Paving the way for open source

Bahrain has launched the Middle East’s first e-government solution centre based on open standard technologies, hoping other regional nations will follow its footsteps.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  May 25, 2005

|~|Baharian-MAIN.jpg|~|"Governments around the Middle East recognise the importance of open standards solutions as the way forward,” says Tom Francese of IBM Software Group EMEA.|~|The Kingdom of Bahrain has opened doors to its first e-government solution centre, which has an IT platform based on open standard technologies. Bahrain is the first Middle Eastern nation to join a growing number of governments around the world that are adopting open standards for their e-government initiatives in order to benefit from reduced costs and increased flexibility.

The centre, which is the result of a two-year collaboration between the Central Informatics Organisation (CIO), IBM and Gulf Business Machines (GBM), is expected to offer unprecedented opportunities for pushing e-government initiatives in Bahrain.

The CIO, which manages the central IT infrastructure and is also responsible for regulating IT within the public sector, says such technologies are ideal for e-government projects. Sheikh Ahmed Ateyatalla Al Khalifa, president of the CIO, says, “We have a unique experience in that we have built our e-government infrastructure on open standards and I am proud to say that it has been a successful project. The centre will allow us to share our experience with other public bodies and enable them to access the latest open standards solutions, which they can in turn use for their own e-government initiatives.”

The new centre is linked to a network of IBM e-government centres worldwide. In addition, it provides strategic resources and practical advice to the Middle East’s public sector, establishing strong links with Western nations. “This is a great opportunity to build a critical mass of resources for e-government in the region at a time when governments around the Middle East recognise the importance of open standards solutions as the way forward,” says Tom Francese, vice president of IBM Software Group EMEA.

Providing timely access to information via interdepartmental and intergovernmental facilities and co-operation on e-government projects is one of the major challenges facing government agencies as they deploy e-government concepts. IBM’s e-Government Cross Agency Collaboration solution stores information in a repository designed to be conducive to data sharing services.

In addition, the use of apps designed to rely on external services to supply pooled resources, means that adding new apps and making innovative use of existing data, becomes a far more dynamic and timely process. “The Bahraini government will be able to look at the functionalities in use across other e-government projects worldwide and select the features that will most suit its needs. Similarly, other governments can look at what Bahrain is doing and adopt the [methodology],” explains Francese. ||**|||~||~||~|Once IBM, the Central Informatics Organisation and GBM decided to build Bahrain’s e-government infrastructure on the open-source Linux platform back in 2003, the implementation of the infrastructure and development of the solution centre kicked off in 2004. By February 2005, the architecture was complete.

IBM expects the CIO to have over 70 e-government apps online within the next twelve months. The first service, e-police, is already up and running. “The venture took just two years to complete. There have been no major derailments or complications with the project, certainly nothing that we could not manage. The two organisations have worked closely with the CIO to support the timely and effective development of e-government strategies and initiatives,” comments Abdulla Ishaq, general manager of Bahrain Business Machines, a subsidiary of GBM.

As one of the largest local IT solutions and service provider, GBM, which provides technology requirements to local, regional and international businesses and governments in the GCC region, was a logical choice of partner for the Bahraini government. “GBM knows the country and has been [understanding] in its approach. It has guided us along the way. Combined with IBM’s expertise and Sheikh Al Khalifa’s vision, we have been able to deliver a unique solution,” he says.

Furthermore, the centre features several open standards solutions that will enable future deployment of e-government projects and services. IBM products such as Websphere Portal, Lotus Domino, Sametime, Crossworlds, Directory Server and Tivoli form the backbone of the solution. Using the Websphere portal offerings, the centre can demonstrate integrated e-government portal environments with collaboration and workflow capabilities. The Workplace solution for business controls and reporting, provides a framework for government bodies to document, monitor and test internal controls.

By taking a collaborative, role-based approach to controls reporting, the solution creates an environment that allows users to view information specific to their roles within the controls management process. Government employees can also manage and share control documents in a secure environment. “Collaboration capabilities can help teams resolve issues and share information quickly,” Ishaq adds.

In addition, a central repository database is used to reduce the reliance on hard-copy documents, speeding up the process of handling customer requests. Content management is treated as a service in the application architecture and the entire solution is based on the Singapore Housing Development Board (HDB) proof of concept. “It is a high-tech architecture designed to provide a comprehensive and scalable solution to the government, allowing its investment to be maximised and ensuring the infrastructure is future-proof,” states Francese.

Another benefit that comes Bahrain’s way is the centre will be able to provide Bahrainis with 24/7 access to information services and benefits. The self-service models for tasks such as business registry, licensing and fee payment will not only increase customer responsiveness, but will also enable government employees to focus on more critical issues. “Bahrain’s new infrastructure will help the government deliver economic development information to each customer accurately. There will be less red tape to deal with and life will be easier on a day-to-day basis,” according to Francese.

From a business point of view, the enterprise processes of the government will be streamlined and costs contained and productivity of employees will be enhanced. “We will have the capacity to share information in real time across the various government departments, and with the population at large. This will be effective for improving transparency and for simplifying processes,” says the CIO’s Sheikh Ahmed Ateyatalla Al Khalifa.

As governments worldwide face complex problems and citizens expect more, the traditional delivery model is no longer adequate. As one of only four such solution centres around the globe, Bahrain’s cross-agency initiatives are at the leading edge in e-government provisioning. This transition implies collaboration and integration, as well as critical justification for the still-undisclosed level of investment government has made in the project.

The flexibility integrated in the application of security policies, and the open, accommodating nature of the access controls to the various data and services, enables a more collaborative use of the information than was previously possible, paving the way for the sharing of resources at regional and international levels. “Establishing the centre allows others to learn from our experience,” says Ishaq.

With IBM currently in negotiations with other Middle Eastern nations, GBM believes the new centre will help regional governments take their online initiatives to yet another level. Rather than working in isolation and moving in different directions, Ishaq believes it will not be long before the benefits of an open standards approach are recognised throughout the Gulf States.

“The open standards solution centre is a cheaper. Bespoke solutions can be created at a much lower cost through the sharing of resources. Perhaps the chief benefit is that through this kind of collaboration we can all progress quickly, learning from each others’ mistakes and benefiting from each others’ triumphs,” enthuses Ishaq. ||**||

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