With roughly 76 million citizens, the Arab Republic of Egypt is one of the most populated countries in Africa. The services once offered by the Egyptian government were largely manual, which made completing routine procedures difficult and time consuming for everyone involved. To obtain and process necessary forms, citizens and business owners had to visit a government office during business hours—often waiting in long lines or having to return multiple times. In addition, many services were not easily accessible to citizens living in rural areas or abroad.
The country needed a faster, more efficient service system. “We needed to expand the IT infrastructure in Egypt and modernize the tools our government employees and citizens used,” says Ashraf Abdelwahab, Deputy to the Minister at the Egyptian Ministry of State for Administrative Development (MSAD).
Egypt set out to create a citizen-centric, online gateway that would connect citizens and businesses directly to the government, allowing them to easily exchange information and access government services.
As part of its country modernization plan and to improve the way it interacts with citizens, the Egyptian government sought consulting and technical support from Microsoft Services to develop an e-government infrastructure. “We didn’t have that much knowledge on how to develop e-government projects and tools—and neither did our local IT companies. We formed a strategic alliance with Microsoft Services to capitalize on their expertise and experience in this area,” explains Abdelwahab.
Consultants from Microsoft Services worked with the Egyptian government and local IT partners, providing necessary technical knowledge, project management, and leadership skills. Since 2001, the team has deployed more than 63 projects, including online services for completing tax forms, paying telephone bills, enrolling in universities, and paying traffic fines. Each project meets certain standards for communication and interoperability, so services that involve different government branches can interact intuitively.
“Some were infrastructure projects, others were automation projects, and the most important projects were the ones that created online access to government services for citizens and businesses,” says Abdelwahab.
Working with Microsoft Services, the Egyptian government now provides online access to governmental services through audience-specific portals:
- The Government Services portal (www.masr.gov.eg/english) provides citizens and businesses with access to services where they can perform governmental transactions completely online, file, submit, and download forms, or complete procedures. The portal currently holds more than 60 different services.
- The Investment portal (www.investment.gov.eg) is dedicated to foreign and local investors. It is a centralized location for critical information required to start a business in Egypt. The information is available in four languages: Arabic, French, English, and Chinese.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs portal (www.mfa.gov.eg) is dedicated to Egyptian citizens living abroad. This online gateway gives international citizens access to government services without the need to visit a consulate. Here, people can access visa applications.
MSAD is now applying its e-government experience to transform local government in Egypt. This project includes:
- Renovating and remodeling municipalities for better service delivery.
- Adopting a “one-window stop” concept to ensure transparency.
- Training public servants and developing their technical skills to fully utilize the e-government system.
- Reengineering and documenting processes.
- Deploying a workflow system to record and monitor all citizens' requests.
With the help of Microsoft Services, the Egyptian government created an e-government infrastructure that helps citizens use technology to accomplish vital services while avoiding long lines, lost time, and frustrating paperwork. Citizens and interested investors can now easily access information that was previously difficult or impossible to find. At the same time, the knowledge transfer that occurred through collaboration with Microsoft Services has helped Egyptian partners establish their expertise in the IT field. “We’re changing the way the Egyptian government looks at and does business with citizens,” says Abdelwahab.
Avoid Lengthy Procedures
“Automation will reduce crowds and paperwork at government offices—which will, of course, save time and money for the government and citizens,” explains Abdelwahab. “Citizens can perform many governmental services anytime from home, avoiding the need to visit specific locations during business hours and wait in line.”
For example, in 2007, university enrollment is processed entirely online for the first time. Formerly, Egyptian universities received around 400,000 applications. Each applicant had to visit the central university enrollment office to buy the required application form. They then had to complete it and submit it manually—a process that typically required two visits and payment of a U.S.$8 fee. University administrators would then have to manually enter all student information into a computer database. Now, students simply enroll online, eliminating the application form cost, multiple visits, and the need for administrators to retype application information. “I think this is the largest transactional, totally electronic government service in the Middle East,” remarks Abdelwahab.
The newly automated infrastructure also means that citizens in remote villages throughout Egypt no longer need to travel to a larger city to visit government offices to acquire services.
Monitor Employees to Increase Efficiency
“A side benefit of the e-government platform is that it also automates internal processes, improving the productivity of public servants, and increases transparency and accountability,” says Abdelwahab.
While creating the e-government services portal, Microsoft Services and the Egyptian government implemented a workflow system that:
- Tracks requests from citizens
- Sets response times and standards for each service
- Allows officers to monitor the performance of different units and individual employees.
“The time to submit a request has dropped by an average of 40 percent,” explains Abdelwahab. “Using e-government services has increased the efficiency of our employees.”
Encourage Business Development
The launch of the Investment portal provides information and services to investors, promoting privatization initiatives and investment opportunities. The portal also includes an area where potential investors post questions and comments. This strategic part of the e-government infrastructure aims to advance Egypt’s overall economic situation.
“This portal attracts investors by offering all the data they need to do business in Egypt—in one easily accessible place,” says Abdelwahab.
Improve Partner Knowledge
Microsoft Services enlisted resources from and collaborated with Egyptian IT partners to develop and deploy e-government projects. By working closely with consultants from Microsoft Services, Egyptian IT partners have increased their own technical expertise, which helps them compete in the IT marketplace locally and regionally, and continue to support ongoing e-government initiatives.
“All Egyptian government IT projects are outsourced to the private sector,” says Abdelwahab. “Microsoft Services worked with a couple of local Egyptian IT partners at the beginning of the project. Currently, Microsoft Services is working with 14 partners, building the knowledge and capacity within our private sector that enables them to work on these sorts of projects throughout the Middle East and Africa.”