Saudi Government UX Case Study: Digital Transformation


In 2014 the Saudi Immigration Authority introduced the online Absher portal which directly lead to astronomical performance improvements in efficiency, accuracy and processing speeds.

Through digitizing their services in 2014 to address bottlenecks imposed by paper-based systems, the Saudi Immigration Authority was able to improve their performance in processed applications to 145 million in 2014—400k per day on average, and redirect resources such as manpower where they are more needed.

Efficacy of Government Transactions

Plagued by seemingly endless queues and indefinite wait times, the general services branch of the Saudi Immigration Authority used to suffer from severe bottlenecks in its performance — ranging from employee nonchalance to unnecessarily prolonged application processing times.

These weren’t mere nuisances, but rather, tended to cause negative net outcomes, as civilians with pending transactions would miss several hours of their workdays — even several days occasionally, leading to losses in time, productivity, sanity and resources for both the government and the civilians with pending transactions.

The reliance on paper-based systems for internal communication has been the key retardant of progress on application processing speed, efficiency, and in many cases, accuracy.

Obtaining a Visit Visa: A Practical Scenario

In order to demonstrate how inefficient and resource-consuming the entire ordeal for a civilian that wishes to submit a request was, consider the following scenario:

Ahmed goes to the passports office in order to arrange a visit visa for his wife, and as a resident of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed is entitled to doing so as long as he meets a few simple criteria, which he does, as clearly indicated on his civil affairs record.

However, under the customary paper-based system, Ahmed’s experience to complete what shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes plays out as follows:

  1. Ahmed requests time off work and visits the passports services authority for a fairly trivial task that does not require his physical presence.
  2. He searches for the pertinent department, asking the helpdesk, which is incredibly overloaded with people screaming at each other for no discernible reason. So he spends 10 minutes walking around the facility looking for someone’s help.
  3. He then heads to the concerned department in order to submit his request.
  4. He gets sent back to the front desk in order to request and complete a printed form that’s required for submitting his application.
  5. Unfortunately, the form is only available in Arabic, so he refers to one of the countless fixers that idle outside every governmental office that requires paperwork.
  6. Luckily, he is informed by the fixer whilst completing the form that a copy of his residence permit and passport are required, in addition to a letter from his sponsor, adding yet another day to the process.
  7. Ahmed heads back to the office in order to request the required letter, which as he is informed, will not be ready until the following day—lucky enough, Ahmed’s HR department is quick on its feet, as this processes usually takes longer.
  8. The following day, Ahmed requests leave and visits the passports office yet again in order to finalize his application.
  9. His requirements have been completed and all seems good, except for the 80 people enqueued before him — as the immigration office commence operations at 7 AM, and Ahmed couldn’t be there before 9 AM.
  10. Ahmed waits for 2 hours to submit his application.

For the sake of brevity, let us assume that the clerk that receives Ahmed’s application has the necessary authorization to verify his information, process his application, and ultimately, approve it.

However, in reality, that was not the case with the paper-based system at all, in fact, the complications that were involved in the government side of the transaction are far more complex and tedious — it is likely that Ahmed’s application could have taken 7–10 days to get processed and either approved or rejected, as the process followed wasn’t completely standardized— moreover, the lack of transparent instructions means feedback wasn’t provided in the cases of rejection.

Applying the Digital Transformation

As demonstrated by Ahmed’s ordeal, a significant portion of the delays and inconveniences can be resolved through omitting the manual (human) element of the transaction process. Overall, the followed process can be abstracted as follows:

  1. Request type is defined.
  2. Request is submitted.
  3. Request is checked against criteria for approval/rejection.
  4. Request submitter is advised of the outcome.

Based on the above abstraction, a system was developed to avail the following services (

  1. A utility for the users to specify the requested services and its type if applicable. In Absher’s case, this was a web interface that allowed users to access the available services based on their particular records.
  2. The form and its submission were digitized, with versions made available for each of the most commonly spoken languages in the Kingdom.
  3. A criterion and request parsing engine was developed, which returns an immediate approved/rejected result virtually as soon as the request is submitted.
  4. A notification system that’s linked to each users’ profile (through their mobile phone numbers) was also devised in order to advise the users of any updates to their requests.


According to Al-Watan Newspaper, astronomical increases were achieved in the number of daily transactions & applications processed since the implementation of the Absher system in 2014. (

Daily transactions: 400K

Applications processed in 2014: 145M

Additionally, application processing time dropped from several days to just a few seconds.

The benefits and advantages brought to the table by applying digital transformation to your existing processes can have a significant impact on the quality, capacity, and bottom-line of your services.


Reach out to us through our contact form to see how digitally transforming your business’ processes will take you to the next level.


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