Oman is making a major headway in the e-governance space thanks to multifarious initiatives being taken by the government. The recent launch of a state-of-the-art e-government portal – Invest Easy – was a shot in the arm for improving efficiency in government departments through information and communication technology. This portal, a one-stop-shop facility, enables new registration procedures online in a matter of minutes, besides allowing the corporate sector to manage their processes online with minimal paperwork. The project is expected to improve business processes through providing over 66 eServices available through mobile applications or the website once the full service is available after a year. The technology behind the Invest Easy Portal was created by Nortal, a successful conglomerate with similar projects in other countries. Nortal collaborated with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Information Technology Authority to bring this concept into the public business arena to ensure that Oman continues to be a place where business can be carried out quickly and easily as well as with honesty and transparency.
However, Oman is the second hardest place in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region to open a company. Oman was ranked 66th out of 189 economies in the ‘Doing Business 2015’ report of the World Bank Group. The partial launch of the portal is expected to resolve this difficulty in the near future. Like other Gulf States, the Sultanate has formulated a national strategy for developing information and communications sector by investing in information technology parks, e-governance and educational institutions to mould a skilled workforce vital for the industry. The strategy is also aimed at framing best laws for patent protection and for creating awareness about the advantages of information technology among masses.
There has been considerable focus on improving the skills of youths as well as the information and communication technology services in the Sultanate over the years. Since broadband connectivity is important for achieving its long-term vision of a knowledge-based economy, major emphasis is also on building capacities. Keeping this in mind, a state-owned company for providing broadband services was formed a couple of years ago. The new company – Oman Broadband Company (OBC) – started providing optical fibre networks for use by licensed operators for providing broadband services, which is in tie-up with Haya Water. The company is trying to expand Internet access across Oman, besides helping in achieving the Digital Oman strategy, e-government in line with the long-term economic vision. According to the plan, OBC aims at providing affordable and fast broadband services to over 90 per cent of the Muscat Governorate subscribers by 2021. So far, OBC has provided over 40,000 home connections in several residential areas, including the Wave, Muscat Hills and Shatti Al Qurum. And the company plans to extend and strengthen the fiber optic network to cover even the remotest parts for offering cheaper broadband services. The OBC will work to extend fiber optic networks to major cities with large populations outside Muscat governorate for homes and commercial units. According to latest statistics, around 13 per cent of the population is using broadband services, which is expected to grow at a faster pace once OBC implements its national projects. However, an important challenge faced by OBC is the complex topography and large areas compared to the neighbouring countries.
Oman Fiber Optic, which invested heavily in a state-of-the-art plant last year, ensures that enough fiber optic cable is available in the country for connectivity. The pioneer fiber optic cable manufacturer invested RO13 million for building two plants – one with an installed capacity to produce 14,000-18,000 kilometers of cable and another for producing 1.6 million fiber kilometers of cable per annum. The company caters to the needs of various sectors, mainly telecommunication, oil and gas and government utility projects. Formation of an information technology park (Knowledge Oasis Muscat or KOM) played an important role in developing the ICT sector. Companies within the IT Park enjoy various incentives, including 100 per cent foreign ownership, minimum capital requirement, exemption from income tax for a stipulated period, high-speed Internet connectivity and state-of-the art offices with plug and play facilities.