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A people-centric approach to digital transformation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Transformation takes time. Despite the global push toward digital transformation—changes in the way people communicate, do business, get healthcare, go to school—building the systems and networks, the necessary skills, and the demand for such a fundamental shift is not instantaneous. The experiences of nations like South Korea, Singapore, or the United Kingdom, the public sector champions of digitalization, show that such transformation doesn’t happen overnight. 

Saudi Arabia’s experience also confirms that it takes time to build the right enabling environment. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank has collaborated with the Saudi government to grow its digital economy and to meet its goals of economic diversification, inclusion, quality of life , sustainability, and excellence in government services. 

The work started in 2020 with the launch of the Digital Government Authority (DGA), a new institution with the mandate to lead the government’s digital strategy. The DGA promotes citizen-centered, integrated digital government services based on government-wide standards such as openness, transparency, and ease of use across agencies, with a focus on putting such services on mobile devices first. Saudi Arabia’s digital government platforms have been instrumental in helping agencies share data while offering people safe, reliable, and user-centric services.  

In just a few short years, Saudi Arabia can point to real results. The government has built platforms that increase transparency and boost trust. For example, 24 million people have used the Absher platform, which powers Saudi Arabia’s e-government services  like digital IDs, authentication services, and passports, for more than 300 different transactional services. Similarly, the Najiz portal offers 150 electronic government services, ranging from virtual court services to business paperwork, to around 180,000 visitors daily. In a typical week, the platform provides around 90,000 interactions. Najiz has been hugely efficient– 95 percent of court cases are currently resolved in virtual proceedings, cutting the red tape and slashing the average length of proceedings from 248 days to just three weeks. 

The Seha Virtual Hospital is another first of its kind in the region. It underscores how modern digital platforms can significantly expand health services.  Using cutting-edge technologies including artificial intelligence and augmented virtual reality, the hospital offers around 50 specialized services like emergency and telehealth consultations, specialized clinics, and virtual home care services. In some cases, a patient in a rural area can now be diagnosed in just three days instead of four weeks. Since Seha opened in 2022, doctors have performed 13 remote heart surgeries, greatly reduced the time needed for medical intervention for strokes to an average of 33 minutes and lowered the length of patient stays in hospitals for heart failure by up to 40 percent.  To date, the number of overall beneficiaries of Seha’s health services has reached 58,550. That number is expected to rise to an anticipated yearly capacity of 400,000 patients every year. 

Saudi Arabia is also an important contributor when it comes to sharing lessons learned on establishing a resilient and inclusive digital economy. During the pandemic lockdown, Saudi Arabia responded to a massive upswing in digital demand, and the country’s emergence as a leader in this sector can help accelerate investment in the digital economy not only in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries but in the wider Middle East and North Africa region.  In fact, the DGA, working with the World Bank and the OECD, has published a framework for best practices, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Legal and Regulatory Framework for Digital Government. The framework’s stated goal is to help Saudi Arabia achieve digital maturity, and it examines policies for effective design and strategic approaches to digitization. It is already being used as a reference for other countries beginning their own digital transformation. 

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