NAHCON situation room in Makkah
Prior to 2018 hajj, the Saudi Arabia Government organized Hajj Hackathon under Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones in Jeddah. The event had 2,950 participants from 100 countries to brainstorm on how Information Communication Technology (ICT) could be further applied to Hajj and Umrah activities.
While declaring the event open, Saudi counselor in the Royal Court, head of the Kingdom’s Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, Saud Bin Abdulla al-Kahtani said “the essence of the workshop is to encouraged youth to come forward with innovative ideas on the role of ICT in Hajj”.
The event which was held from July, 31 to August 3 2018 was supported by Google and attended by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and many software developers and computer and information-technology enthusiasts. To demonstrate its seriousness, The Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity and Programming organized a competition and allocated $533,000 in prizes divided into three categories, where the first prize was worth $266,000, second prize $133,000, the third prize $93,000, while a prize of $39,000 went to distinction.
The competition was based on those who could come out with ICT innovations in sectors of Hajj like: food and beverages, public health, financial solutions, transportation, crowd management, traffic control, travel and accommodation arrangements, waste and waste management, housing and communication solutions.
Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had introduced E-track platform that upload pilgrims documentations, services and monitoring online through information communication technology. According to Saudi Ministry of Hajj, the E-tracking project is an “electronic system that seeks to achieve a great turnabout in the procedures of the arrival and departure of pilgrims and to follow up the services provided to them during their stay in the Kingdom.
“This is achieved by linking the Hajj visa of every pilgrim to a package of services consisting of specific elements, such as housing, transportation, and food service, which should be clearly stated and announced via this electronic system, so that the pilgrim can identify these elements in advance before his arrival at the Kingdom. In addition, the monitorial authorities will be able to follow up how the services registered in the system match the services that are actually provided.”
During 2018 hajj, Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, tested an application to know the best time pilgrims wished to perform tawaf Al-Ifada, according to Makkah daily newspaper.
Tawaf Al-Ifada is the last formal rite of Hajj, in which pilgrims visit the holy Kaaba for the farewell circumambulation.
The aim was to know when and how to organize the grouping of the pilgrims to go to the Mosque for tawaf Al-Ifada.
According to Tariq Anqawi, chairman of the tawafa establishment for the Muslims from Turkey, Europe, America and Australia, said “the wishes of the pilgrims were entered into the app long before their arrival in the Kingdom and then the wishes will be conveyed to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to consider and approve.
“This new applications will also help the mutawifeen know the time their pilgrims prefer to go to the Grand Mosque for tawaf Al-Ifada, which follows the stoning of the Satan and the other rituals in Mina on the first Eid Al-Adha day.”
Information communication technology has played major role in hajj administration activities and operations in the last few years. Digital services has improved hajj management all over the world especially in countries that has large number of pilgrims. ICT super highways has been deployed by Saudi Arabia to serve communications channels, pilgrims service implementation and monitoring tools, pilgrims enlightenment and education channels.
Consequently, this will lead to the immediate removal of irregularities and to holding the negligent to account, according to the regulations and instructions. Services provided to pilgrims can be track and monitored via an online electronic platform. The concept within which information communication technology is applied in Hajj management is to facilitate timely and efficient services delivery to pilgrims. Hajj planning is built on time frame. Delay in planning or implementation means service disruptions.
In 2019, payment for hajj services like accommodation, feeding, tent services, car syndicate services, Muasasa services, and Hadaya payment would be made online through the harmonized electronic track services.
Recently, Indonesia hajj committee directed all local hajj coordinators to attend the mandatory applications software training meant to equip them for the task ahead.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), States pilgrims boards and Tour Operators should creates a central Hajj information communication technology training centre that will be saddled with the responsibilities of conducting research, human resources management to enable Nigeria bridge the gap on hajj information communication technology.
Apart from hajj management, Saudi Arabia has moved steps further to incorporate ICT in enlightening pilgrims on how to perform hajj rituals in order to attain hajj mabrur. Prior to 2018 hajj, Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology launched a new initiative tagged “Smart Hajj” on the portal ‘Saudi’. The initiative includes digital services and a list of the key interactive applications that helped to accurately introduce pilgrims to the rituals of pilgrimage and to take advantage of technology in learning about steps for moving between the Holy Places.
It also offers guidelines, technical guides and health applications, together with a range of government applications that serve Hajj pilgrims and Umrah performers in Makkah and Madinah. The initiative is a part of the efforts exerted by the ICT sector, synchronized with the efforts of all relevant government and private sectors aimed at unveiling the best means to perform hajj rituals.
Saudi telecom operators have been directed to conducts technical tests and preparations that will provides towers and equipment, high-speed Internet services, and fiber optic network extensions to enable pilgrims and visitors benefit from all services, phone calls and the Internet.
Saudi Arabia has invested millions of dollars into high-tech initiatives to provide services for two million pilgrims that include apps providing information on emergency medical services and geographic guides to Makkah and Madina, the two cities home to Islam’s holiest sites.
One app will also translate Hajj sermons into five languages.
Organizing pilgrims movements is a major task during hajj exercise. For example, the complexity of Hajj management is not just that ICT is not put to use, but compunded by the massive number of pilgrims at geographical limited areas of Hajj ritual places like Mina, Muzdalifa and the Grand Mosque in Makkah. As a result of this, Hajj crowd management via a mobile augmented reality application has been conceived and may be deployed for usage in 2019 hajj.
The proposed application could help Hajj authorities manage pilgrims at the ritual places as the research illustrates two scenarios in Hajj crowd management. The application is beneficial and significant in crowd management at Hajj events, as it could provide instant information using high-speed process in sending and receiving information.
In addition, the information about pilgrims’ movements could be gathered, presented on smart devices and shared between the applications users. Those users will be the Hajj staff on ground and the Hajj operators in the control room of Hajj operations.
For example, it will offer high capacity data storage, processing and retrieval, represent data in different methods such as texts, pictures, audio and videos, high capacity for communication and data transmission and designing and development tools such as multimedia, virtual and augmented reality.
Developed an RFID application and proposed architecture for RFID-based management system. It described the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, as it is an emerging technology that is used to identify and track objects, people or transactions. It transfers a unique number of the identity and data of an object by wireless communication as radio waves.
On the transportation services, RFID will be used to count the pilgrims in their buses and how many of them pass the checkpoints. RFID hardware: RFID tag, which is a tiny microchip that contains an antenna,· memory and a processing unit. In addition, RFID reader, which is a device that collects tags’ information. Middleware: in the middleware layer, the data are cleaned from a multiple reading of errors, and then they are buffered in a database. Once the data are buffered, they become available for analysis or reviewing.
The homegrown ‘Hajj Hackaton’
NAHCON as apex hajj regulating body has adapted to the development by embracing electronic hajj system to coordinate and streamline hajj operation. Pilgrims complains management system, pilgrims online registration portal, centralized online visa processing, the Pilgrims Coordinate in Mashair area, Nigeria pilgrims emergency call centre situated at NAHCON office at Ummul Ujud in Makkah.
NAHCON said the 2019 hajj pilgrims registration will be online, taking a cue from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and Bangladesh.
From 2019 hajj, pilgrims will now be grouped online, according to Saudi Gazette report.
The reports said that “The Ministry of Haj and Umrah is planning to establish and electronic platform for the grouping of pilgrims starting from the coming Haj season.”
Undersecretary at the Ministry of Haj and Umrah, Hussain Al-Sharif said the ministry and its partners was making efforts to introduce the smart grouping of the pilgrims.
According to the proposal, the grouping will be done in two stages — first for the arrival and departure of the pilgrims and their movements between cities while the second for their movement between the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah and the Grand Mosque in Makkah