Jordan looks to Far East for inspiration

ICT Ministry looks to incorporate best of singapore’s e-government model into its own Internet portal.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  May 8, 2002

|~||~||~|Jordan has turned to Singapore to help fuel its e-government drive. Through a series of high-level briefings and practical workshops, Jordan’s Ministry of Information & Communications Technology (MICT) is looking to incorporate elements of Singapore’s e-government initiative into its own plans.

Mahmoud Khasawneh, chief information officer and head of the e-government team at MICT, explains that similarities between the two countries in terms of project goals and available resources make the relationship a natural one.

“There are a lot of synergies between Singapore and Jordan. We have a similar population size and Singapore is a hub for ICT in South East Asia, while we want to be one for the Middle East,” he says.

“In a couple of years they will have 100% penetration for their e-government services. However, they have faced similar issues as us so we can learn from them,” he adds.
As a result, the Jordanian team is examining the practical decisions taken by Singapore as it migrated towards e-government. For example, the MICT has based its decision to opt for a single centralised data centre on the fact that Singapore uses just one centre to serve a similar sized population.

Another example is Singapore’s e-citizen portal. Khasawneh explains that as Singapore has added more functionality to its site the portal has had to become less graphically rich to accommodate the increased number of services.

“Their main success is their e-citizen portal. It has been a pioneer project for them and it focuses on the citizen from cradle to grave. The previous version of their portal was a road with building on that people would click on to get information. Now they have too many services so they have a less graphical portal. We know that a graphically rich portal will not work out in the long run,” he says.

Although no official treaty or agreement is in place as yet, Khasawneh explains that the Jordanian team is trying to give as much as it is receiving. “The idea was for us to deliver value to the Singaporeans. They are too professional to say it, but I would be asking what is in it for me? The answer is that we are providing a window into the Middle East,” he says.

As such, representatives from Bahrain travelled with the Jordanian team to the last workshop and Khasawneh is working on a number of other plans to introduce Singaporean businesses to the regional market.

“We need to get back to them with ideas on making it a real relationship. For example, how about taking guys from Jordan and have them living in Singapore for six months and learning how to do things? They can then come back and they will be a showcase for Singaporean skills, which would be good for their private sector,” he suggests.

Although Singapore is the ministry’s current focus, the team is also looking to other countries to avoid duplicating mistakes made elsewhere.

“We admire the Singaporean model and we are just trying to get closer to it and understand it. However, we are not basing our initiatives solely on Singapore. We work with EDS, which were the consultants for Dubai. We have a good relationship with Dubai’s e-government team,” says Khasawneh.

“In addition, we have a lot of help from Microsoft, which implemented an e-government model in the UK and we are also looking at Qatar,” he adds.

Further input is coming from the Italian government, which currently heads up the e-government part of the G8’s digital opportunities taskforce. By helping the taskforce create a best of breed e-government template, the ministry is developing the necessary skills to implement its own initiative more effectively.

“Part of our work is to come up with an e-government framework, a best of breed model that ensures that people do not have to reinvent the wheel… Because we are evolving as we go, [and] they want us to contribute to the model. This in turn will feed back into our work,” explains Khasawneh.

While the development of an effective e-government strategy is integral to Jordan’s long term ITC success, the CIO is also aware of the infrastructure work required to allow the country’s population to access the final results. As a result, the Ministry of Information & Communications Technology is looking to leverage its existing network of offices to provide connectivity for citizens. There are already plans in place to equip every post office with a PC and to train employees to help users in remote areas to log onto e-government services.

“The deployment strategy will rely on having special access points in Jordan’s remote areas. Users will not have to have PC skills or have to buy one. If each post office gets a PC then that is 500 strategically located PCs with a government employee to help users,” he says.

“We are currently designing the government secure network, but to start with the post offices do not have to be linked to each other, just the central [data centre]. Dial up connectivity will do [to begin with] and then the amount of traffic will determine how [fast] the link has to be,” he adds.

At the same time as rolling out connectivity, the MICT is beginning to educate other government departments. Key to this is the governmental e-mail system, which along with the portal, is the e-government team’s top priority for 2002. This education will also help during future projects, as departments will be able to roll out their own specific e-government services by themselves.

“We are very centralised in pushing the programme, but we are very aware that it should not be us that does everything. In the future, each department will be aware and we can just co-ordinate,” he says.
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