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Sun 1 Apr 2007 11:44 AM

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The knowledge

Saudi Arabia's investment authority SAGIA is the driving force behind the country's Economic City plans. Its GM for IT reveals how it approaches the technology environment.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) is playing a pivotal role in allowing the Kingdom to fulfil its economic ambitions by 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 should 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 inward investment.

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, to create a business friendly IT environment that appeals to global investors.

"We are driving our IT initiative from the business strategy that has been set," says 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 then, KSA will be one of the biggest and most important financial centres in the area," he adds.

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.

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. 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 for this process.

"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.

"The three centres are inside Saudi Arabia but we have international presence and 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 in their respective countries. With Asaleeb web-enabled environment it will let them - in front of the actual investor sitting at the same table - 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 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 elsewhere. 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 internally but through the systems and processes we have implemented."

Al-Bulaihed says SAGIA is putting a significant amount of effort into planning the networking and IT infrastructure of the upcoming Economic Cities projects across the country.

"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 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."

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