The Electronic Visa (e-Visa) has emerged as one of the most innovative services implemented in the area of freedom of movement and people-to-people contacts.
E-Visa allows the management of the visa application process to take place entirely in a virtual environment. Everything is done with the help of the Internet: the visa application and supporting documents are submitted online, the payment is made online and the decision on the application is communicated online. Some of the best examples of e-Visa services I have encountered are implemented by the authorities of Australia, Turkey, New Zealand and Georgia.
Known as the “Pearl of Arabia“ for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is also striving to adopt economic reforms that are in accordance with global market expectations and demands of our time. The country is currently undergoing a transition to a knowledge-based economy as outlined in its economic vision 2020. Information and communication technologies are at the core of this transformation, serving as the key enabler of economic diversification.
Oman’s national e-Governance initiative — which is called eOman — came into effect in 2003 and since then has been serving as the main framework for Oman’s digital transformation, including ICT industry and infrastructure development, creation of better public services and development of human capital. Since 2009, Oman has been consistently recognized by the United Nations Public Service Programme for its efforts.
We asked Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) of Oman — the agency responsible for the implementation of eOman strategy — to share with us the key solutions his agency has been working on to tackle the country’s development challenges and to highlight some of the lessons learned. Read Dr. Al-Ruzaiqi’s selected responses below, or download the full version of the interview here.
Can you tell us some of the key points of the Oman Digital Strategy (e.oman)?
Let me start first by emphasizing that His Majesty’s grand vision of diversifying the Omani economy was the key driver of embarking on developing and implementing e.oman. This grand vision was set out in the economic vision 2020 that included transforming Oman into a sustainable knowledge based society. In His address to Oman Council in November 2008, His Majesty stressed the need to develop the technological and practical skills of citizens and provide them with the resources and training required to enhance their capabilities and incentivize them to seek knowledge. His Majesty also directed the Government to simplify processes, adopt technology in its daily operation, and focus on electronic delivery of its services.
“Digitization” is a relatively niche topic in within information and communication technology (ICT), but the demand for “digitization” in the development field has grown significantly over the last few years, especially in Africa.
When we say “digitization”, you may think that it is just scanning or capturing paper records into a digital format. That’s partially correct, but the actual work cycle of digitization goes beyond what you think. It includes the whole process of transforming the data on paper records into “digital data,” which we can identify, search, access, retrieve, update, and archive electronically.
The steps toward digitization start with categorizing physical (original) paper records (e.g. sorting, listing and boxing) and assessment of the volume of workload. The depth and potential impact of digitization is huge. The digitized records will reduce errors and transaction costs in public administration. They will also improve government accountability and the quality of national statistics.
Eventually, digitization will support more timely and accurate data to a country’s Open Data Portal. Digital public records data from different government entities could be integrated, and eventually the government will provide more seamless and efficient public service delivery (e.g. births registry linked to issuance of national ID, passport or driver’s license). In addition, the process of “digitization” will result in the creation of digital job opportunities for unemployed youth who have been trained to digitize records.
Through collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Digital Jobs in Africa” initiatives, our team delivered a Digitization Capacity Building Program late last year. The main objective of this program was to build the institutional capacity of priority government agencies that are managing critical public records and therefore have a powerful need for digitization.
Literally translated Burkina Faso means “land of the upright people.” It has long been one of West Africa’s most stable countries, despite having one of world’s lowest GDPs and being surrounded by countries with serious security issues, like Mali and Nigeria. In October 2014 Burkina Faso found its way onto TV screens around the world - a 36 hour popular uprising forced long-term leader Blaise Compaore from office. An interim administration was appointed and elections are planned for 11th October 2015, the first for 30 years without Compaore’s candidacy.
One unexpected outcome of Burkina Faso’s revolution has been a strengthening of the country’s open data initiative. The interim administration, reflecting on some of the root causes of the revolution, is looking to transparency, as well as youth employment in ICT, as a stabilizing force (you can find the minutes of their last cabinet meeting online here). A small, dedicated government team built an alpha open data portal and pilot app the summer before the revolution, together with volunteers from civil society and some support from ODI and the World Bank. It was presented at the ODI Summit by the Director General Alfred Sawadogo.
In early March, World Bank colleagues and I visited Ouagadougou again to work alongside government officials to support a strategic action plan for the next phase of Burkina Faso’s open data initiative, including a grant from the World Bank focused on climate change adaptation.
Today marks the end of the connect:ID conference, one of the most influential events in the United States, powered through an alliance with the world’s leading identity industry association.
I was honored to be invited to speak on the role of identification in the post-2015 development agenda and the World Bank Group's Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative. There was great deal of excitement in the audience hearing about this global agenda.
The questions raised by the attendants touched upon ways of helping the least-developed, conflict-affected countries in the world, where the rates of birth registration and identification are amongst the lowest in the world (e.g. Liberia), to leapfrog to digital ID systems. Would the World Bank Group support such countries build their identification systems basically from scratch?
As a rapidly urbanizing capital, Accra, Ghana has been experiencing increased economic activity, coupled with rising migration. An increase in urban residents means an uptick in the demand for energy, both electricity and fuel.
The city has constrained human and financial resources to respond to this issue, as energy supply is struggling to keep up with ever-growing demand. Consequently, severe electricity shortages occur at the national level, resulting in frequent load shedding and energy price inflation, to the tune of 12 percent in the third quarter of 2014 alone.
Dumsor or load shedding has become part of the everyday life of local inhabitants; in fact, it is such a chronic issue that it has even made it into Wikipedia. Under the current timetable, residential customers have up to 24 hours of power outage for every 12 hours of power and are forced to use back-up power, kerosene lamps or be without power. At the same time, the Energy Commission of Ghana estimates that every year end-use electricity waste is around 30 percent of all of the electricity consumed, which in part, is due to the inefficiency of appliances and their overuse by the population. As is well known, inefficient use of energy contributes to higher levels of energy consumption than needed.
Although energy supply in the city is so often an issue, creative energies are bubbling in local information technology and innovation hubs, ready for a “spillover” into other sectors such as energy. Accra is home to a growing community of technologists and innovators, offering great and untapped potential for a new force to offer solutions, particularly, in the area of energy efficiency.
The title of this blog entry is one of the many questions we’ve been asking in our research to identify key success factors for urban tech innovation ecosystems. We wanted to better understand what causes tech innovation and entrepreneurship to grow faster in some cities, as well as explore the potential of these ecosystems for creating new sources of employment and growth.
Traditionally, the focus has been in clustering: building technology parks or innovation districts where companies, research and development (R&D) labs, universities and other actors were placed together in a defined geographic district or area. We have challenged this unidirectional focus and looked beyond geography to understand how connections and the social dimension of the ecosystem impacted on its growth and sustainability.
The answer we are getting is that the social dimension not only matters, it matters quite a big deal. The social dimension is the “glue” of the ecosystem and expands it beyond geographic boundaries of districts or technology parks. Networking assets (specific actors and events that work as social networks nodes) keep this social dimension together, being central to the ecosystem.
When we explored the impact of the social and the geographic dimension of tech startups in their success (in terms of capital rising), we found a positive and significant correlation for the social dimension. We did not find any correlation for geographic location.
These findings are not yet conclusive, but they point to one important direction: policies need to focus more on the social dimension. Ecosystems need to be understood as a community that requires active nurturing and maintenance in order to thrive and grow. The geographic dimension seems to be a tool for the development of social connections, but it does not develop these connections by itself (something else is needed). This means that the focus of policy to support the ecosystems should pay attention to the development of networking assets that kick-start communities, build networks (such as meet-ups and mentoring) and provide platforms for community building ( such as collaboration spaces).
Two years have passed since the World Bank’s information and communications technologies (ICT) team conducted the world’s first Open Data Readiness Assessment in Russia’s Ulyanovsk region. Shortly after this assessment was completed and an action plan produced, Ulyanovsk launched its Open Data portal, which was widely acknowledged both by Russia’s federal government and a range of international experts. Following this successful pilot, the World Bank has conducted Open Data Readiness Assessments in Rwanda, Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Peru and Ethiopia.
We are proud to have worked together on an Open Data Initiative whose experiences and lessons learned have informed ongoing work in so many other countries. Highlights of our project in Ulyanovsk include two main results:
First, the creation of an entire Open Data ecosystem, anchored by an Open Data portal: http://opendata.ulgov.ru. There are currently 263 data sets (available in CSV, XML, JSON, HTML, XLSX and XSD formats) for viewing and downloading. All data complies with Russian laws and international standards.
The project demonstrates a high level of engagement: citizens, journalists, experts and investors looked through the data files more than 313,944 times and downloaded them more than 64,156 times. The Open Data Portal has helped a variety of clients and stakeholders make more informative decisions in a shorter amount of time, therefore saving financial and other resources. Four mobile apps and a GIS portal, based on Open Data, together form the finished project.
Mobile services are the extension services of inclusion. Increasingly, the world’s poor – and especially the bottom 40 percent in terms of income – are being reached via mobile devices by government agencies, development partners, banks, companies and others.
As we extend networks, and in particular broadband, to reach more isolated populations and the bottom 40 percent, we need to foster the development of relevant content in substance (including government services) as well as form (including pictorial and video information for the illiterate).
The private sector is the key driver of this entire change process, which government should facilitate.
The acceleration of technological change – with mobile is at the forefront – is leading to increased convergence between networks, devices, services and content providers. Judging from what I saw and heard during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, my sense is that telecommunications regulation (as practiced today) will soon become obsolete, overshadowed by the importance of ensuring an overall balance and flexibility in this broader, converging market.
Consequently, institutions like the World Bank will need to find better ways to ensure that key regulators talk to each other and work towards the greater public good. This includes not only telecom and competition authorities, but also broadcasting, financial services and other regulatory bodies. We should facilitate these conversations between regulators, especially in view of the fast-growing involvement of telecommunications entities in the mobile money space.