Dr. Salim Al Ruzaiqi
CEO, Information Technology Authority (ITA)
Omanis are capable of innovation and creativity in various fields and disciplines and particularly in information and communication technology sector.
Information Technology Authority (ITA) has played a vital role in transforming Oman into eSociety and helped in building knowledge based economy with all the projects, initiatives and programmes implemented. The ICT infrastructure in Oman has been remarkably improved over the past few years. The global ranking and the international and local awards which Oman received, in eGovernment and ICT fields, are key indicators and assessors to all the efforts that have been exerted in this respect. Based on e.oman strategy, consistency has been the key in achieving various milestones on various pillars in which the strategy is built around.
e.oman strategy has six pillars which incorporate a number of focus areas and define the main strategic directions to pursue in order to realize the pillar’s goals and objectives. Those pillars are summarized as follows: Society & Human Capital Development; Enhance e-government and e-services; Enable ICT Industry Development, Governance, Standards and Regulations; National IT Infrastructure Development and; Promotion and Awareness. We continuously measure each pillar’s KPIs on a yearly base and every five years. Up until the end of 2015, we considered all the feedback and evaluation results as guidelines to put together another five-year plan ahead. Looking at capacity development, for instance, we are initiating more specialized training opportunities for job seekers and government employees; this is mainly in the area of capacity development and security awareness.
Our government network is being enhanced currently by working closely with Oman’s Broadband Company (OBC) and other providers to connect all government agencies to a high speed network. The first phase of this implementation will cover 63 HQs for all government organizations in Muscat replacing the current speeds of Oman Government Network. The new network will connect the mentioned HQs with the previous 1GB connectivity and will connect them to the ITA National Data Center (NDC) with a 10 GB backbone. This new service will enable government organizations to enhance the service quality and hence, better customer satisfaction for their provided services. In addition, it will enable government entities to use the state of the art Government Cloud, which ITA recently adopted, to store their data and host their websites and provide them with many other related services.
Moreover, part of this year plan was complementing some of the latest trends in technology, such as the Government Cloud which I mentioned earlier. As a strategic move to get the benefit of Cloud technology in Oman, ITA initiated the project G-Cloud.
G-Cloud is the shared IT infrastructure established to serve IT requirements of ITA and other government entities. Enabling Government eservices is one of the ITA visions. The major challenge faced by ITA and ministries in achieving the E-services goal is the IT infrastructure readiness and IT resource scarcity. G-Cloud project is initiated by ITA to facilitate government entities in achieving their E-services goal by providing shared IT infrastructure. We are also focusing on how to effectively use big data to help government agencies reach their audiences, as well as increasing the efficiency of the eTransformation projects. Another major focus is on SMEs in order to bring new technology and development to Oman. Hence, we need to make sure that knowledge transfer is carried out successfully, as 10 per cent of any business contract by big international companies is to be allocated to SMEs.
Our approach is to invest when no one will take the initiative. For example, ITA implemented an ePayment gateway when other parties did not see a return on investment. We did that, as it was core to moving towards eGovernment. As demand on the ePayment services increased, its business viability became more apparent and other parties such as commercial banks started offering ePayment gateway services to businesses. We are glad we initiated this as it paid its dividend on the longer run. We are doing the same with other core investments that are essential to any digital transformation. In addition to ePayment, I will give one more example which is PKI and the authentication services.
INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
We have an intelligent young population in Oman and all they need is to have the opportunity. We built a Virtual Reality Center and we are pushing young people toward these new technologies. Young people realize that whenever they get along with our support, they become a valuable asset, even for big companies which are always hunting for new talent. SMEs understand that if they deliver high quality products and services, then their business will develop and grow, if not, then their business will suffer. We give the SMEs a maximum of three years to graduate and move on into the market. To foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the ICT sector in Oman, we have established Sas Entrepreneurship which aims to set up a national technology business entrepreneurship for the Sultanate of Oman in coordination and collaboration with Government and non-Government stakeholders to encourage entrepreneurship and the development of IT and IT related small and medium business in the Sultanate.
The programme is a Public Private Partnership Model and will contribute to the development of an internationally competitive ICT industry, self-employment and new job creation; introduction of new technologies to create innovative products, solutions and services, Generate commercially viable and technology based small and medium enterprises in Oman. Up to now, Sas incubated 24 Small and Medium ICT enterprises working on various fields such as graphic design, application and website development and eContent and film production.
Within the same context, ITA also set Sas Center for Virtual Reality (Sas.VR) to be a regional center that provides the infrastructure needed for developing virtual reality applications and multimedia content. It also works to feed the local and regional market with People specialized in this field by providing training to Omani talented people and encouraging them to be entrepreneurs. Over 360 graduated from the center up to now and they are starting their own way in the virtual reality application in Oman.
To encourage the creativity and innovation of our Omani youth, we have organized and supported several IT based competitions, among which, Sas48h which targets college students, jobseekers, professionals and anyone interested in Mobile Apps and Web Development field. The idea is based on the choice of 100 participants from developers and marketing experts and entrepreneurs and project managers. They are divided into teams to work over 48 hours continuously on a range of ideas in the field of smart phones or web applications. Each team has one or two persons specialized in certain area and all work to make an idea a reality.
In addition, we recently celebrated the conclusion of Oman Summer of Code Competition. It is a national youth competition in the field of application development and IT solutions. It was launched by ITA in 2013 for the first time, to encourage application developers in general, and applications based on open source software in particular to work on various projects using Free and Open Source software to create applications that can be adopted in different work environments over a three months period. The competition also aims to help create job opportunities through self-employment by encouraging participants to establish Small and Medium IT enterprises; thus, enriching the local market with IT solutions developed by Omani youth.
To gain exposure to real-world software development scenarios, participants walked through intensive training and orientation programme in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and entrepreneurship while implementing the assigned projects to them along with getting business opportunities and cash stipends. This year, for example, Oman Summer of Code enthusiasts produced 15 applications based on open source and free software.
Furthermore, we have opened 3 FOSS labs in 3 educational institutions to conduct workshops and training courses. The importance of such competitions and activities lie in the message that we seek to achieve, that is Omanis are capable of innovation and creativity in various fields and disciplines and particularly in information and communication technology sector. They just need the right environment and conditions to help them unleash their potentials to turn their ideas into successful projects, and here comes our role as Information Technology Authority through this competition or the other initiatives in which young Omanis can take advantage of their abilities and talents.