TBY talks to Sheila H. Jamal, CEO of Al Madina Group, on e-payment platforms, the cost of money, and cutting-edge solutions.

Sheila H. Jamal
Sheila H. Jamal took over Al Madina in 2004 with the goal of creating the most innovative IT and security documents organization in Oman. As a result of her educational background in industrial engineering, she has emerged as one of the most successful businesswomen in the Sultanate of Oman. She is globally recognized in the field of documents security in addition to the recognition she has received from the Al Mara Women in Excellence Awards. Over the past year, she has traveled to 31 countries, promoting Al Madina in addition to mentoring young ladies that are starting higher education or their careers.

How has your business adapted to changes in Oman in the last year, and what is your position today?

Surprisingly, we are in a better position. When changes happen, it forces us to look at things differently, to adapt and figure out ways to be more efficient and work smarter, but not as hard. We went through some changes in the last year, and Oman as a country and government have also gone through the same process.

Have you seen some benefits from those changes that have happened at the top?

Yes. The PPP and all that has been happening in Oman are more and more visibly and openly talked about, and I have seen this in all countries I have visited. It has become a global approach now because governments do not have money but still need to get things accomplished; so they need to figure out a way to entice people who have money or who are willing to invest with time and effort and hard work.

What are the advantages of being based here?

As a company, we find Oman strong because of the policies and regulations, which are well known. It is a safe and stable country. The outlook of our employees is positive, so overall there are many benefits to being based here in Oman.

How has the rollout of your e-payment platform for governments played out over the past few years?

Customers can pay everything like bills and taxes with our system. With money there are many things to consider. First, to print money costs money, and then paper money has a lifespan so it is constantly necessary to pull notes out of circulation, reprint, and put new ones back in. With cash handling, any time there is cash in hand there could be missing money or mistakes, but when using e-payments everything is digitally accounted for; this really helps eliminate fraud and reduce the cost of money itself.

What other technologies are you rolling out?

There are different kinds of solutions. Each country has its own unique problems it has to address, each its own priorities—that is how we are approaching things. We tailor solutions to the specific needs of each country—everything from printing passports to e-governance projects, e-services consultancy, biometric solutions, healthcare, and access control solutions for banks and much more.

Which countries besides Oman do you work in now?

We print passports for a few African countries and do some specialty booklets for some European countries. In Bangladesh, there are telecoms intercept services and other e-government solutions that we have in place. We have a software development office in Egypt. In Sudan we have a type of card project focused on zakat and tax payments. Recently, I signed a contract for checkbook personalization with the Afghanistan Bank Association; we supply ATM cards that are produced in Oman.

You have a new smartcard product. What are the details?

We have a card product that is essentially a mini-computer housed in a credit card-sized format that can only be activated using the card owner's fingerprints. It looks like any other card people carry in their wallets, but has a live fingerprint scanner embedded on the surface of the card that eliminates the need to sign, provide identification, or remember pins to authorize transactions—they simply touch the sensor on the card and their identity is verified in less than a second. It is truly a “Match-IN-Card" solution.

What are your expectations and ambitions for the year ahead?

In 2016, we opened branches in a few countries, so I hope that next year in those countries we will gain more business. Instead of going to other countries, I hope to expand more where we are already present.