KSA Ministry of Agriculture cultivating e-services
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Agriculture is setting the bar for e-services with the roll out of online services for its stakeholders, and the new strategic plan to deliver infrastructure and services to support and grow this vital sector of the Kingdom’s economy
The adoption of e-services and digitisation is reaching into almost all areas of government activity, and while agriculture might not traditionally be associated with information technology, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Agriculture has emerged as one of the leading government organisations in the Kingdom in its drive to create new services and channels for customers and stakeholders.
The Ministry is responsible for all policy and production related to farming of crops and animals, and fishing, along with agricultural land management and development. The agriculture sector in Saudi Arabia features a growing private sector base of producers, and an expanding export business, and managing all of these different elements and stakeholders requires developing digital systems and services to better manage them and improve overall efficiency.
Dr Ayad Aldaijy, recently-appointed Director General of Information Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, said that the IT department of the Ministry is supporting the overall objectives of supporting the national economy, ensuring food security for the Kingdom and providing services to its stakeholders.
Since joining the Ministry at the beginning of October 2015, Dr Aldaijy said he has reviewing the IT strategy inline with the objectives of the Ministry, and a mature plan has now been developed for IT up to 2020.
“For the strategy, we have the vision already from His Excellency, and the main objective for the Ministry is to support food security, and the national economy. Our customers are the farmers, the fishermen, and we are supporting them also. The mission is clear to us and the vision is clear to us, and we have built the strategy up to 2020,” he said.
The Ministry has already made significant progress in providing e-services to its customers, with the launch of 22 services over the past 12 months. The keystone project for e-services developed both an online portal and customer relationship management solution to deploy the services, which have automated a number of services.
Services available include plants and seed information, fertilizer and pesticide import or export permits, water extraction permits, agricultural machinery, equipment, and registration in the first phase of 11 services, and live animal registration, hatching eggs and chicks count, organic fresh food import and extraction permits, registration of agricultural locations, disclosure of agricultural infections, and labour recruitment support in the second phase. In addition, the ministry launched sub-portals for each of its directorates.
The solution has been developed on the Oracle Siebel Public Sector eService platform, with Oracle Siebel CRM and Oracle WebCenter Portal, by the Ministry and Oracle, with the aim of creating a multi-channel platform to support reliable e-services and to deploy new services in future.
The platform can support more than 500,000 online visitors, and 65,000 registered citizen and business users, and has delivered benefits including elimination of paper forms, reduction of processing times, reduction of manual errors and removing the need for customers to visit Ministry facilities for services. The Ministry reports that operational costs have been reduced by 75%, and processing for some applications has been cut from months to days. The average approval rating for services is 95%. The services have also freed up staff from processing roles, to enable them to carry out other tasks instead, such as field inspections.
“E-services for our customers is a number one priority, to be closer to our customers, cut the bureaucracy and to give them better services,” Dr Aldaijy said.
After the successful roll out of the first 22 services, the Ministry had initially planned to deploy another 28 services in a second phase, but plans have now expanded to around 50 more. One of the features of the Oracle solution was the use of WebLogic Suite, which includes a range of plug-and-play tools and services which can be used by staff with minimal IT knowledge to create new services. Another key feature of the platform is the use of middleware which will help with integration of services with systems for other Ministries, to create more efficient, connected services and processes.
“We believe that new technology like Siebel will support our new services that will be coming soon. We are working closely with Oracle to get the support, and to enhance the services,” added Dr Aldaijy. “We have the requirements from our stakeholders, we are working closely with the other ministries, and we are sharing information with them, to make it easier to enhance services for customers.”
In order to develop the ongoing strategy, the Ministry is working with other agricultural ministries from around the world, including Holland, Germany, Italy, US, and the UK, along with ministries in the GCC and other countries with similar climates to Saudi Arabia, to exchange ideas and best practices.
Another important part of the process is ensuring the full involvement of stakeholders when developing new services, in order to understand their requirements from a project. This is not always straightforward, Dr Aldaijy, because often end users are not well-equipped to set out their own requirements clearly. Requirements can often be changeable, or based on presumptions that are not supported by analysable information, and stakeholder groups can sometimes disagree among themselves as to what they really want.
“One of our main policies is to have stakeholders involved from A-Z, from the beginning of the initiative to the end of the project. It is very important to make sure that we get the right requirements, the right needs, and that at the end we can achieve their requirements. That is why I believe IT and business should work together and be aligned, and that IT is not forcing things, or that business is not involved. We always use educational means for training stakeholders to focus on how to define their requirements,” he said.
Along with the IT strategy, Dr Aldaijy has also improved the functioning of the Ministry’s PMO, to put more emphasis on standards-based approaches, to enhance the delivery and follow up of projects and contracts. Refining the operations and staffing of the IT function has also been an area of focus.
Going forward, the Ministry will be looking at a number of projects in parallel with developing new e-services. Infrastructure is an important focus, as the Ministry has around 265 sites spread across the country, with about 25% of those sites in remote areas away from easy access to infrastructure or services. Connectivity with customers in remote areas is also a requirement. Securing systems is also important, as is ensuring system availability — with some critical services such as permits to transport livestock, customers have to have systems that are available around the clock, Dr Aldaijy explained.
Other upcoming projects will include implementing the National HR project, which aims to standardise HR systems across all ministries in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Agriculture is also looking at a possible ERP deployment to improve financial processing, although this is still in initial planning.
The main challenge for Dr Aldaijy and the IT team is in overcoming resistance from stakeholders, he said, but it is a challenge he is confident of managing: “I believe it is typical challenge, we are looking forward to overcome this challenge, to make it easier for IT to grow successfully. Some people don’t trust technology can handle it, so those people resist new methodologies and technologies, they think it is going to be against their own business. We get used to it, part of our job is to overcome this resistance. I like people who are resisting, because I can learn a lot from them, with resistant people I have to convince them of our objectives.”