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Saudi Arabia Emerging as Leader in e-Government
Source: Al Shorfa, by Ahmad al-Moghrabi, http://al-shorfa.com/en_GB/articles/meii/features/2012/09/26/feature-01
Source Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Saudi Arabia
Created: Sep 28, 2012

Saudi Arabia ranked high on a UN survey assessing countries' e-government infrastructure development. Above, Saudi students attend a class at the Technology College in Riyadh. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia ranked high on a UN survey assessing countries' e-government infrastructure development. Above, Saudi students attend a class at the Technology College in Riyadh. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

The Saudi government is intensifying its efforts to provide citizens with e-services to save time, reduce workloads, and to keep pace with the country's current electronic services boom, officials said.

Saudi Arabia came in 41st out of 193 governments assessed by the level of their e-government infrastructure development and ranked 21 out of 25 emerging leaders in e-government development, according to the 2012 edition of the United Nations E-Government Survey.

Abdullah al-Asmari is among those working with Saudi Arabia's e-government services.

He said Saudi Arabia's rank on the UN survey is due, among other reasons, to the abundance of quantitative and qualitative information available on the country's e-government portal.

"The e-government portal made Saudi citizens the focus of attention in terms of offering [them] services and adopting an approach that relies on the principle of transparency in communication with the [target] audience," al-Asmari told Al-Shorfa.

He said it is also important to recognise the kingdom's efforts to take advantage of successful experiences in this field by way of transferring expertise and using it locally.

Currently, Saudi Arabia's most prominent e-government services include the "Yesser" programme, which is slated to help the General Survey Authority establish a geospatial database and make it available through an integrated government channel.

Other services include the electronic transactions programme "Shawer", which helps the Shura Council operate 80% of its services electronically, and "Qudratak", a programme for basic computer skills and electronic transactions that helps the Council meet its needs and train its staff to keep pace with technological and informational changes.

Future steps

Abdullah al-Ghaith, a former official at the Institute of Public Administration, said the performance of Saudi government agencies is not fully competitive in the context of globalisation.

"It makes sense in light of the technological revolution that, by pressing a button, citizens can complete their daily transactions and finalise their project licenses without the need for paper or waiting in long lines to process their applications," he said. "But the success of transitioning into a digital society still depends on providing information protection systems, most notably e-security."

Al-Arabiya's website reported earlier this month that Saudi authorities are seeking to implement a new national information security strategy.

The plan will be implemented in about two months and involves establishing a global information security centre that shares responsibility for protecting technical infrastructure against hacking, electronic theft or systematic attacks on government websites.

Abdul Rahman al-Dulaimi, an engineer for Saudi company "Bayanat al-Oula for Network Services", said implementing e-government services must be a collective effort involving all government entities.

"There are a series of interconnected e-government transactions, meaning that in order to complete a certain transaction, there must be an exchange of information among different government bodies," he said. "It would be insufficient to rely on only one ministry or government agency to complete the work cycle."

Meanwhile, several companies have begun building the infrastructure necessary to launch electronic services, and using collaboration programmes to exchange expertise in order to advance electronic transactions and share successful experiences.

Ahmed al-Jaber, who works in the field of information technology infrastructure applications, said he expects the electronic portal market to grow steadily.

"This growth is supported by levels of spending on e-government projects as well as by increased awareness on the part of different sectors when it comes to the benefits of such portals," he told Al-Shorfa.

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