Arrested development

Royal Oman Police (ROP) is about to enter the implementation phase of its National Registration System. When live at the end of 2003, it will be used to record the civil events of the country’s population.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  November 25, 2002

I|~||~||~|Royal Oman Police (ROP) is about to enter the implementation phase of its National Registration System (NRS). When the system goes live at the end of 2003, it will be used to record the civil events, such as births and marriages, of the country’s local and expatriate population. Held in a central database, this information will then allow Oman’s government to build a precise picture of the country’s citizens and more accurately plan the distribution of public services.

“We are building a central database for the whole country, and the population will be a part of it from the day they are born. Civilians will be given unique identification numbers and changes in their life, such as marriage, will be built into the nation’s central repository,” says David Williams, NRS project director at ROP.

“We already have censuses in Oman, but the NRS will allow us to get a better handle on the statistical information of the country. This will then help us get many things, such as schools and hospitals, in the right place,” he adds.

At the same time as collecting information for the central database, the NRS will replace Oman’s existing identification card scheme. Each citizen will be issued with a smart card as they register, which will then hold the individual’s personal details, including name, address, digital photograph and fingerprints. The smart cards will, initially, be issued from 12 locations around Oman, each of which will be linked to the main ROP data centre via the police force’s existing base network.

“The plan is to reach the citizens, rather than them having to come to us. Because the card is something they will use in everyday life for the rest of their lives, we will be opening 12 centres nationwide to begin with to cover the capitals of the region. When these have settled down we will roll out registration centres elsewhere, perhaps in police stations, for example,” explains Colonel Dr. Suleiman Al Harthy, director general of civil status, Royal Oman Police.

“Most of the locations are already connected [to ROP] through a base network that is in place today. However, we will probably need to upgrade this network and we will be working with Omantel on this as we move forward,” adds Williams.

ROP, together with smart card solution provider, Gemplus, are developing the NRS from scratch. Developed with a three-tier architecture, the system’s presentation tier will be made up of Java Server Pages (JSPs) and servlets, and the whole solution will be hosted on a number of IBM RISC/6000 high availability cluster machines. The presentation layer will also host the client side logic using HTML, DHTML and JavaScript. Users will be able to access the NRS through browser-based clients.

The use of Java also extends to the middle tier as IBM’s WebSphere will provide the J2EE compliant application server. Enterprise Java Bean (EJB) components will encapsulate the business logic. The EJB-based data tier will also provide access to an Oracle 9i database to help integrate the NRS with ROP’s legacy systems.
||**||II|~||~||~|ROP’s choice of Java and Oracle at the back end reflects both the advice of the Oman Government IT Task Force and the project consultants, which came from Gulf Business Machines (GBM). “We have gone towards the technology strategy of Oman in general, which is to use Oracle as the back end database and Java as the application development methodology,” explains Williams.

“The architecture of the [smart card] chip is built on Java applets to hold as much information as possible at the lowest memory requirements. Working from this point, it makes sense to have Java running across the entire solution,” adds Dr. Al Harthy.

The use of Java should also ease future integration with other government services as they look to mine the information collected by the NRS. “We also decided upon using Java becuase we wanted the system to be open and this in turn will help integration with other e-government services. The NRS will become a pillar of Oman’s e-government initiative and it will be the nation’s database,” comments Williams.

Although Gemplus will complete the bulk of the development work for the NRS, ROP will be responsible for synchronising data exchange between the Oracle database and its legacy SoftwareAG ADABAS database. The latter currently resides on ROP’s central IBM mainframe system and holds all the information for the existing identification card system. Synchronisation will most likely be done using SoftwareAG’s application broker, EntireX, and any data cleansing will be done when the system is live.

“We will probably expand the fields and collect more data [with the NRS]. However, the existing database is totally clean and accurate from a structural point of view, and ‘A’ in the old database will equal ‘A’ in the new one, so the data transfer will be simple,” comments Williams.

Although the project’s technical team is just about to enter the implementation phase, the business process team has already been working to refine the registration process. At the same time, ROP has been working to retrain existing employees and recruit extra staff for the locations that will issue the smart cards and form the front line of the NRS.

“We will be retraining staff to handle the card registration and distribution, and we are also looking to recruit more people on the technical side. It is also one of the major and fundamental aspects of the contract with Gemplus that a knowledge and skills transfer process takes place,” explains Dr. Al Harthy. “The goal here is that the ROP team will acquire all the skills and knowledge necessary to manage and operate the system once it has been handed over,” he adds.

Once ROP has handed the day-to-day running of the smart card solutions over to the staff at the 12 locations, it will turn its attention to expanding the service. Although these plans are far from concrete, Dr. Al Harthy says they could encompass everything from banking to welfare.

“The smart card offers us the exciting prospect of being able to implement several other potential applications, spanning, for example, immigration services, health, banking, social welfare, voting eligibility and security,” he says.||**||

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