Focus: Logistics platforms

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Dec. 25, 2021

A mix of traditional construction and smart solutions is helping Oman upgrade its logistics sector despite the country's challenging geography.

Located on the southeastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is of high geopolitical importance. The sultanate enjoys access to strategic international waters such as the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Oman's geography, meanwhile, is quite unlike the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, with a great deal of diversity in terms of terrain.

The country is replete with awe-inspiring natural features, which are sometimes difficult to cross. The Rub' al-Khali desert—literally meaning the Empty Quarter—is notoriously difficult to cross, practically cutting off the sultanate from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.

However, deserts are not the only geographical feature one may come across in Oman. The 700km-long Hajar Mountains—literally Rocky Mountains—are almost as tricky to cross as Rub' al-Khali, and they isolate the northern coastal plain of Oman which includes Muscat from the rest of the sultanate. Simply put, Oman's geography is far removed from what people may have in their minds. Hanya Yanagihara, an American travel writer, once admiringly observed, “if the only thing you knew about Oman was its location, you might never go at all."

All this makes logistics in Oman a tricky business. Although many major Omani cities are accessible by the sea, various cargos must be transported routinely to landlocked settlements such as Nizwa or Ibri, and—even more challengingly—to southern cities such as Haima. Under such challenges, Oman has been trying for years to improve its logistics sector and even—rather ambitiously—raise the sector's contribution to the GDP, according to the US Department of Commerce.

In doing so, Oman has been following a mix of strategies by investing in road infrastructure, launching new port cities with good access to the inland such as Duqm, and increasing the number of short-haul flights across the country. The strategic port of Duqm has probably been the sultanate's greatest achievement to date. The port city can serve the Omani midlands and southern parts such as Salalah and Haima, which were previously difficult to reach from the capital, Muscat.
Ports such as Duqm, however, are of little use without road construction, linking the port to the midlands and southern settlements. Hundreds of kilometers of roads are currently under construction or renovation to increase the accessibility of the southern half of Oman.

The northern half of the sultanate is not forgotten, either. “The government opened more than 100 miles of roadways along the Sharqiya Expressway in 2020 connecting the city of Bidbid, near Muscat, with the governorates along Oman's coastline," according to a sector prospect published by the US Department of Trade. The Omani government's most ambitious plan in terms of road construction is a motorway connecting the southwestern town of Ibri in Oman to the megacity of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

The proposed road will draw on the latest civil engineering technologies to create a vital link that cuts through the Empty Quarter—the world's largest and most unforgiving sand desert. Upon its completion, the motorway will be over 720km long, decreasing the on-land travel time between Ibri and Riyadh by as much as 16 hours—nothing short of a logistical miracle with huge knock-on effects for the economy.

According to Salim Al Naimi, undersecretary for Oman's Ministry of Transport, “the project could be completed by the end of 2021," as he explained the matter to the Emirati news agency, The National.
Said bin Hamoud Al Maawali, Oman's Minister of Transport himself, told TBY recently that, “In the ministry, I work closely with the team to not only handle restructuring but also determine what the future should look like and what we should shape in terms of laws, policies, and regulations. Two things need to happen. In the logistics part, we have brand-new airports, ports, and roads." The minister emphasized that the second major emphasis should be on the role of regulation as well as the use of digitalization to streamline logistics in a smart manner.

While explaining the role of digitalization in the logistics sector, the minister pointed out that, “It is clear that one of the main sectors targeted for growth within Vision 2040 is logistics. The country expects better growth in logistics, and this will happen not through building more but by using what we have more efficiently." Oman hopes to employ AI solutions to maximize the efficiency of the logistics sector while expanding the infrastructure.

The IMDAD logistics platform is a good example of using digitalization to improve logistics. As a logistics management software, IMDAD can figure out maximally efficient and cost-effective plans that by focusing on last-mile delivery can decrease the total cost of supply by over 40%. Developed by OMAN DataPark, the system also allows companies to track their cargo fleets in a real-time manner, thus help businesses to satisfy their customers by on-time delivery.

“The IMDAD logistics software is brilliant for bakeries, courier companies, e-commerce sites, FMCG businesses, fruit & veg sellers, grocery deliveries, laundries, pharmacies, restaurants, retail stores, and water delivery companies," according to OMAN DataPark. But the system has much room for improvement in the coming years as more roads and scheduled flights are also becoming operational to upgrade Oman's logistics sector to international standards. Meanwhile, other local e-commerce solutions such as TawseelOnline are launched to help online business in terms of short-distance delivery.

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