In an increasingly difficult economic and political climate, digital transformation of public service delivery has the potential to bring real value to Palestinians. Investing in e-government and leveraging digital tools makes sense financially and is an effective way to reach and support people remotely, especially during a time of crisis. Cloud computing, in particular, could play an important role in delivering e-government services by facilitating data storage and the exchange of information between various government agencies.
The final goal? "Making it possible for every Palestinian to easily access essential services online without having to leave their home," said Samer Ali, Director of International Relations at the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT) at the opening of a webinar organized in April 2021 with support of the World Bank. E-government would allow remote access to essential services, like the online payment of utility bills or access to medical records — services that improve living standards and save time and money in the process. This is especially important for Palestinians, who face continuous restrictions on their movement.
The webinar took place in preparation for a recently effective World Bank operation in the Palestinian territories, called the Digital West Bank and Gaza Project, which will support the Palestinian Authority (PA) in developing various areas of the digital economy, including enabling the regulatory, policy, and technical environment for e-government service delivery.
This will begin with the design of an enterprise architecture that lays out the structure of e-government service delivery, as well as the processes that enable an interoperable ecosystem. Private sector stakeholders and citizens will also be engaged to co-develop an e-government sector strategy that will provide a long-term and citizen-centric vision for digital transformation in the Palestinian territories with the objective of improving public service delivery.
An important prerequisite for the digital platform will be to transition public agencies from storing data on physical servers to utilizing a cloud. The PA is planning to host the cloud on premises, with a disaster recovery site possibly located abroad. Participating ministries will gradually migrate applications and data currently hosted on their physical servers to the cloud, and will leverage the existing data exchange layer, called X-Road, which connects several ministries and is currently used for basic interagency data queries, to deliver the services through an online portal.
In order to better understand both the PA’s preparedness for cloud solutions and its capacity to migrate a significant amount of data to the cloud, the World Bank conducted an assessment that (i) identifies policy and technical gaps that need to be addressed, (ii) lays out the different options for deployment models, (iii) and evaluates the readiness of different applications for migration to the cloud.
During the webinar, the World Bank team shared some results from its assessment with nearly 30 civil servants from across the PA. E-government was found to still be in its early stages in the Palestinian territories, with public agencies investing unilaterally in their own data centers and engaging with other ministries bilaterally. Enabling regulations related to data privacy, digital transactions, and e-IDs have yet to be developed, as well as a clear mandate for the implementing agency to lead a whole-of-government approach that would require significant buy-in from other agencies. Due to current data-localization practices, leveraging private sector cloud service providers in a public or hybrid deployment model would not be possible, at least in the short-term.
The webinar panelists shared experiences and best practices and discussed the leveraging of disruptive technologies to build smart cloud systems and e-service delivery models. The discussion touched on topics ranging from the use of AI technology stacks in convergence with Edge computing to drive the design of new data architecture to the fundamentals of a successful e-ID framework and the technical considerations of varying cloud service delivery models.
If the PA can successfully put in place a long-term cloud strategy, formalize its deployment model, and build the necessary enabling foundations, cloud solutions can be instrumental in successfully deploying e-government services to the public. Cloud solutions would allow the PA to cover communication gaps, especially in remote villages in the West Bank and Gaza, and increase collaboration and interoperability between government agencies. At a time of increasing fiscal uncertainty and political instability, cloud storage could also help reduce data redundancy by allowing ministries to collect and archive important data and key databases off-site; and digitizing records and archives could generate fiscal savings and make the Palestinian territories more resilient to data loss.