E-services in Saudi Arabia success story – factors and enablers

12 Jun 2017 14:30h - 16:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

The session aimed at highlighting three initiatives in the field of the e-services in Saudi Arabia as part of the country’s e-strategy. The initiatives are:

  • The Absher e-services gateway that enables citizens and residents to perform a varity of government transactions and services.
  • Centralised Identity and Authentication Management (IAM) system which enables National Digital Identity solutions and services.
  • Cyber-platform to better defend Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and ICT providers from cybersecurity threats.

During his introductory remarks, the moderator, Dr Mansour Al Qurashi (Director, Information Society planning, coordination and follow-up Communication & IT Commission (CITC) National Committee for Information Society (NCIS)), pointed out that Saudi Arabia has a population of 32 million,  60% of which is bellow 30 years old. There are nearly 21 million Internet users and 58 million mobile phone users.

The first speaker, Mr Ali Alsaiyari (Web Content Manager at Ministry of Interior) spoke about Absher, a project by the Ministry of Interior (MoI), that brings innovation to areas such as the delivery of ID cards, issuing of passports, and handling of citizen records. When registering on the platform, Alsaiyari explained, the user is only asked for their ID number, as the rest of the information is already available in the MoI records, making it easy for authentication and ensuring the user is real.

Within a year, the platform has reached more than 1.5 billion visitors and now has mobile apps available on iOS and Android. They are also interacting with customers via social media, helping to improve the service delivery.

The next speaker, Dr Majed Almalik (Government IT Manager) gave the example of how his department has integrated Absher and how it is improving their way of delivering services.

He shared that implementing Absher was not easy, but after having received a great number of customer complaints, including delays in their service delivery, they needed to implement a technology and Absher was the best tool to adopt. Almalik’s department deals with services such the issuing and renewing of passports, issuing of residency IDs and their renewal. He shared how, for example, the process of residency ID renewal was in the past, before adopting Absher, a very long one: starting with filling in the application form, signing it, sending of the passport to the Ministry, paying fees, sending medical and insurance records, giving back old residency ID, taking fingerprints, leading to the final step, the pickup. All citizens need to do now is go to the Absher portal, chose the type of service they want, pay online and be notified of where and when to collect their document.

The next speaker was Mr Mazen Alqarni (Centralized Identity and Authentication Management (IAM)), who presented IAM, a system enabling national digital identity solutions and services since 2005. Their main goal is to protect the user’s identity online. IAM’s services include authentication of users and service providers, transaction signing for online services, support to users and service providers across the country including individuals, the government as well as the private sector (universities, insurance companies, banks, etc). Alqarni explained that the user needs to authenticate only once through the system to have access to all the service providers.

As part of the government digital strategy, IAM deals with providing digital signatures as a way to protect end-users from service provider denial and vice versa; they provide services such as easier signing with ID card alternative soft keys. To conclude, Alqarni mentioned that there are plans for the system to integration with banks and other large enterprises across the country in the coming years and even beyond the country.

The last speaker, Mr Ibrahim Alshamrani (National Cybersecurity Centre) discussed cybersecurity threats, information sharing, and a cyber platform to better defend Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and ICT providers.

He said Saudi Arabia ranks fourth in the region for malware attacks. The government is aware and is considering security within the e-transformation strategy. There are a number of threats from hackers, hacktivists, insiders, organised criminals and sometimes from state actors.

70% of Internet users rely on fast Internet, which is why the government has invested in advanced information communication systems. In line with that, the National Information Center (NIC) was launched in 1979, the CERT.sa in 2006, the Anti-Cyber Crime Law and then the National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC) in 2012. The NCSC operates 24/7 to provide cyber-defense systems, threat monitoring, incident detection and response and information assurance with advanced technology.


by Arsene Tungali