Known as the “Pearl of Arabia“ for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is also striving to adopt economic reforms that are in accordance with global market expectations and demands of our time. The country is currently undergoing a transition to a knowledge-based economy as outlined in its economic vision 2020. Information and communication technologies are at the core of this transformation, serving as the key enabler of economic diversification.
Oman’s national e-Governance initiative — which is called eOman — came into effect in 2003 and since then has been serving as the main framework for Oman’s digital transformation, including ICT industry and infrastructure development, creation of better public services and development of human capital. Since 2009, Oman has been consistently recognized by the United Nations Public Service Programme for its efforts.
We asked Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) of Oman — the agency responsible for the implementation of eOman strategy — to share with us the key solutions his agency has been working on to tackle the country’s development challenges and to highlight some of the lessons learned. Read Dr. Al-Ruzaiqi’s selected responses below, or download the full version of the interview here.
Can you tell us some of the key points of the Oman Digital Strategy (e.oman)?
Let me start first by emphasizing that His Majesty’s grand vision of diversifying the Omani economy was the key driver of embarking on developing and implementing e.oman. This grand vision was set out in the economic vision 2020 that included transforming Oman into a sustainable knowledge based society. In His address to Oman Council in November 2008, His Majesty stressed the need to develop the technological and practical skills of citizens and provide them with the resources and training required to enhance their capabilities and incentivize them to seek knowledge. His Majesty also directed the Government to simplify processes, adopt technology in its daily operation, and focus on electronic delivery of its services.
The Digital Oman Strategy, e.oman, is of six main pillars as follows:
- Society and Human Capital Development – which is concerned with developing the skills and abilities of Citizens and Government employees in the use of IT and providing specialized training to IT professionals. It also addresses digital divide issues.
- Enhance eGovernment and e-Services – which will result in transforming the way government operates through process enhancement and automation and providing eServices to the community
- ICT Industry Development – is concerned with developing the local ICT sector and in particular SMEs through enhancing the on-shore delivery capability in content, mobility and applications while creating Industry partnerships between Omani companies and foreign partners
- Governance, Standards and Regulations – which will ensure that the Government moves towards standardization in its technical architecture and infrastructures
- National Infrastructure Development – lays a solid foundation for providing government services online through offering and utilizing common shared and scalable government service building blocks which can be used in hosting and integrating government applications and services
- Promotion and Awareness – targeted promotion and awareness campaigns rolled out to increase the awareness of the public of e.oman highlighting the benefits of implementing the strategy. They also promote the digital lifestyle and eServices to the population.
Is e.oman Strategy about becoming a “smart nation”? What do you think key characteristics of a smart nation would be?
Yes, the long-term vision and objective of the e.oman Strategy is to become a smart nation. Our aim is to digitally transform the society, businesses and the government so that our society as a whole becomes savvy in using digital technologies and can produce as well as consume digital products and services out of acquired knowledge and advanced skills. Another aspect of a smart nation is to put the services in the hands of the individuals and business and making it convenient and easily accessible from anywhere and at any time while being cost effective and efficient as much as possible.
We started by putting together the necessary infrastructure foundation. Along with the infrastructure, we are building the communications channels, networks and portals to ensure smooth flow of information among entities and building the intelligence in systems and applications. We are supplementing this by transforming processes wherein we focus on working with the government agencies to rethink their business processes and favorably looking at the change management, and the most important factors for the success of all these initiatives. We are supporting the transformation by skills, training and capacity development efforts, from the nonprofessional’s level to the advanced technical professionals in the government.
We strongly believe that an investment in mobility skills and services now is crucial for the smart nation of tomorrow. Mobility is not an emerging global trend anymore. It is the way of future communication. Thus, one of the initiatives at ITA is establishing a Centre of Excellence for mobility where training, tools and the necessary staging sites will be available to the trainees and subject-matter experts (SMEs) who wish to utilize this infrastructure to build mobile applications but lack resources to do so. The Centre of Excellence will also facilitate to have in country development of the applications thus contributing to local economic growth of the sector.
To ensure sustainable growth of the ICT sector, we focus on the development of SMEs and creating an environment of competition and coordination among the SMEs. We have recently established the SAS Incubation center to enroll and encourage SMEs and individuals with bright ideas to have their own businesses. At the SAS center, we provide technical and business related training to incubated companies to prepare them for the real world and assist them in getting their first assignments while enabling them to coordinate amongst each other and create synergies. This in turn creates the industry clusters we are looking for which can be an attraction point for further investments in the ICT sector by local and foreign companies.
One of the ultimate goals of smart nations is to reduce costs for all the stakeholders and increase the efficiency in delivery of services, utilizing and leveraging the information output effectively to enhance services and build on value add services. In Oman, we are working on having an ultra-fast broadband connectivity and the government has recently established a company dedicated to building the necessary infrastructure. This will expand the coverage of the broadband through fiber optics and wireless technologies and increases connection speeds since the government believes that broadband is the cornerstone for a smart nation and it has become a basic and vital need for citizens and business alike as well as the government.
This article was first published by the World Bank’s Information and Communications for Development. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: As CEO of ITA, since its inception in 2006, Dr. Salim is leading the implementation of the Digital Oman Strategy.
Image: An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel.