With the right support in place, Bahrain is gearing up to become a regional leader in e-commerce and e-governance.
The geographically compact Kingdom of Bahrain took an early liking to all things technological, becoming the first country in the MENA region to adopt the use of mainframe computers and satellites in the 1960s.
Almost 50 years on, the country is still a regional forerunner in the adoption of new technologies: Bahrain’s ICT sector is one of the most liberalized in the GCC, and this has companies such as Batelco enough agility to rank among the first in the world to roll out technologies such as 3G, 3.5G, high-speed 4G LTE, and, most recently, 5G.
However, as a nation with a knack for business, Bahrainis are especially keen on the use of technology for the implementation of a digital economy—a cause which is also supported by the Kingdom’s economic development board (EDB).
EDB’s promotion of a nationwide digital economy has proven fruitful so far, attracting notable investments from international tech giants. In 2017, alone, Bahrain’s EDB played a direct role in attracting over USD733 million worth of foreign investment.
To foster even more growth in digital economy, in 2018 Bahrain launched the Fintech Bay, which is the largest entity of its kind in the MENA region. Functioning as a dedicated launchpad for fintech startups, Fintech Bay will hopefully pave the way for Bahrain’s next digital economy unicorns in the coming years.
In a parallel effort, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has launched a regulatory sandbox, which can be used by the country’s aspiring e-finance and e-banking startups as a safe-to-fail environment to beta test their ideas before presenting them to the public.
To work in tandem with Bahrain’s tech savvy private sector, the government, too, took a digital turn long before most nations in the region. The Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA) came into being in 2007 by a Royal Decree to coordinate Bahrain’s gradual transition to e-governance.
The authority’s mission was updated in 2015 per another Royal Decree, allowing the iGA to have a bigger say in public policies and legislative matters related to information technology, while devising online solutions for the delivery of e-government services to citizens and technical support to ministries.
Bahrain’s edge in the implementation of a one-stop shop e-governance portal was acknowledged by the 2010 UN Global eGovernment Survey, which observed that Bahrain—along with a few other countries including Korea, the UK, Singapore, and the US—has been “been leading the charge,” in this regard.
The report ranked Bahrain 1st in the GCC and the Middle East in terms of e-government development, while placing it among the top 20 pioneering nations in the world.
Much has changed, however, in the world of information technology since 2010, especially with the rise of cloud computing.
And, Bahrain has been trying to maintain its edge in e-governance by unveiling the Kingdom’s Cloud-First policy and data protection law.
The cloud first initiative intends to “provide all necessary services to citizens and residents of Bahrain at a lightning fast pace using the fluid nature of the cloud computing business. All future government projects should have a clear direction to move to the cloud as stipulated by the approved cloud first policy for the Government of Bahrain.”
The fact that the policy will reduce some overhead costs by as much as 30-90% is only an added bonus.
All this has made Bahrain a futuristic business ecosystem in the GCC, attracting regional and international tech giants, including Amazon Web Services which recently set up a facility in the Kingdom—a move which, if copied by others, will translated into more foreign direct investment for Bahrain in the coming years.