Role of Digital Dynamics in Oman’s Development

Empowering Omanis with IT

The Sultan Qaboos Award for excellence in e-Governance reflects the government’s keenness to develop a national strategy aimed at creating a Knowledge Society and establishing effective government-community-citizen infrastructure that provides better public services.
The much-anticipated and prestigious prize, awarded in nine categories, highlights the vision of Sultan Qaboos to improve government performance and reflects the interest in the government’s efforts to promote managerial skills, economy, service and education. A government that is excelling in e-Services is more productive and efficient, ultimately less costly, leaving more money to invest in education and economic development. Efficient and reliable e-Governance knits people together. It is an effective tool to empower citizens and make the government more responsive.
It may be noted that the Sultanate has been surging ahead on the fast lane of the digital superhighway and has given its undivided attention to the development of Omani nationals’ skills in the area of IT.
Through the implementation of the government IT Training and Certification programme, more than 45,000 government officials have been trained. Another project offering specialised training to civil servants is being implemented, with a view to qualifying and encouraging nationals to come up with new digital innovations. The Community Knowledge Centres, being established across the Sultanate, underscores the Sultan’s belief in the importance of e-Government services and making information available online.
The Royal directive to grant laptops to each beneficiary family of the social insurance who has at least one child enrolled in public school is another step in the right direction. The number of National PC Initiative beneficiaries will be more than 113,000. A 20-million-rial fund is allocated for this scheme, which is expected to provide the impetus for long-term growth.
Over the years, the Sultanate has successfully implemented numerous inter-connected and integrated projects as part of its national strategy to build a digital society. The National Data Centre, the Centre for Information Security and the e-Payment Gateway have received immense response from citizens. Moreover, the official e-Government services portal was launched to serve as the main access to information and these projects are going hand in hand with the promulgation of legislations regulating e-transactions and services. The idea is to engage all segments of society in the digital transformation witnessed in various domains.
Thanks to these initiatives, the country is ranked 13th internationally in the field of e-Government readiness, 19th in the area of government success in IT promotion, and 10th in the attention government accords to IT sector. The World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness in the IT sector affirmed the progress made by the Sultanate. The country has witnessed great improvement in results compared to previous years, having been ranked in the 41st position in the Networked Readiness Index among 138 countries. It is an impressive and outstanding progress achieved in a comparatively short period of time. The achievement should act as a catalyst to push these institutions to the next level and help them create a citizen-centric environment for governance.
The initiatives taken by the Sultanate’s Information Technology Authority (ITA) to generate awareness for information technology is bearing fruits and the results are available in the form of e-governance.
One of the most successful efforts of the ITA is the launch of the Oman National Computer Emergency Readiness Team (Ocert) that is the basic component of e-governance and the eOman strategy.
The centre is part of plans and strategies aimed at guaranteeing the secrecy of information, particularly e-transactions as also against cyber crimes. The Royal Oman Police (ROP) is providing support to the centre by raising awareness in establishments and among individuals.
The Sultanate has been a leading country in implementing plans and strategies that set the ground for a solid database. The centre will serve a wide range of information and communications technology sectors, especially national infrastructure establishments, major industries, citizens and residents alike. It will provide a wide range of information-based services.
As part of its commitment towards developing information technology, the Sultanate took part in broadband summit held in Geneva in the month of October where deliberations of the ‘Broadband leadership summit and international telecommunications conference 2011’ opened with participation of a number of heads of states and governments, ministers concerned, world industries officials, representatives of the international organisations and businessmen.
The Sultanate's delegation to the conference was led by Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications. Dr Al Futaisi took part in the panel discussion which was allocated for topics related to financing the projects of telecommunications and knowledge technologies industry in light of the challenges.
The conference discussed international and regional issues of concerned to the telecommunications sector and the vital role that can be played by the broadband Internet and digital cities technologies to face the future urban challenges, in addition to the innovated methods to finance the national broadband projects.
With a view to sharing and learning from others experiences, Deputy CEO of Operations at the ITA, Talal al Rahbi participated in the Institute of European Studies’ (IES)/Citadel Statement Lecture Series, in Brussels and gave a lecture outlining Oman’s preparedness in the IT sector.
Presenting the national view of public sector reforms and the use of IT in the process, Al Rahbi delivered a presentation on the experience of the e.oman strategy, which is the vision and the road map for the realisation of an information society where the government delivers customer-centric services, harnessing modern technology.
To ensure the IT empowerment, the Information Technology Authority (ITA) recently signed memoranda of understanding to set up centres on the idea of knowledge-based society at nine branches of the Omani Women’s Association.
With an idea of training 1,890 women, the centres are coming up in the wilayats of Seeb, Al Rustaq, Shinas, Yanqul, Ibra, Jaalan Bani Bu Ali, Bahla, Muscat and Thamrait. The centres will give training on the basics of computer applications. As part of the programme, 18 members of the Omani Women’s Associations will receive courses as trainers in IT skills. The new centres will operate alongside existing centres in Muscat, Salalah, Sur and Sohar.
Taking the cause of Information Technology further the Information Technology Authority (ITA) signed two agreements one relates to the expansion of the Government IT Training and Certification (GITTC) project and the second agreement relates to increasing the trust of citizens and businesses when utilising the e-services.
The agreements were signed by Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, Chairman, ITA Board of Directors, on behalf of the ITA in the presence of Dr Salim Sultan al Ruzaiqi, ITA’s Chief Executive Officer, Talal Sulaiman al Rahbi, Deputy CEO of Operations at ITA, ITA employees and other distinguished guests.
Commenting on the importance of the agreement, Al Sunaidy said: “Adding another operator to the GITTC project will further help government entities to enhance the IT skills and abilities of government employees. Doing so will benefit the employees so they can better provide e-services to the community”.
“We wish these projects will help further develop e-services in Oman and help to raise even greater awareness about information technology and its importance in society. The PKI project agreement will help to instill confidence in e-transactions and e-services, so the public can complete their electronic transactions in a safe and secure manner,” he said.
And the ITA’s efforts in equipping the nation with the latest did not go unnoticed and it obtained ISO 27001 certification for Information Security. This was achieved after ITA successfully met all the requirements of the standard, in addition to fulfilling other relevant information security requirements.
ITA’s receipt of such certification will subject it to annual audit procedures so as to identify the level of development achieved by this vital sector. This will motivate ITA to work at continuing to develop the Information Security Sector. The ISO 27001 is the second certification granted to ITA by the International Standards Organization (ISO). In August 2010, ITA was granted the ISO 9001 Certification for Quality Management Standard.
Taking up the challenge of promoting the information system and e-government services, the Information Technology Authority (ITA) launched the framework of technical criteria for e-governance.
The project apparently seeks to promote the information system and e-government services within the context of developing e-Oman society. The frame work will provide the criteria that identify the technologies required to support governmental work and reduce the time and cost by rolling out the technical applications and merging the information and services provided.
It is beyond doubt that the Sultanate’s government has taken up the job of e-governance very seriously, and among major eOman projects are the official eGovernment Services Portal, Oman Government Network, ePayment Gateway, National Data Centre, Innovation and Support Centre, eTransactions Law, National IT Training and Awareness, Oman National CERT, and the e.oman Awareness campaign.
The eOman projects are going on under direct supervision of Information Technology Authority. “Since we are living in digital age, it is important now to make people understand the practical applications of these services and their importance in developing a digital knowledge society. The services are also aimed at improving the government’s electronic service standards,” said an ITA senior executive at the recently held IT fair Comex-2010.
The basic idea behind the projects is to create an effective government-community-citizen infrastructure that provides better public services to people, resulting in a meaningful information flow between the government and citizens.