Towards a knowledge-based economy

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A series of initiatives by the ITA have marked the Sultanate’s vault into the modern age of information and communication technology.
QUICK GLANCE
The Sultanate’s information technology sector is poised for a remarkable growth.
The government has adopted a national broadband strategy.
The formation of state-owned Oman Broadband Company (OBC) was a major step in the government’s efforts to provide affordable and fast broadband services.
Presently, 12.6 per cent of the population is using broadband services.
Royal Oman Police is also trying to introduce e-visa system.
The Sultanate’s information technology sector is poised for a remarkable growth, which will help the country to eventually move to a knowledge-based economy. This is all the more important in view of the country’s heavy investment in airports, seaports, railways, logistics centres and free zones, which all need information technology support. As part of a move to support information and communication technology development, the government has adopted a national broadband strategy, which is a multi-pronged plan. The first focused area is to enhance broadband network in the Sultanate to provide telecom services across the country, especially in remote areas, and to encourage use of broadband network and raise the speed of Internet service.
Broadband is an essential part of economic and social life, which plays an important role in stimulating economic growth and increasing productivity, which will also raise the standard of living of the people. In fact, any growth in fixed broadband generates a direct impact on the gross domestic product of the country. The gross domestic product of developing countries grew by 1.38 percentage points for each 10 per cent growth in national broadband penetration. Apart from this direct impact on the economy, there are several indirect benefits like job creation for Omani youths.
The formation of state-owned Oman Broadband Company (OBC) was a major step in the government’s efforts to provide affordable and fast broadband services, especially in far-flung areas. The OBC, which plans to cover 90 per cent of Muscat region by 2021, has already started its major work to develop a national broadband infrastructure, in cooperation with Haya Water. The company plans to extend the fibre optic network in the Sultanate to cover even the remotest areas for providing fast and cheap broadband services. Presently, 12.6 per cent of the population is using broadband services and this number will grow substantially after the implementation of the OBC’s masterplan, which are being introduced in three phases that will run in parallel. Although the initial focus is on Muscat region, OBC will extend its services urban regions outside Muscat, which has relatively lower demand and scattered population. Haya Water has been laying fibre-optic cables to households to provide high-speed broadband connection.
However, unlike several other countries, the Sultanate faces series of challenges in developing a nation-wide broadband network. The country has a population density of 10 people per square kilometre, which makes it costly for telecommunication service providers to build infrastructure. Another major challenge is the complex topography, which increases the cost of building viable broadband infrastructure.
Recently, the Information Technology Authority (ITA) and OBC have signed an agreement for setting up a high-speed fiber optic for Oman Government Network (OGN). This pact is for connecting 63 governmental entities hosted by the OGN, providing high-speed connectivity, which will also link to the National Data Centre and a backup data centre. The cooperation is considered as a major step in the implementation of e-transformation plan adopted by ITA, as it will help transfer data and procedures in high speed. The ITA has launched a number of IT-related infrastructure projects, with one core component being an e-government services portal, which is a gateway to services offered by government departments online. This was one of the important objectives of the national strategy for broadband to support and enable e-government services. The implementation of this link, which will transfer data among government entities, will eliminate obstacles of fast data transfer, which is currently a challenge for providing state-of-the-art e-Government services.
The government’s e-Oman goals include bridging the digital divide and making e-government services available to all the people across the country. In order to equip civil servants in information technology to serve the people better, the government has been providing short-term training. Several thousand employees have been given 10-week long training in diverse technologies and applications. Another 20,000 employees will be given training within a few years.
Oman government is also using information technology in a major way to ease government services and attract both local and foreign investment in its industrial sector. The much-talked about ‘Invest East’ platform – a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs in getting various clearances for setting up industries is partially launched, while the entire service will be available within a year or so. Another major initiative is Royal Oman Police’s (ROP) e-customs platform, which is under test in Sohar port. In yet another move, the ROP is also trying to introduce e-visa system, which will eliminate the hassle of getting visa. In an attempt to develop a vibrant information technology sector, millions of rials have already been invested in a major information technology park, various education facilities in the information technology field and several other government programmes. All these initiatives are expected to create employment facilities for Omani youths as well as create a knowledge-based society.
A series of initiatives by the ITA have marked the Sultanate’s vault into the modern age of information and communication technology. 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. In fact, the Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) has attracted several multinational information technology giants to Oman. As much as 22,000 square meters of office space and business incubator facility are all fully occupied and it is home to 70 firms. Therefore, there is no wonder that KOM is now home to world’s renowned information technology firms like Oracle, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Motorola, NCR and Huawei. Several information technology firms are specialised in providing middle-to-low end jobs, which include Arabising software, call centres and other support services. Oman has several advantages in developing a vibrant information technology sector in view of availability of youths.
Like any other free trade zones, 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. For creating a pool of skilled information technology professionals two specialised colleges – Middle East College and Waljat College of Applied Science – were established almost one-and-a-half decade. Meanwhile, digital economy in the Middle East is set to exceed $30 billion by 2018, following almost 30 per cent growth this year, according a recent report.

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