THE IT CROWD

Oman 2014 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi, CEO of the Information Technology Authority (ITA), on integrating e-government services and improving IT skills in the population.

Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi
BIOGRAPHY
Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi has held a number of different technical diplomatic and leadership roles in the Sultanate of Oman over his 20-year career. In addition to his CEO responsibilities, he is a current member of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and was a Member of the Boards of Omantel and Oman Mobile for four years. He is a Member of the Executive Committee of Oman University, Science Technology City, and a Board Member of the Public Authority of Manpower Register. Al Ruzaiqi received a Doctorate of Science in Information Systems and Communications from Robert Morris University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Information Systems Technology from George Washington University in Washington DC, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.

What is the e-government initiative?

Part of the e-government initiative is the “e-transformation" program. The Information Technology Authority (ITA) and the Cabinet are driving this with a target of when each stage of the transformation should have been achieved. We are not only concerned with the current silo delivery of e-services, but also for the integration of government. We have one portal, www.oman.om, whereby citizens can access all services with a single sign-on. We have our government network, and we have our cyber-security centers to monitor and work with all of the security policies. We also offer a payment gateway that enables the government to receive its payments online. We have issued two laws: an eTransactions Law and our cyber-security law. These laws enable the right environment for e-transactions.

How would you describe your work to increase public awareness and computer literacy levels?

We have several initiatives in this regard. We have committed to train about 93,000 civil servants through our Government IT Training and Certification (GITTC) program. As well, throughout the Sultanate, we have established 19 Community Knowledge Centers (CKC), which provide free ICT training for citizens. We have nine centers that are dedicated to training women only and the remaining 10 centers are mixed gender. For those wilayats where there is no CKC in the area, we utilize local schools and private institutions as centers to deliver the same training. We also have the National PC (NPC) initiative, and we are happy to report that we have distributed more than 100,000 free PCs. Targeted recipients for these PCs include social-beneficiary families with a child at school. In addition, if such a family has a son or daughter in college or university, those students are also entitled to receive their own laptop. The first phase of this initiative ended in summer 2013. The next phases will involve other members of society, and will be announced. We also provide specialized training in ICT, which includes certification with multinational companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. Our overall aim is to prepare citizens for employment and raise their awareness of IT. Finally, the government has recently created a broadband company to increase the IT penetration of the country. A government-owned company is part of the national broadband strategy and will provide the passive infrastructure and fiber optics. We will use previously existing infrastructure to lay down fiber-optic cables. Muscat is the first area to receive our attention, and to this end we have already invested more than OMR100 million ($260 million) with Haya Water to deliver fiber to the home (FTTH).

Is this new broadband company based on international models?

Yes, we are employing the same model as is used in Singapore and Australia. It is an extremely beneficial investment and a crucial part of the infrastructure. The government released some spectrum that used to be controlled by the Ministry of Defence. We have invested more than OMR50 million ($130 million) to migrate the spectrum to telecoms, which in turn will offer better broadband. The new company will provide the passive infrastructure. This will allow small-scale ISPs to compete for the delivery of internet services, and thus encourage business and get the job done efficiently.

What role should IT play in developing Oman as a knowledge-based economy?

ICT is vital for all industries, as it enables other sectors to perform. Tourism, education, oil and gas, and healthcare all use ICT. We feel that IT will always play an especially crucial part, and this is why we are pushing our training programs so hard. For example, we are currently training people to create virtual reality applications, and one of the target sectors is oil and gas. Another example is tourism—without a location-based program that shows people the best destinations, restaurants, and cafés, people struggle to get the most out of the country and the tourism sector will suffer as a result. Coming back to the third pillar, IT industry development is essential. We are not the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, but we are doing our best to enable the part of the industry that relates to us—ICT. We are working with partners such as Microsoft, SAP, and Cisco at our centers to encourage the development of SMEs by teaching their leaders and employees the necessary skills.