Nº 4 2013 > WSIS Forum 2013 - Success stories from partners
Oman's strategy for becoming a digital society
By Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi, CEO of Oman's Information Technology Authority
Since the establishment of the Oman Digital Society (e‑Oman) strategy in 2003 and its revision in 2010, Oman’s Information Technology Authority has taken concrete steps to streamline access to information and communication technologies (ICT), as a way of transforming communities and integrating societies.
Political will, as expressed by His Majesty the Sultan and demonstrated in creating the HM National Award for Excellence in e‑Government, has been instrumental in fostering various governmental, private and civil initiatives that have enabled Oman to achieve its current level of digital penetration and readiness. Progress has been made, in particular, in e‑government, e‑education and e‑business.
In October 2012, under the auspices of the Council of Ministers, the Information Technology Authority launched the e‑Government Transformation Plan with specific stages and timeline. This plan aims to increase the effectiveness of government services by making them available electronically to citizens and businesses at all times. The goal is to integrate government e‑services so that they can be provided seamlessly, easily and safely over the Internet.
Transparency, accountability and responsibility are key characteristics of good citizens enabled by ICT. Oman’s State Audit Institution has sought to engage the general public by providing a two-way system for communicating. This enables the reporting of suspect transactions, leading to the recovery of public funds and the protection of national interests.
The Oman Government Network, a national communication infrastructure linking all government entities, supports all e‑Oman projects and enhances public services.
People remain the core of development, and their ownership of the e‑Oman strategy and ICT skills are keys to turning Oman into a digital society. A range of initiatives seek to bridge the digital divide and enable citizens to be actively involved in the affairs of their own communities.
The Community Knowledge Centres, the Women’s Community Knowledge Centres, the National PC Initiative and other community-based initiatives have proven to be a great success in promoting ICT as a cornerstone to empowering citizens and bridging the digital literacy divide.
Through the e‑Oman strategy, the Information Technology Authority has brokered cooperation among several stakeholders and established a multistakeholder partnership involving private sector and civil society organizations to provide training and access to ICT.
Small-and medium-sized enterprises have been recognized as key players in economic development, in particular in the ICT sector. The Information Technology Authority provides different forms of incubator support for such enterprises that engage in ICT and knowledge management. In turn, and where relevant, the Information Technology Authority engages these enterprises in the implementation of its projects and initiatives to ensure a feedback cycle to the ICT sector.
Most recently, the Information Technology Authority launched the Sas programme (Sas — in colloquial Omani Arabic — means foundation). Sas is an ICT business development initiative and a state-of-the-art business designed to help promote small- and medium-sized enterprises build a robust ICT sector in Oman. Sas also aims to create a business ecosystem that will help to develop these enterprises into globally competitive ICT businesses. Sas already has 12 projects, of which 9 are being fully incubated and 3 are in the pre-incubation phase.
Indicators of digital literacy progress
Digital literacy has improved measurably. According to an ICT survey in Oman published in December 2012, a clear majority (61 per cent) of government employees now have ICT skills. Around 66 per cent of all PCs in surveyed government entities are connected to the Internet, and more than 73 per cent of these entities have fixed broadband.
The telecommunication sector in Oman has seen a 92 per cent increase in the number of mobile phone subscribers, the majority of these phones being smartphones that can access all kinds of services online and enrich e‑content. PC penetration in Oman has now reached around 66 per cent, up from just over 52 per cent in 2010. Mobile penetration increased by 9 per cent in 2012 to reach 190 per 100 inhabitants. Active mobile broadband penetration increased to 52 per cent at the beginning of 2013 from 39 per cent at the beginning of 2012.
To date, around 100 000 males and females, including people with disabilities, have been trained through Community IT Training initiatives, Government IT Training and Certification programmes, and special IT training as part of community capacity-building initiatives such as the Women’s Community Knowledge Centres.
Since the launch of the National PC Initiative, more than 90 000 PCs and more than 72 000 free modems for the Internet have been provided to families, students and teachers.
Regional cybersecurity centre
Beyond its own focus on becoming a digital society, Oman is keen to play a supportive regional role, and Oman’s institutional cooperation with ITU experienced a boost earlier this year with the launch of the Regional Cyber Security Centre for the Arab region. This is the first ITU Regional Centre and it aims to provide Arab countries with the required support to establish their national cybersecurity centres and assist them with cyber services at regional and international levels.