Who is spearheading digitisation in Saudi Arabia?

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Sofana Dahlan is one of the first ten female lawyers authorised to practice law in Saudi Arabia. She is also the president and founder of Tashkeil, a Saudi-based social enterprise that embraces, accelerates and encourages creative entrepreneurs

Digitisation is no longer a thing of the future and has become a vehicle of the new age of transformation. The imprint of digital technologies is embodied in every spectrum of our lives and extends beyond our modus vivendi to the way we transact, interact and conduct business. That is why the current era is aptly termed as the “digital age”.

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, digitisation is the key to fully realising its National Transformation Plan 2020 and Vision 2030. Both roadmaps lay great emphasis for government entities to understand the needs of citizens better, find new solutions to policy challenges, streamline government procedures and improve the effectiveness of government services. Therefore, considering the shortcomings of the archaic administrative system that was prevalent in the Kingdom until 2016, the only solution available to the government entities was to reinvent themselves.

Conversely, two entities took a head start in the digitisation process, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Commerce and Investment. The Ministry of Interior launched Absher, the one-click e-services app in 2015 and laid down the mark for others to follow. In recent years, Absher has been incredibly successful and is considered the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, relieving them from bureaucratic inefficiency. As of today, Absher has 11.6 million users and provides access to more than 160 services. Comparatively, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment is constantly undergoing enhancements to improve its services.

While analysing the progress of government entities in the past three years, there is one entity that significantly stands out in my opinion, the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry has been able to make a profound impact as compared to others as it has unhesitatingly adopted the notion of digital transformation and has put citizens first rather than forcing them into the maze of government bureaucracy.

The Ministry has strongly addressed three critical areas, that are vital for a digitally-enabled government entity.

Consumer Experience: citizens expect services to be personalised and responsive.

In 2018, the Ministry pushed forward one of its main policies of going paperless and launched e-notarisation with eight different services which included the issuance of power of attorney (PoA), verification and cancellation of PoAs and e-notarisation of property without having to physically visit any notarial office. Since then, the Ministry has built on this and increased the number of services. Presently, almost 12,000 e-notarisations take place daily.

In 2019, the Ministry launched Najiz, a court case management portal to unify judicial proceedings, enable digital transformation of the judiciary and speed up the litigation process. Najiz allows citizens to save a personal legal profile, which enables them to follow the progress of a case, document it and manage judicial procedures. It also serves as an open-source of information for citizens, so they can better understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

Public Value: use digital technologies to enhance return on public investment

In 2017, the Ministry launched an e-link system that connected its technology infrastructure with the National Information Centre. In 2018, the Ministry was connected with 19 government entities and as of now, it is seamlessly linked with 26 government entities. The aim from the start has always been to eliminate the bureaucratic hassles and it now offers 90 different e-services such as property registration, property ownership transfer, and electronic marriage contracts.

Future Workforce: improve the skillset and capacity of those who are currently in the legal profession and create a work culture to simulate the existing and prospective workforce.

In 2017, the Ministry established its Legal Training Centre to improve the performance of the legal sector and anyone who works under its umbrella i.e. judges, lawyers, notaries, legal staff and trainees.

In 2018, the Ministry made available several online services for lawyers and trainees to improve process efficiency and cut down on time spent on applications. These services included registering a trainee by a lawyer or law firm, displaying a database of trainees and inquiring about licensed lawyers to name a few. This streamlining of procedures has resulted in doubling the number of lawyers that have been awarded licenses and in 2019, a total of 779 licenses have been issued, 619 to male lawyers and 155 to female lawyers.

However, implementing digital transformation is easier said than done and requires an overhaul of organisational structures, governance, work processes, culture, and mindset. The Minister of Justice, Dr. Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samani has spearheaded this revolution, understanding the value of digitisation. He has been able to discover ways to apply new technologies to the services provided by the Ministry and has translated this into a comprehensive digital transformation strategy. His effective leadership continues to successfully lead the Ministry through the transformative effects of digitisation and ultimately towards its goal of digitising 80 per cent of its services by 2020. 

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