DIGITAL HANDSHAKE

Oman 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi, CEO of the Information Technology Authority (ITA), on supporting ICT development in the Sultanate.

Dr. Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi has held a number of 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 Board 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 holds a PhD in Information Systems and Communications from Robert Morris University of Pittsburgh, a Master's degree in Information Systems Technology from George Washington University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.

How is the Information Technology Authority (ITA) supporting Oman's high-tech development?

When you look at most of the infrastructure projects in Oman, such as the airports and ports, we can see the opportunity for ICT to play a major role. Accordingly, the ITA is responsible for the eOman strategy, which is the vehicle driving the country toward becoming a knowledge-based economy. We are an enabler for all sectors, from the government to the private sector. As an enabler, we encourage the general public to become more familiar with technology and its related services and provide opportunities for this to happen.

Could you provide us some examples of the companies you are working with to develop and propagate ICT-based culture?

We work with three types of companies. The first type features international collaboration from Estonia, Singapore, the UK, and the US. We have worked with United Kingdom Business Incubation (UKBI), and Coventry University to establish the Sas for Entrepreneurship Programme. In addition, the ITA is working with companies from Estonia to develop a one-stop shop for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The second type involves local companies, wherein many Omani companies are considered our partners in developing new ideas, again with the government and private sector in step. The third type is SMEs, where we give a lot of attention to profiling these enterprises and assuring a development plan for the SMEs to incubate them at our Sas Center. Accordingly, we target universities and colleges both public and private to introduce a pre-incubation program for all the country's young entrepreneurs. By encouraging partnerships, we want to transfer knowledge from international companies to local entities.

You have recently activated the Sas Centre for Virtual Reality at Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM). Can you elaborate on the potential of this particular project?

In terms of localizing technology in Oman, Sas enables us to bring new technologies to Oman and Sas Virtual Reality allows us to do just that. We have established a program to train three or four groups of young Omanis every quarter, totaling 120 people each year. We then take 10 to 15 of the most promising students and train them for a further six months giving them a real project to undertake. A few students have already moved on to the Sas for Entrepreneurship Programme to do such work; the goal is to create new jobs and start small businesses. Not only that, but we also foster the entrepreneurial capacity and expanding businesses through the recently inaugurated Sas virtual reality center.

How would you rate the IT literacy level in Oman today, and what are your priorities for the future?

IT literacy has always been part of our initiative, and I think that over the next few years, we will no longer need to pursue this activity as the public has become much more aware of technology thanks to iPads and smartphones. We provided a government training program that, over eight to 10 weeks, taught civil servants the use of diverse technologies and applications, and so far we have trained more than 75,000 people, and have less than 20,000 left to train within the scope of the program.