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Sun 15 Apr 2007 04:00 AM

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Promoting inward investment in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is rapidly opening up to foreign investment and SAGIA’s information and communication technology initiatives are driving this process forward at pace. GITEX Times’ Stuart Wilson spoke to Dr Khaled S. Al-Bulaihed, CIO of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to find out how the organisation has embraced SAP technology to deliver on its core business objectives.

|~|sagiaciogt200.gif|~|Dr Khaled S. Al-Bulaihed, CIO of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).|~|Saudi Arabia is rapidly opening up to foreign investment and SAGIA’s information and communication technology initiatives are driving this process forward at pace. GITEX Times’ Stuart Wilson spoke to Dr Khaled S. Al-Bulaihed, to find out how SAGIA has embraced SAP technology to deliver on its core business objectives.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (otherwise known as SAGIA) is playing a pivotal role in allowing the Kingdom to fulfil its economic ambitions by taking a leading role in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), and promoting its newly liberalised investment laws. In particular, SAGIA is involved in plans to establish four economic cities, which will attract nearly US$80 billion from external investors. To ensure it can provide the information and services clients and potential investors require, SAGIA has invested in cutting-edge IT systems that link together all of the necessary parties involved in the inward investment process.

And one man in particular has played a pivotal role in developing this infrastructure and process-oriented business model. Dr. Khaled S. Al-Bulaihed, general manager of the IT department at SAGIA, has spent the last 18 months driving the investment agency’s systems, creating a business friendly IT environment that appeals to investors around the world.

“We are driving our IT initiative from the business strategy that has been set,” explains Al-Bulaihed.

“SAGIA has a strategy that aims to create an investment environment that will position the Kingdom among the globe’s top ten countries in terms of competitiveness by 2010. By that time, Saudi Arabia will be one of the biggest and most important financial centres in the area,” he continues.

From the first moment that an external investor expresses interest in one of the economic city projects underway in Saudi Arabia, to the point where that investment potential becomes a reality, SAGIA plays its part, acting as the intermediary driving the process forwards.

“We started working on this one year ago and developed the concept of bringing extremely innovative business solutions to how SAGIA would interact with investors starting from the prospecting cycle, whether they are inside or outside Saudi Arabia.

“This is our main focus and we needed to develop an IT solution that would actually enable SAGIA to give investors a powerful experience to find and execute their investment opportunities,” explains Al-Bulaihed.

“This project titled Asaleeb, the Arabic word for methods, is actually a business solution that composes of processes and IT. This is the main mission that I have been working on for the last year-and-a-half,” he adds. ||**||Best practice|~||~||~|SAGIA has turned to SAP as its vendor of choice for the CRM and project management systems required to fulfil its objectives.

“We are capitalising on Best Practices and we chose an SAP environment for this purpose. SAP comes with a lot of business practices that are already developed and we are capitalising on the customer relationship management (CRM) expertise that SAP has,” explains Al-Bulaihed. “It is a major component in SAP and in that area we are using all the ingredients – we are developing the main hub for our investor relations, which is the interactive call centre. And we are developing the prospects database, the business opportunities database, and we are linking our internal activities to the investor requests,” he adds.

“We are developing the government transaction requests for the investors so that if they need to get licensing, visas or labour permits – all of this is integrated. And we are discovering that we are one of the unique SAP implementations that is actually using the full CRM functionality alongside other components in SAP such as records and case management,” Al-Bulaihed continues. “We found that some of those components have been implemented around the world in various places, but for a government organisation this is a unique way of developing the business and linking the parties together.

“The immediate availability of best practice was one of the main reasons why we selected SAP. That means not only that the technology components are developed and given to us, the actual business processes for best practice are already available. The actual implementation took five months from when we formally started working with the consultants. In five months we accomplished things that before could have taken up to a year in a non-SAP environment.

“This five months is the actual configuration to the system using the available best practices including the full CRM prospecting and the integration with the call centre and case management services,” Al-Bulaihed says.

SAGIA is working in two main areas. First with the investor prospects to capture the business opportunities that they are interested in, developing meeting schedules, arranging visas and the like – all of this forms the prospecting area and is accomplished using the main part of the CRM system.

The second part – once the prospect is ready to invest in Saudi Arabia – involves obtaining licences, visas and relevant labour documents. In that area SAGIA has already established three dedicated centres with in-house government representatives. “We are the front desk like a bank: we receive your request and then we pass it on to the correct government representative,” says Al-Bulaihed.

“This is a major accomplishment that we have worked on with SAP. We are building a virtual folder for each investor with all the documents attached that are needed for all the government representatives in SAGIA. We will monitor and develop the investor experience. Our main target for this initiative is to change completely how investors would interact with Saudi Arabia from the moment they are interested until the moment they actually come here and get their businesses up and running.

“The three centres are inside Saudi Arabia but we have international presence and have representatives outside Saudi Arabia in ten countries including China, the USA and the UK and we are extending this to other countries by 2007. Those international representatives are highly skilled individuals within their respective countries.

“With Asaleeb web-enabled environment it will enable them – in front of the actual investor sitting at the same table – to bring everything that we do into the room at that location be it in China or wherever.”

It is not just the external investors that benefit from SAGIA’s systems. The agency is also planning to open up the power of its business process tools to the developers of the economic cities planned within Saudi Arabia. “We are planning to give access to the system to the economic city developers themselves,” continues Al-Bulaihed. “The developers would enter the business opportunities into the system directly and show them to outside investors through our international representatives. If the investor is interested in visiting Saudi Arabia the representatives do two things: he will file a visit visa request to the one-stop-shop so it will automatically go to the relevant government authorities here – for example Foreign Affairs Ministry. At the same time we will inform through the system – not by e-mail but through a structured CRM environment – the relevant economic city developer saying that this investor is interested in these specific business opportunities.

“This environment will highlight where the investor is coming from and what they are interested in. The economic city developer will look to leverage this interest and this visit – so while he may only come to see the King Abdullah Economic City near al-Rabegh they will also see other opportunities in other developments.

“So we will contact the other developers and inform them of the upcoming visit and if they agree to a meeting we will coordinate with the investor. All this will not be done through e-mail but through the systems and processes we have implemented. The investor will get automatic e-mails and SMS messages and support every step of the way.” ||**||Extended role|~|kecksa200.gif|~|SAGIA is involved in plans to establish four economic cities, which will attract nearly US$80 billion from external investors. |~|The role of SAGIA extends right through to the moment when a potential investor’s plane touches down in the Kingdom ahead of the pre-arranged meetings organised through the investment agency’s cutting-edge technology systems.

“When they land at the airport, we have SAGIA offices before passport control,” explains Al-Bulaihed. “Those people working in our offices in the airport will know the people that are arriving, what flight they are on and the purpose of their visit. They will know all of this and greet him accordingly. This means that the perception of the investor will be very favourable.”

Al-Bulaihed is embracing the concept of the extended enterprise, using the power of web-based systems to create a system with genuine global reach. The experience of SAP has given SAGIA the confidence to follow this particular path.

“Collaboration using the SAP interface that is provided – that is what it is all about. One of the main factors when choosing and integrated ERP system with CRM functionality is the best practice and all of this is available in SAP,” continues Al-Bulaihed.

“After we launched our prospecting engine with SAP it took us only two days to make the switches in the configuration to make it available on the internet. This would have not been possible if we had not gone for a state-of-the-art solution that is used by thousands of companies.

“We used a third party consultant but CRM is relatively new in the GCC. We faced a lot of challenges but we took the initiative and knew that we had to prepare an environment ready for the next revolution in our economy. We had a conference in Riyadh recently discussing the Intelligent City, which means we are planning new Economic Cities with the concept of networking in mind.

“All of the infrastructure and switching and hubs – the developer and the investors involved are going to commit to this. You can imagine that this type of sophisticated city will create a new business platform. To make this happen we need to ensure that we exceed investors’ expectations.”

SAGIA itself is a streamlined organisation with around 200 staff in the head office and three branches – the one-stop centres. More one-stop centres are planned but SAGIA will remain a highly coordinated and orchestrated environment, according to Al-Bulaihed. “We are really capitalising on managing our internal business integration. That means we are enabling our representatives to have the access. We have knowledgeable call centre agents and when somebody calls them they will answer the questions and will know the business opportunities that exist in King Abdullah Economic City.

“We are not just going to put all the information on the website because we know that the investors need a personal touch. That is why we decided not to develop a portal or website for the investors – we want them to call or e-mail us and from that moment we will interact with him.

“We are dealing with top leaders in international companies and they want somebody to speak with. If he is in petrochemicals he wants to speak to an expert in that field and we have those vertical experts,” he says. “The IT system is a core ingredient to enable the whole process to work. The energy expert cannot be in China and the UK and the USA and all over the world – we are enabling his knowledge to be shared and accessed from anywhere in the world.

“Our mission is to help investors wherever they are – be it outside or inside Saudi Arabia. We hope that the success of the companies that have already invested in Saudi Arabia will encourage others to follow suit – but we also know that hope on its own is not enough. That is why with our international representatives, our CRM system and the marketing campaign that we are going to launch this year, we will help the Economic Cities develop their future business opportunities.

“In 2007 we plan to take the CRM implementation even further and we also have other projects that we are planning. We need to link what the economic cities are developing with our goals and this cannot be done with simple tools. We are going to implement SAP systems to enhance this process – to enable the Economic City developers to note their goals alongside our own.

“We don’t want them reporting on a monthly basis what is happening – we need to know immediately what is going on and track the progress and identify any potential bottlenecks. This is to our advantage and their advantage. If there are any issues we are there to help. So we are implementing SAP service and asset management (SAM) and SAP collaborative project management.

“Our approach in terms of the number of software suppliers we use comes back to our business strategy. The most important factor for us is integration and the more you limit the third party components the better it is. Furthermore, we are just scratching the service with SAP in terms of the total functionality that is available to us,” Al-Bulaihed concludes. SAGIA is putting IT at the heart of its future business objectives.||**||Career history|~||~||~|Dr Khaled S. Al-Bulaihed joined SAGIA two years ago. As general manager of the IT department at SAGIA, Al-Bulaihed has brought a wealth of IT experience to the organisation as well as a wide range of skills relating to business development and the investment process. Al-Bulaihed has an MBA, a PhD in Economics and more than two decades of IT experience. Before joining SAGIA, Al-Bulaihed was with the Saudi Supreme Commission for Tourism in the investment department.

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