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Oman 2018 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheila H. Jamal, CEO of Al Madina Group, on adding value to the industry, the rise of e-governance, and increasing transparency.

Sheila H. Jamal
BIOGRAPHY
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.

What has been Al Madina's strategy to benefit from the exponential growth inside Oman's IT sector over the last 30 years?

We are proud to actively participate in shaping IT in Oman since the very beginning in the 1980s. We always follow the latest technology trends in our solutions and services and actively seek to influence the markets in which we operate. We frequently travel to many countries and observe what they are doing. If we find something that will add value to Oman, then we introduce it into our solutions, and vice versa. Wherever we go and whatever we have done in Oman that has been successful, if we can implement it in other countries then we do so.

What are the most popular IT trends in Oman? How do you see those involving in the future?

The main trending topic now is e-government and getting everything online. When everything is electronic there is always a set of reports, dashboards, and analytics so that people can search, analyze, and see things with the click of a button. Going forward, everything will be more dependent on mobile devices and applications rather than traditional paper-based methods.

What role is the e-governance service playing for improving efficiency and accountability in the public sector?

The Information Technology Authority (ITA) has been doing a great job in instituting e-governance. The initiative has transformed the government into a true e-government by seamlessly unifying the work and integration across different ministries and has utilized IT to service commerce, not the other way around. When everything is electronic there is always a digital record, a date-time stamp, and everything is there, increasing audit capabilities. The government, for example, has changed the tendering processes to be submitted electronically now. It widens the range of people who can tender and increases the accountability and transparency of the public sector.

What are IT companies in Oman doing for cybersecurity to ensure digital documents are safe?

There are many conferences and workshops. People are traveling in order to educate themselves. We have been contacted by a number of companies specialized in this to create a partnership to promote cybersecurity in Oman. This will be a big area in the next few years, especially as all data and payments are online. It is something that we simply cannot overlook. It is a major investment for companies that should not be overlooked.

What are the main challenges you face as a company, and what are you doing to mitigate these?

The biggest challenge at present is linked to the oil price. Therefore, the five-year plan has been slightly changed and things have been prioritized. That is a challenge here that I am working around by focusing on expanding our success stories outside of Oman into other countries. Starting in 2016, we expanded into Afghanistan and Bangladesh on one side. That is interesting because we are moving from a small, 4.5-million person market to markets of 40-80 million opportunities. It is exciting for us to have a broader reach for our solutions. We are also expanding into African countries. A lot of GCC and Middle East companies are expanding into Africa at the moment. Everywhere I go I try to take a tour and see what a normal business day is like in that country. Something that surprised me is the huge presence of GCC countries. In that sense, Al Madina Group differentiates itself from this competition by not being government-owned. We do not have any type of government influence, which gives other countries a feeling of ease as there are fewer obstacles.