Ushering in a new era

A significant improvement in Oman’s standing on online citizen and business services indices in 2012 demonstrates the success of government’s National e.Oman strategy which seeks to transform the Sultanate into a secure knowledge-based society.

For a country that set out far later than most on the digital superhighway, the Sultanate has a lot to show for itself, with some prestigious international awards to boot. It’s a success story that promises to pay rich dividends in the creation of an e-enabled society where an array of government and public sector services can be accessed online.

Oman’s quest to create a digital society is the essence of the National e.Oman Strategy. It aims to transform the Sultanate into a secure knowledge-based society by implementing a set of initiatives that support the rollout of e-government services. Spearheading this drive is the Information Technology Authority (ITA), the country’s flagship agency tasked with overseeing the realisation of this vision.

Significantly, the latest biannual eGovernment Survey of the United Nations applauds the Sultanate on the rapid progress it has made in the use of information communication technology (ICT). Oman is ranked 16th in the world on the UN eParticipation Index, which indicates how governments create an environment in which citizens can be more active and supportive of their governments.

The 2012 edition of the survey also points to significant improvement in Oman’s standing on online citizen and business services indices, which are demonstrative of the success of the Omani government’s and the ITA’s policies. The ranking for eServices this year is at 35 compared to 55 in the 2010 Report.

Similarly, Oman has improved its overall ranking on the UN eGovernment Development Index, moving from 82nd position to 64th out of 193 countries, advancing 18 positions from the 2010 Report. The Sultanate was listed out of a total of 25 member states that offer separate m-government sites.

The e-government report evaluates components related to online services, e-participation, telecommunications and infrastructure, and human capital. Comprising the online services index, four sections correspond to the four stages of e-government development: emerging, enhanced, transactional and connected.

In the 2012 report, Oman has been evaluated at 57 per cent in stage four, labeled ‘connected’, which represents the most sophisticated level in online e-government initiatives. This attests to the increase in available citizen-centric services and the government’s willingness to give citizens a voice in policymaking.

As measured by factors that focus on commitment to a whole-of-government approach, Oman is listed with several other countries among the top performers. Oman was also listed among countries with government websites providing a statement ‘follow us on Facebook or Twitter’.

The United Nations eGovernment Survey 2012 highlights the speed with which governments across the world are adopting technology to enhance public sector efficiencies and streamline governance systems to improve service delivery and support sustainable development.

Also highlighted by the UN survey is how governments are using technologies like computers, tablets and mobile phones to improve service delivery to citizens. Mobile applications for car parking in Muscat, and the Ministry of Education’s portal are all examples of this trend – examples which have won national and international acclaim in recent years.

Among the ministries and government departments that have won international honours in this regard are Muscat Municipal (2003), Royal Oman Police (2009) Ministry of Health (2010), the ITA, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Civil Service and National Association for Cancer Awareness (2011), and more recently the Health Ministry.

e-Business services
Yet another much-lauded initiative is the One-Stop-Shop of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The creation of this system arose from a conviction by the government of the importance of investment in all economic fields, by providing support to investors and businessmen, regardless of their nationalities, and eliminating all obstacles that limit the work of this sector. This one-stop-shop system includes the provision of e-business services to the business sector through modern technology, which has approximately more than 60 completely automated e-services in various ministerial sectors (i.e. trade, industry, minerals, and s on).

Since its creation, the One-Stop-Shop system has witnessed an unprecedented influx of requests and transactions being submitted through the system. The number of applications and transactions is growing at an annual rate of about 15 per cent, with the tally for 2011 pegged at 223,091 submissions.

Other ministries and government departments too have rolled out innovative e-government services, some of which won top billings at the GCC e-government awards hosted by Kuwait in November, 2011.

The Central Bank of Oman’s cheques scanning system won the best transactional e-service award in the business sector, while the educational portal of the Ministry of Education scooped the best e-portal award in the developmental sector. Winning the Best Government-to-Government Project Award was the Tender Board for its novel e-bidding system. Furthermore, both the Ministry of Civil Service’s human resources management and central recruitment system and the Ministry of Higher Education’s higher education admission system were honoured with two awards.

Also keeping pace with the times has been Oman Post, the state postal authority, which recently introduced the landmark e-Post initiative. Billed as the first-of-its-kind in the world, the initiative involves the convergence of both digital as well as printed mail into one unique digital address with each individual, both national and expatriate, receiving a distinctive identity free for life. Besides offering convenience and enabling hassle-free transactions, the new e-post identity will travel along with the person wherever he resides around the country.

Developed by Oman Post in collaboration with Vantage Post Technologies BV of the Netherlands – a global leader in digital document portals – e-Post also offers every individual a virtual post box as well. It aims to serve as a channel of communication between individuals and government departments so that applications and other processes are simplified. Further, as virtual box, it will allow individuals to receive real printed mail with notifications through their e-post ID.

Human capital
Importantly, the development of human resources is one of the main pillars of the e.Oman strategy. In line with this goal, the ITA has launched the National IT Training and Awareness Initiative, which aims to train members of the society – male or female – through 19 Community Knowledge Centres spread across the Sultanate. Training covers the basics of computer, enabling the candidates to browse the Internet and to expand their knowledge about different aspects of life.

Omani women have been able to enjoy a bigger share of this Initiative than men as they can not only avail themselves of the training courses organised at 10 Community Knowledge Centres allocated to both genders, but also undergo training through another nine Community Knowledge Centres, exclusively set up for women within Omani Women’s Associations. Statistics show that out of the 30,000 citizens who underwent training through these centres, 16,666 were women.

And in a bid by the government to foster the pursuit of excellence in the delivery of e-government and online services, the ITA has instituted the Sultan Qaboos Award for Excellence in e-government. This year’s contest builds on the successes of the 2010 and 2011 editions to throw it open – for the first time – to the private sector as well.

The Sultan Qaboos Award for Excellence in eGovernment aspires to recognise qualitative transformation in the field of eGovernment services by honouring digital projects that deliver exceptional innovation and achievement in the field of information technology. The award aims also to honour excellent performance, apply international standards in evaluating the degree of development in e-services, support Oman’s digital strategy, as well as strengthen IT and telecommunications in the fields of economic, social and cultural development.

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