Following the implementation of the Invest Easy portal, Oman made an unprecedented leap, jumping 127 places in the ease of doing business ranking of the World Bank. Marek Helm, General Manager of the GCC and Africa region at Nortal, the global strategic change and technology company which developed the portal, talks about the company’s operations and key projects in Oman. Excerpts from an interview with Muhammed Nafie
Can you talk about Nortal’s global operations and its presence in the GCC region?
Nortal was founded in Estonia little less than 20 years ago. As a company, Nortal was instrumental in transforming Estonia into a digital leader and creating change in businesses with a strategic approach and data-driven technology.
Our vision is to build a seamless society. As one of the main architects of Estonia e-society that is widely recognised as one of the most advanced digital societies in the world, Nortal is exporting this experience to the GCC region and Oman.
The company operates in nearly 10 countries, out of nearly 15 offices and employs over 800 specialists who carry out high-impact projects across Europe, U.S., Middle East and Africa. Nortal is the name behind a lot of innovative e-solutions in Oman.
We have been in Oman since 2009. In addition, we have operations in Abu Dhabi and have recently signed an agreement with a reputable Qatari partner Al-Mesned International Holding. We have over 100 people working for the Gulf region alone – some of them on-site and some off-site.
What are the major e-government projects you have been involved with in Oman?
We have developed the Invest Easy portal, a major government project led by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) and the Information Technology Authority (ITA) with a goal to transform the way businesses operate in Oman by spearheading the first true e-government initiative in the country. The portal, that brings together 76 various services, allows companies to submit digitally signed documents to Oman’s National Business Register and apply online to start a business, acquire licenses, amend registry data, prepare financial reports and utilise a number of other relevant services for entrepreneurs.
In addition, Nortal has been selected by Oman as a partner to provide the necessary technical solutions and establish the infrastructure for the implementation of effective tax collection in Oman. At the moment, we are creating a holistic technical solution, helping Oman implement Value Added Tax (VAT). The solution ensures maximum accrual of VAT and effective collection of the tax with minimum administrative burden and costs, while creating a fair business environment and user-friendly services for all taxpayers.
We are also developing a work licensing and permits system for the Ministry of Manpower. This will reform the processes related to managing foreign labour force in the country – starting from simplifying the application phase to enabling the ministry to better plan and manage the processes.
We are also involved with National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) in developing a system for data gathering.
What is the impact of Invest Easy portal on Oman’s business environment?
Invest Easy is not only about the digitalisation of processes – we have seen the real impact this seamless e-government solution has had on business environment.
Following the successful launch and implementation of the portal, Oman made an unprecedented leap in the ease of doing business ranking of the World Bank report in 2017, jumping 127 places up in the category ‘starting a business’, compared to the previous year.
The record climb is a direct result of optimised business registry processes and various supporting online services made possible by the Invest Easy portal, a single point of access to all government e-services for entrepreneurs, which has had a substantial impact on local business environment in Oman.
The portal is meant for the investors, aimed at making the whole process of starting a business simple and hassle-free. It’s one of the success stories we brought from Estonia to Oman. In Estonia, we can do it in five minutes. It will attract more investors to the country as nobody is afraid of the processes.
Global Enterprise Registration (GER.co) rating awarded Invest Easy the highest ranking, naming it one of the five best government-to-business (G2B) solutions in the world. The portal has also received further international acclaim. At the World Summit on the Information Society award ceremony, it won second place in the business and commerce category, which evaluated ICT solutions with high social impact, supporting and optimising business processes. Invest Easy also received two prestigious regional awards – the GCC eGovernment Award for the best eGovernment service for the business sector and the Al-Roya Economic Award for the best governmental e-service.
But investors we talk to are still complaining about the delays and various rigmaroles involved in registering a business or getting the requisite clearance…
Those complains need to be handled in the next phase. We are working with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to enhance the services of the portal. We are now entering the second phase by making some amendments to the system. We developed the portal from 2013 to 2015 and now it needs to be amended.
Some of the main issues are related to the complexities between the different entities involved. There are 11 systems integrated to Invest Easy and each of them need to be more flexible to make the system more effective. We need to make the system more communicative. It takes time. We need to further simplify the procedures as much as possible and motivate people to use it.
Do you think Oman is keeping pace with the latest global trends in digitisation and e-governance?
Oman is very much keeping abreast of the latest global trends. One of the things I really admire about the Sultanate is that the country is doing the right thing to make the government services technically advanced and simplify the procedures. I appreciate this approach. The country has a great 2040 ICT strategy, which will help position Oman on the global map with high-impact projects and transform the Sultanate to a seamless society.
Muhammed Nafie is an Assistant Editor at Oman Economic Review.