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Oman 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, Minister of Transport & Communications, on the role of e-government and international relations.

HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi
BIOGRAPHY
A much-published academician, HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, who sits on numerous national and regional committees of environmental significance, holds a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California. He has been the Minister of Transport & Communications since 2011.

In the modern era, ICT plays a pivotal role in the development of each industry. How successful has Oman's ICT sector been in supporting the country's recent economic development?

The telecoms sector has been a major player in the development of the Omani economy. In the past years the telecoms sector has been the backbone to the success of the (e.Oman) the electronic government initiatives that provide the government services through electronic platforms, which are accessible to the public from anywhere and anytime. For the government, investment in the ICT sector is a fundamental policy goal, alongside transformation, diversity, and universal access. In order to ensure a sustainable investment environment, it is critical for government to create an enabling policy environment. This includes establishing proper investment policy and regulations, building research and development capacity, and promoting innovation. The effects of competitive pressure and regulatory changes in the telecoms sector, the rapidly rising demand for data services, and investments made in manpower and telecoms infrastructure have all been positive for all the stakeholders concerned, the users of the telecommunications services, the investors, and the government. The TRA is working toward rationalizing regulatory regimes by reviewing the Licensing Framework, the Competition Framework, the amendments of the Telecom Act, and other key regulations to foster economic and technological development in the country. The government is also working on many initiatives and is also working on the broadband policy to reduce the digital divide between rural and urban areas. Apart from providing basic and telecommunications needs, this initiative is expected to aid the social and economic development efforts of the government.

How positive has SME development been in the ICT sector, and what have been the major achievements by the Ministry in this area over the past year?

SMEs have been recognized as a key player in economic development at large and the ICT sector in particular. There have been various forms of SMEs emerging in the sector. Besides the investment in the service provision (telephone and internet/mobile or fixed), there have been other SMEs that focus on the sale and maintenance of equipment, service connection, applications, software, and hardware, and they have emerged in response to the growth in the sector. Moreover, there have been other enterprises/investments that focus primarily on education and training to develop local skills and specialized human resources.

How will online government services develop in the future?

Government services will be transformed and made more efficient, automated, and offered online to citizens, businesses, employees, and other government agencies. eServices shall be fully integrated end-to-end across agencies and offered in a seamless manner online with high level of availability, security, and usability. Access to services will be structured and offered through a unified and common government look and feel and made available via different channels with a focus on mobility and self-service. Government infrastructure and applications will be modernized and made more compliant to common government standards published by ITA and will be geared toward achieving service automation, efficiency, and the desired level of business continuity while utilizing common components and building blocks. Systems will be linked and integrated via a high-speed secured government network and offer a high degree of availability and resilience to disruptive events. Government IT staff will be highly trained and able to operate increasingly complex infrastructures whether run in-house or outsourced through training and skills development programs aligned with the utilized technology and architecture standard. Political will, as expressed by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and demonstrated in creating HM National Award for Excellence in eGovernment, has been instrumental in fostering various initiatives in Oman (governmental, private, and civil), enabling the country to achieve the current level of penetration and readiness.

How has the ICT sector supported the development of bilateral ties between Oman and the international community?

Oman and the international community have very strong ties in different fields, such as economic, cultural, and scientific cooperation and the ICT sector enjoys stability and economic growth as a result. Other countries see Oman as a reliable partner with which they can exchange views on all major economic developments. Over the years, Oman has signed bilateral agreements in the ICT sector with many different Gulf and international communities and holds annual meetings as part of its continuing negotiations to develop business and economic relations.