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Saudi Arabia’s digital government stays ahead of the curve

How a nationwide technology innovation ecosystem is enhancing the digital government experience for citizens—and staying focussed on the future

Digital government is a critical building block in Saudi Arabia’s long-term strategy to create a more sustainable economy and develop its public service sectors. Propelled by a vision to drive a sea change in government operations, the Digital Government Authority (DGA) guides the kingdom’s digital transformation journey by supporting other government entities in developing, deploying and regulating digital government services. Its efforts are paying off: In 2022, Saudi Arabia claimed the 31st position in the United Nations’ ranking of its 193 member states’ digital government programmes, up from the 52nd position in 2018.1

Part of the DGA’s remit—managed by its Innovation and Emerging Technology Center—is to shape the future of digital government. “The Innovation and Emerging Technology Center serves as a national platform for digital government innovation,” says Abdulmohsen Almadhi, the centre’s CEO. “Our purpose is to establish a foundation that enables the digital government ecosystem to innovate, without being limited by doing ‘business as usual.’”2

The centre helps the kingdom’s government agencies stay ahead of the curve, says Moath Alzahrani, director of emerging technologies and business models. “Compared to many other nations, Saudi Arabia was an early mover in terms of digital transformation,” he explains. “This really gave us an advantage when COVID-19 hit because we didn’t have to scramble to keep operating. That’s why we continue to be laser-focussed not just on the current digital transformation, but [also] on the future [digital transformations].”3

The centre has two primary functions: First, it empowers the government workforce to build innovation capabilities and cultures, helps accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies and provides an environment for experimentation. Second, it identifies regulatory requirements and supports regulatory change needed to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies. It also develops standards, guidelines, regulations and training. The centre’s work revolves around five technology families: Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and immersive technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality.

Government agencies, meanwhile, have access to the centre’s comprehensive range of services. “We have a complete process for vetting technologies and use cases, matching them with specific challenges and opportunities, conceptualising business models, and testing and implementing solutions,” says Alzahrani. “After that, we’re involved in regulation, integration, investment and, eventually, scaling up.”

For example, the centre has been collaborating with various entities to determine how drones can be effectively used. Initiatives include the use of drones to speed blood- and biological-sample transfer among hospitals and to capture images for street mapping and maintenance. Some government projects include using AI and sentiment analysis in tourism, exploring how autonomous vehicles can enable last-mile package delivery and determining the role of the government in the metaverse.

Helping shape the end-user experience is a critical part of the centre’s charge, says Bayan Alghuraybi, digital experience labs lead. “We help government entities imagine the best digital experiences for citizens and beneficiaries and determine how to use their assets and technologies to deliver these premier experiences, by identified experience enablers that are utilising digital government future trends to deliver innovative experience,” she says. “We also enable specific constituencies—for example, people with disabilities—and [look at] how to enhance their complete digital journey when they apply for and receive services and benefits.”4

In 2022, the centre has developed and published numerous innovation playbooks, guidelines, and business models; studied nearly 200 use cases; designed more than 30 government-specific emerging technology use cases and started the implementation phase on more than 10 use cases.

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  1. Gulf Business, Here’s how Saudi is emerging as the tech hub of the future,” September 26, 2021; United Nations, “Saudi Arabia,” accessed October 19, 2022.

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  2. Abdulmohsen Almadhi (CEO, Innovation and Emerging Technology Center at Digital Government Authority), interview, June 21, 2022.

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  3. Moath Alzahrani (director of emerging technologies and business models, Innovation and Emerging Technology Center at Digital Government Authority), interview, June 21, 2022.

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  4. Bayan Alghuraybi (Digital Experience Labs lead, Innovation and Emerging Technology Center at Digital Government Authority), interview, June 21, 2022.

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Cover image by: Jim Slatton

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