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Thu 30 Nov 2000 04:00 AM

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Qatar builds e-government portal

Since the delivery of the online work permit renewal system went live in September, Qatar’s drive towards e-government has been gaining momentum.

Since the delivery of the online work permit renewal system went live in September, Qatar’s drive towards e-government has been gaining momentum.

The government’s e-commerce committee has outlined a two and a half year strategy to create an online government portal, delivering a seamless vision of government to individuals and businesses. “We’re working on opening up the [permit] system to all corporates,” says Dr. Ahmad Al Mohanadi, director of electronic government, on Qatar’s E-commerce Committee.

But says Dr. Al Mohanadi, “the whole strategy goes much wider than work permits.” Qatar’s government is planning the next phase of its Web enablement, looking to deliver what Dr. Al Mohanadi describes, as e-services and e-knowledge. “We’re looking to build a framework for e-government. This will be a two and a half year project, which is being planned.”

A likely candidate to be the initial government institution to start taking its services to the Web is the Ministry of Interior (MoI). The ministry is responsible for services such as visas, driving licenses, car registration, passport issuance and ID card issuance. The MoI has already played a key role in the delivery of the work permit project, and now its other services are on top of the agenda to be Web enabled.

“The Ministry of Interior, has many transactions like visa issuance, driving licenses, car registration system and other systems that will be enabled through the government portal,” predicts, Dr. Al Mohanadi. “We want to enable government services faster and increase the availability of those services to 24x7, instead of just the morning opening hours.”

Qatar’s bid for e-government is aided by the existence of one large database that already provides a ‘single view of the individual,’ to other government departments. The more automated ministries in the government already share this information, but the challenge is distributing a shared view of the individual across the entire government. “In 1991/92 we worked on a main database that carries the basic data on nationals, residents and corporates, those systems are live and fully complete,” says Dr. Al Mohanadi.

“The country depends on that data. Maybe government departments aren’t sharing this data, but with the e-government portal, the G-to-G [government to government e-business] will be enabled and [the different government departments] will be able to view and share this basic information,” he adds.

Other e-government projects are already underway, which plan to use the shared vision of the individual. Qatar’s Ministry of Civil Service Affairs & Housing has developed several applications based around a common object layer in an Oracle database. The object layer is updated with core information on the individual, downloaded from the MoI. The ministry is now planning to use the same common object layer database to create several new channels to its customers — be they internal department employees or members of the general public.

“We’re thinking of several new delivery channels, such the Internet, mobile or kiosks,” says Nasser Al Khanji, assistant information manager, Department of Administration, Finance and Information, Ministry of Civil Service Affairs & Housing. “For example, a customer will be able to make a request for a service, and then receive an answer back by SMS to their mobile.”

The common object database is going to be critical in delivering these new channel services. With a fully integrated backend system, says Al Khanji, the ministry will be able to dynamically add services on the fly. It is just a question of integrating the backend system to whichever front end service is being delivered, be that a Web browser, a mobile phone or Internet kiosk.

The ministry is already running limited pilot projects with its own walls, however, Al Khanji cautions that the full delivery of these systems will take time. “There is a learning curve involved within these projects. We have to gain more experience in rolling these systems out,” he says.

No firm decisions have been made in relation to the technology that will be used to put together the e-government portal in Qatar. However, the Central Bank of Qatar is currently working to build a payment gateway, which will serve the portal.

“There is a lot of infrastructure here in the central bank to do payment gateways, because we [act] as the clearing house for the banks,” explains Hashim Al Sada, director of systems, development & planning department, Qatar Central Bank, and also a member of the E-commerce Committee.

Regardless of the platform choices made for the e-government infrastructure, integration and interoperability are going to be two key issues, facing Qatar’s E-commerce Committee. “What we’re thinking of is end to end [e-government], no matter how many different government bodies are involved in a transaction,” says Al Sada. “To do this integration and interoperability are key issues.”

Currently, many of the department and ministries in Qatar are running internally developed applications, mostly on Oracle. However, the advent of e-government could start a move to packaged solutions, as departments make the move to rapidly rollout applications to deliver services. The increase in packaged applications within government could also solve some of the pending integration headaches.

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