Saudi Arabia ranks second globally for digital government services

June 16, 2021

RIYADH — Driven by a comprehensive digital transformation road map and COVID-19 response strategy, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has attained its latest digitization accomplishment, ranking second globally for the provision of digital services and subsequent adoption according to Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) new study released recently, titled ‘Digital Government in the GCC: Accelerating Citizen Trust’. This research is also inspired by BCG and Salesforce’s research to understand what customers expect from governments, titled ‘The Trust Imperative’.

As part of their respective efforts to remain at the forefront of emerging technologies’ adoption, governments across the GCC have prioritized increased digital services quality and expansion in recent times. Action in this direction aligns with their overarching objective of elevating efficiency, leveraging new digital delivery frameworks, utilizing citizen insights, and providing the population with newfound convenience and flexibility.

BCG’s study shows that the level of satisfaction of digital government services in Saudi Arabia is high, with a net satisfaction score of 76 percent, in comparison to the averages of developed countries (64 percent) and developing countries (58 percent). Additionally, the digital service offering in Saudi Arabia has been met with a positive response, with the Kingdom’s citizens placed highly in terms of frequency of access. In total, 70 percent of Saudi respondents revealed they use digital government once per week minimum, 23 percent above the global average.

“The disruption caused by COVID-19 has been well documented, and it is abundantly clear that pandemic repercussions have emphasized the vitality of digital government services during this period,” said Rami Riad Mourtada, partner and associate director, BCG.

“As such, acquiring digital services capabilities while solidifying their appeal and popularity has become a post-crisis imperative. Saudi Arabia has reacted extremely proactively in this regard, as reflected through these statistics. The country’s leadership has succeeded in its efforts to scale new and enhanced services and ultimately protect and improve the health, livelihoods, and overall well-being of its citizens.”

The scope and variety of digital government services expanded rapidly following the outbreak, with COVID-19 awareness, testing, tracing, information coverage, quarantine compliance, volunteer coordination, and financial support offerings all emerging through online government portals. This applies to the GCC in particular, where governments were central to the availability and delivery of numerous social and healthcare services.

In terms of Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health’s Tawakkalna contact tracing app has provided real-time nationwide infection updates, movement permits, risk assessments, and the opportunity to report potential cases, while the Ministry of Education has allocated digital tools and materials to support remote learning.

“From a national and regional perspective, an advantage for both Saudi Arabia and the GCC is their favorable demographics,” explained Dr. Lars Littig, managing director and partner, BCG. “54 percent of GCC citizens are no older than 24 years of age, and, as digital natives, relish digital services across all aspects of daily life and expect greater convenience, quality, and availability.

“This increasing appetite for digital has facilitated substantial demand and widespread uptake, which is now a proven formula for the delivery of fast, meaningful improvements. It’s also important to note that urbanization has been beneficial. In the GCC, approximately 85 percent of people reside in urban areas and use digital government services more frequently.”

The Digital Government Citizen Survey (DGCS) study — spanning 36 countries, 26 digital government services, and almost 25,000 individual responses — also highlighted other findings. GCC citizens are satisfied with digital government services, appreciating benefits including understandable language, multiple platform accessibility, and easy access to information.

Meanwhile, real-time support and assistance were identified as a pain point, with other concerns in Saudi Arabia relating to personal information security. Respondents expressed concerns regarding transparency, collection, and storage, while 90 percent of regional correspondents attributed their personal information worries to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

“Although digital government services have yielded newfound value for citizens, we do see skepticism where data and AI are concerned,” said Mourtada. “Building trust is essential, and governments are obligated to ensure users understand every aspect, from how their data is utilized to the controls in place for robust governance.

“Together with the provision of constructive communication and education, governments can create new regulatory frameworks to dispel citizens’ AI concerns and uphold ethical use in the new digital world.”

As the ongoing pandemic nears its conclusion, BCG has identified the next steps GCC governments can pursue to implement decisive action and strengthen digital service delivery processes:

• Continue to improve the already impressive array of services offered

• Give citizens control of their information and focus on ethical data use

• Invest in data security at all levels of service provision

• Establish standards, guidelines, training, and regulatory barriers surrounding the ethical use of data and AI in the public sector

• Be proactive in your communications

“The Saudi government and its regional counterparts have established themselves as leading digital services role models for others to emulate on the international stage. Yet urbanization, younger generations, and prudent pandemic responses have also presented further opportunities,” added Littig.

“Should governments succeed in solving citizen concerns, they can position themselves to assume global leadership for the innovative services and delivery models of tomorrow.” — SG

June 16, 2021
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