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Mon 20 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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E-government evolution for Ajman

The Ajman government hopes its online capabilities will not only help streamline day-to-day operations, but also strengthen government-to-government interaction.

|~|Ajman-e-Government-BODY.jpg|~|Ajman government will work closely with IBM to evaluate the readiness of its various departments for the introduction and implementation of e-government services.|~|The Ajman government has teamed up with IBM Global Services (IGS) to develop a common e-government blueprint that will help select the systems needed to integrate and oversee various government departments. These departments include Ajman’s Ruler’s Court, Municipality, Police, Free Zone Authority, Immigration and Neutralisation, Land and Properties, Civil Defence and the Chamber of Commerce.

The project will be rolled out in a phased manner across a number of government departments and will see IBM play a consulting and strategic planning role, determining both the processes and the technology requirements for Ajman’s e-government implementations. While IBM has always been a hardware provisioning company, this agreement indicates a shift in focus to deliver predominantly services. “IBM will be acting as an independent advisor and this is a very different role to that which it had in the Dubai e-government project. There it was the implementer, whereas here it will have more of a planning role,” says Gerard Newman, a partner at IBM business consulting services for the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan.

Driven by the vision of H.H. Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al-Nuaimi, Supreme Council member and Ruler of Ajman, the development will mean major changes in the way the government interacts with residents and businesses. The aim is to streamline day-to-day operations of various government departments and secure a higher level of government-to-government interaction.

According to the Ruler of Ajman, IBM has been selected for the project for its ability and experience in bringing global e-government solutions to the Middle East. “We will be working closely with IBM to evaluate the readiness of our various departments for the introduction and implementation of e-government services, including human resources aspects, processes and the technologies that will be brought to bare,” says H.H. Sheik Humaid Bin Rashid Al-Nuaimi.

However, the Ajman e-initiative is going to be slightly different.

The government realises that a complete and unique technology infrastructure will be needed to support its vision. It plans to learn from the experiences of others, and adapt and develop the solutions that are being used in other parts of the region. The solution will be tailored to fit the specific needs of the people and government departments of Ajman.
The project will be split into two main phases and will be lead by Mohamed Al Hajj of IBM’s business consulting services.

The first phase will include initiatives such as the identification of specific target performance measures for the successful implementation of the project. IBM will evaluate infrastructure requirements, define the essential policies and procedures necessary to support the e-government initiative and appoint systems integrators and vendors.

Following the project initiation and system selection, phase two will involve the implementation of critical systems. “We will be responsible for prioritising the various initiatives such as the identification of specific target performance measures for the successful implementation of the project and we will select the most appropriate applications to do the job,” Al Hajj says.

The deployment will also include a document management system and a government portal with 20 online electronics services. Back-up systems and advanced disaster recovery technology will also play an integral part in the project’s roadmap. Security will prove to be a critical aspect of the implementation due to the sensitive nature of governmental records. “The overall project — phases one and two combined — will be ready to go live in three years. Phase one will last between six and eight months. The deployment phase that will be the most time consuming,” he adds.

All the systems will be supported by an advanced infrastructure, which will be provided through a shared service data centre established by the Ajman government. The project as a whole poses a unique challenge for IBM, which is unable to reveal the total dollar value of the initiative. “The actual cost of the project would be very difficult to calculate. What really counts is the project — the value it will provide to the government, businesses and citizens of the Emirate,” states Newman.||**|||~||~||~|IBM is keen to generate greater awareness of e-government plans. Al Hajj believes the Middle East is well positioned to exploit e-government initiatives. “This region is particularly receptive to the concept of e-government. The Dubai portal has 800,000 subscribers and the UAE federal government’s e-gateway are proving enormously effective. The UAE has always led the way in the Middle East and Ajman is no exception,” he says.

Indeed, e-government projects in the UAE serve as an example to other countries not only in the Middle East, but also further afield. Dubai launched its e-government portal, the first of its kind in the Arab world, in 2001. The project, representing 24 government departments, aimed to provide online services for citizens and visitors was adapted from similar global projects to cater specifically for Dubai’s needs.

When Mohiddin Salem, director of the Information Centre at Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Abdul Baki Mohammed Hassan, the Ministry’s executive director, were introduced to Dubai e-government operations in 2004, they were keen to share the expertise in order to accelerate their own transition to e-government. “The UAE government has expressed strong determination to enhance the performance of public departments and increase efficiency. The establishment of e-government in Dubai and the introduction of the e-Dirham at the federal level were the two main initiatives to achieve such goals. Today, citizens and businesses are able to use various tailored services online. The availability of these services and the significant improvements in online service delivery has made the UAE an e-government champion in the Arab World,” explains Newman.

The common goal of promoting employee efficiency and productivity, thereby reducing budget deficits, combined with the desire to implement a trouble-free fee collection system and eliminate corruption, have been key factors for e-government initiatives in the UAE. Alongside this, the need to reduce the services of expatriates in a bid to ensure demographic balance is prompting authorities in each Emirate to consider e-government initiatives.

Furthermore, external pressure being exerted by international trade and economic organisations demands a more competitive market, which a growing number of Middle Eastern governments recognise can be promoted through the adoption of e-services. Newman is confident that countries in the region will persist in their e-government investment.“IBM is currently working on a number of regional government and there is little doubt this trend will continue, with governments seeking to deploy electronic solutions based on open-standards,” states Newman.

This optimism may well overlook a critical dilemma. According to a recent United Nations (UN) report, only one in five countries that have internet access engage with the government online. With issues such as security and privacy proving to be major stumbling blocks, people are reluctant to touch base with government electronically. This attitude on the part of citizens would render the entire project an extremely costly over calculation. However, IBM remains confident of the success.

As internet rapidly becomes more widely accepted and understood, the Ajman government’s efforts to raise awareness will pay off. “The added value and convenience that e-government provides is all the inducement that citizens and businesses require. There is no doubt that e-government makes life easier,” enthuses Newman. ||**||

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