The $45 million man

Between now and the end of the year, Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is signing 45 million dollars worth of contracts to upgrade its IT infrastructure and ‘modernise,’ its service delivery capabilities.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  March 29, 2001

The $45 million man|~||~||~|Between now and the end of the year, Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is signing 45 million dollars worth of contracts to upgrade its IT infrastructure and ‘modernise,’ its service delivery capabilities. The seven separate contracts, will automate customer-facing transactions and put in a place a virtual platform to deliver multiple online services within the next 24 months. “This is a massive undertaking,” says, MOI’s general director of the Information & Computer Systems Centre (ICSC), Fahad Jafar.

“We have a very aggressive campaign for i-government; we are going to achieve a real Internet based government… by 2003. We have already started because it’s going to be based on having a real backend behind it,” explains Jafar.

Since the liberation in 1991, Kuwait’s MOI has created an integrated backend IT infrastructure based around an IBM OS/390 mainframe. The MOI, which is responsible for between 60 and 70% of Kuwait’s government services — ranging from immigration, numerous Police duties, certain elements of the judicial system and the naturalisation process — has created a suite of applications to automate multiple government services. The post liberation ‘convergence,’ project took the previously fragmented systems and rebuilt these applications around a collection of databases — hosted on the mainframe — all sharing information. “We took a lot of this data and built a new structure,” explains Jafar. “We capitalised on our position… the Ministry of the Interior in Kuwait has by its nature all these organisations under one umbrella… [And due to the timing] we had the opportunity to reconstruct. We [decided] that the IT planning, design and development should be done by a central agency within the MOI,” he adds.

Jafar and his team, working in conjunction with IBM’s local partners KBM, have created an overarching centralised architecture for the majority of the government’s IT systems. “Through centralisation we have created a robust architecture,” says Jafar. “We are positioned for another success in terms of e-government.”

Based around the central architecture, the ICSC has designed, developed and rolled out 13 applications, relating to key areas such as immigration, residency and visa processing, driving license application and renewal, vehicle registration, border control and criminal records management and an automated fingerprint identification system which contains everybody living in the country.

The common data model between the applications enables the different government departments to change information and then update the information back to the other databases. For example, changes to addresses or telephone numbers can be altered in most of the applications and that data is then distributed throughout the other databases.

For all the mission critical application development work, the MOI has used the Cool-Gen application development toolset from Sterling Software — now part of Computer Associates.

The development work based around the mainframe during the early and mid-90s has put in place an e-infrastructure for much of Kuwait’s governmental processes. From the beginning of last year the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior HH Sheikh Mohammed Al Khaled Al Sabah began the current Internet services drive. “[Our] government services are supported by a single integrated platform and that is the elegance of the whole situation. When we want to go the Internet it is going to be easier,” comments Jafar. “We don’t have to worry [about] keeping up with multi-platforms, which is the nightmare in IT,” he adds.

The majority of the seven contracts currently out to tender will modernise the frontend data collection process. The MOI has just transferred its network over to TC/IP, away from SNA, prior to its migration away from 32/70 dumb terminals scattered across different government departments. The dumb terminals will be replaced by 3000 network stations — effectively thin client PCs with limited storage capacity — and used to access the centralised applications. Each network station will be configured for its particular customer-facing environment. “There will be specialised situations like Border Control, [where] we’re installing intelligent network stations with passport readers and forgery detection software,” says Jafar. “On the financial side of all of our business in terms of the collection of fees, fines and penalties, will be totally automated to go from the conventional cash collection, to kiosks, ATMs and credit card payment,” Jafar explains.

To make payment of fees easier, the MOI is also working with the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Kuwait to establish an online payment gateway. MOI is also investigating the possibility of setting up public key infrastructure to secure government transactions.

During the current round of modernisation tenders, MOI will decide on its Internet platform, which will provide a critical element of the ministry’s future plans. “A lot will be built on [the Internet] platform in the future, so it’s very strategic. Even if the initial deal will only be millions, the rest of the Internet projects will be based around that platform,” says Jafar. The choice for the Internet platform is also likely to include an enterprise system management deal. Both deals will be signed in the coming weeks.

Running in parallel to the technical investments, has been a campaign to introduce a greater service-centric focus throughout the ministry. Over the course of this year, MOI is converting 16 strategically positioned Police precincts to full service stations, which act as a one stop shop for government services. Each service centre is staffed with specially trained personnel and will be re-designed to serve its multipurpose need. “For example, somebody can come in and do their whole immigration process,” says Jafar. “We’re also adding more fixes and additional functionality to the core applications to suit this purpose.”

Additional dumb terminals have also been deployed in hotels and other public areas to enable citizens and visitors to post requests, such as visa extensions, without having to visit the ministry. The paperwork is then submitted at a later point, says Jafar.

The emergence of the full service stations and the rollout of dumb terminals to public places are also playing a major change management role within the ministry. When senior management in the ministry see how these services reduce time consuming administration work, they are more enthusiastic for similar innovations. These services “have enabled me to show the benefits of allowing a [citizen], in his pyjamas, in his apartment to submit such forms without coming to the office,” says Jafar.

With a massive number of projects on the table and with a relatively tight deadline of just two years, skills are going to play a crucial role if the Ministry of the Interior is to reach its goal of i-government. However, Jafar believes the restructuring of the government’s IT systems has already given the ICSC sufficient human resources to cope with the work. “It is a major undertaking coming up, but we have been there once before when we reconstructed all of the systems,” says Jafar. The convergence project enabled, “us to gain experience as our own programme manager and systems integrator. “We think we have the capabilities to handle such a [project],” he adds.
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