drew (2010, p. 1058) says that the technocrats who were involved in the project had limited knowledge in this field, and this was partly to blame for the failure of the project.
Second Plan: 2012 to 2016
The experiences of the First Plan defined the path taken during the launch and implementation of the Second Plan which was expected to run from 2012-2016. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology realised that the success could only be achieved in this project if more stakeholders were directly involved in the implementation process. The ministry- in collaboration with the universities, representatives from the general public, consulting firms, the private sectors, and other government agencies- formed a Yesser Steering Committee to help in monitoring the implementation of the Second Plan. At this stage, the ministry, through its chief executive officers, was keen to ensure that the mistakes made in the initial project were not repeated during the implementation of the Second Plan. The idea of incorporating many stakeholders into this program was motivated by a desire to help identify success factors or issues that could lead to the failure early enough so that it can be rectified. The inclusion of universities, especially those that offer telecommunication courses, was meant to ensure that innovative minds were involved to help question some of the processes in this project, or inject new ideas. It would also ensure that this project went hand in hand with research at these institutions to improve the quality of the final system. It is important to note that analysts have considered the Second Plan a success. The Second Action Plan was based on three components discussed below.
Building of sustainable e-government workforce
The Second Plan focused on ways of building e-government workforce that would be able to deliver good results to the public. In the First Plan, it was noted that there was no formidable e-government workforce that could help in the implementation of this new project. Having learnt from this mistake, the Yesser Steering Committee was committed to ensuring that there was proper workforce that would be directly involved at different stages of the implementation. The national government has employed competent individuals at the departments. This effort could have been one of the factors that contributed to the success in this Second Plan.
Improved public-government interaction experience
This Second Plan emphasised on the improved experience on the interaction between the public and various government agencies. In order to achieve this, the system was focused on offering user-centric techniques when visiting various online databases of the government. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology worked with other departments to digitise their data. The move was meant to ensure that any information that was relevant to the public was made readily available in the websites of these ministries. This way, the need to go to the physical offices would be eliminated. For the departments that are involved in the registration of business units, there has been an effort during the implementation of this plan to digitalise everything, including all the relevant payments. This would help in eliminating congestion at these offices, the fact that would improve government-public interaction experience. It is expected that when the plan is completed in 2016, all these needs shall have been met successfully.
Development of innovative and collaborative culture
According to Mahmood (2013, p. 59), information is power, and the ability of a society to prosper is always based on its ability to share new knowledge in various fields. Saudi Arabia is increasingly becoming one of the leading economic hubs in the region, the fact that has seen many investors from different parts of the world coming to invest locally. In order to ensure that the local economy benefits from this, it is necessary to develop innovative and collaborative culture in the local society. Innovation can only be realised in an environment where there is free flow of information. This way people, will know the trends taking place in various fields, and how they can develop innovative ways of managing the trend. The free flow of information also helps in developing a collaborative culture because different entities would be able to share information that is relevant to their fields.
Improved government efficiency
This Second Plan also had a direct focus on how to improve the government’s efficiency in delivering services to its citizens. According to Remenyi (2008, p. 48), most of the government services fail to make any significant impact on the lives of the members of the society because of the manner in which they are delivered. In most of the cases, service delivery would follow a bureaucratic process that the normal citizens may not be able to follow. It is common to find many of the members of the society stating that they do not know any other role of the government other than collecting taxes and offering security in return. Some do not understand that they have the right to walk into the public institutions and demand for specific documents that are relevant to them as stated in the constitution. In order to efficiently offer services to people, the Second Plan would make most of the information about the government readily available through online resources.
Services and Channel That Government of Saudi Arabia Uses to Deliver its Services
The government of Saudi Arabia is constitutionally mandated to offer specific services to its citizens. Offering security is one of the most important tasks of the government. With the improved digital system of governance, there should be a new channel of reporting crime or calling for help in this society. The system should be designed in a way that whenever an individual makes an emergency call for help, the call should be picked by the security officers nearest to the location where this help is needed. This would help reduce the level of crime in the society. When this Second Plan is finally completed, the duration of registering a business should be reduced, the applicants should be able to fill the forms through online means and send them back to the relevant authorities using the electronic channels. This new system should be able to curb corruption at some of the government offices. According to Shareef, Archer & Dutta (2012, p. 81), some of the governmental departments in Saudi Arabia have been associated with cases of corruption. This is made possible by the fact that fraudulent officers have the capacity to hide some files for the purpose of extorting money from some individuals, or averting justice to the favour of those who they love. Through use of the newly digitalised means of data storage, corruption will be reduced at these government institutions. Power will be taken away from these government officers to the people. This new system will improve the capacity of the government to boost public-private partnership on various projects. With this level of increased transparency and limited ability of government officers to engage in corrupt dealings, the private sector will be more willing to engage in private-public investment projects. This will help in boosting the local economy.
Yesser is one of the most ambitious projects that the government of Saudi Arabia has undertaken in the recent past. It is clear from the above discussion that e-governance is one of the most appropriate ways through which the Saudi government can improve its service delivery to its citizens. This e-governance project was undertaken in two stages. The first stage was launched in 2005 and completed in 2010. It met several challenges because many of the stakeholders lacked the skills needed to implement various technical issues in the project. The Second Phase started in 2012 and shall be completed in 2016. The second plan has achieved massive success, although it is yet to be completed. This may be attributed to the fact that the responsible stakeholders have been able to understand the dynamics of the system.
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