PREPARING FOR AN E-FUTURE

Oman 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

From the development of e-services for Oman's tourism sector to providing e-solutions to African countries, Al Madina Group is updating government services for the 21st century and beyond.

Sheila H. Jamal
BIOGRAPHY

Sheila H. Jamal's career has had many interesting aspects over time, starting with the Gulf War in 1990. She took over Al Madina Group 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 having received recognition from the Al Mara Women in Excellence Awards.

What was the driver behind the Ministry Digital Transformation Project agreement signed with the Minister of Tourism, and what are its main implications for the Omani economy?
The project seeks to improve both the scale and quality of tourism in the country. It is part of a comprehensive effort to put Oman on the global tourism map by providing professional high-quality services to diversify our economy and to create jobs by offering the world enriching end-to-end tourism experiences with an Omani personality. E-services for all tourism establishments have now been simplified, and all tourism-related activities will maintain the highest standards of transparency through an executive dashboard. The main development services include over 100 e-services for investors, tourism development, planning and information, and tourism promotion. Essentially, it reduces the degree of bureaucracy and simplifies the experience for all stakeholders.

What are the key priorities to drive concrete innovation across government bodies in Oman, and how will technological innovation define new roles for both the public and private sectors?
The government has been undertaking several initiatives over the last few years aimed at strengthening the Sultanate's digital footprint and infrastructure. A key element of this process is standardization across different authorities and bodies, which has guaranteed interoperability. As such, Oman's policies and regulations are able to address the entire ecosystem in the same way. That being said, the move toward PPPs is a signal for the private sector's role to increase. This is a positive aspect that will keep things moving and will allow companies to lead the way in the innovation sphere. The flexibility and resources of the private sector will undoubtedly spearhead technological breakthroughs and redefine the role of the government on the regulatory side.

How is the current Omani macro-environment impacting your business model and growth strategy, and how do you expect demand for your services to evolve in the medium term?
The country's economy is picking up. Based on Oman's strong economic indicators, we are optimistic for the future; however, the last few years have pushed us to look for opportunities in Asian and African countries. More recently, we signed contracts with the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries entail specific risks, but they also have a true need to digitalize their services and adopt e-solutions. The impact our solutions bring can thus be of the utmost importance, as they ensure transparency of financial transactions in societies affected by high levels of corruption. In the future, we see Africa as a huge untapped market where we can further expand by adopting build-operate-transfer (BOT) or PPP models. Government contracts will probably represent the most attractive commercial perspective for us, but, in terms of opportunities, both B2B and B2C interactions have enormous potential for development.

What will be the challenges in meeting the growing number of connected devices, and what is the best strategy to strengthen security systems in Oman?
The advent of IoT and interconnectivity will definitely pose deep challenges to global societies, not only Oman. It will thus be important to build the appropriate cybersecurity infrastructure and constantly update it, as one of the main aspects of cyber-security is the ability for anyone from anywhere to launch an attack. As such, partnerships between the public and private sectors and local talent able to fend off threats are crucial for the progression of the country. At times, we see former hackers being hired by governments to help them build smart cybersecurity systems. Oman is well-positioned with regards to cybersecurity, as recently showcased by our talented youth's ability to find a loophole in Apple's IOS. Overall, the government is investing capital to develop the IT sector and embrace the digital economy, and so far, the results are tangible.