"It is the goal which we all aspire for, utilising all our resources and capabilities in the quest to protect our national interests, considered the mainstay of the future stage whose tracks and goals were defined by Oman Vision 2040, with the prime aim of transforming all aspects of life.” - HIS MAJESTY SULTAN HAITHAM BIN TARIK
We are on the verge of a quantum shift at all levels, led by the digital bandwagon. Like all changes, the definition of this digital shift is still unclear, even among specialists in the field. Does this digital shift imply a fourth revolution or can we simply link it to the industrial revolution? Or can it be defined as the digitalisation of all walks of life in a way that the real-world overlaps with the virtual one, like the pilot experiment started by Microsoft a long time ago? Defining it and knowing what it means to you may allow you a front seat onto the changing world around you.
There are a number of foundations, components, enablers and tools for a digital shift. No matter how different the level of maturity and readiness of a country is, the foundations of a digital shift are the same. If such foundations are ignored, failure may be inevitable. One such foundation lies in putting in place a comprehensive and integrated strategy for administrative then digital transformation based on an approach that is clear and specific so that everyone can rally towards it.
Do we want to achieve a digital shift to boost efficiency or to achieve a digital economy? Do we simply want it for security reasons or to enable innovation? Or do we want digitisation simply for the sake of adopting digitisation and shifting today’s processes into electronic services?
There are many reports and studies that have examined the challenges of a digital shift, but the fundamentals introduced by these studies are based on three well-known institutional pillars, namely: human capital, laws and regulations, and administrative structures. The senior management determines the regulations, laws, administrative structures and management style, so they are the basis and the enabler.
There are five basic components to a digital shift, revolving around the enablers and mechanisms. The absence of such enablers and mechanisms may present a challenge that cannot be overcome. The first such component is lies in the drafting and implementation of a comprehensive integrated strategy.
The second lies in having a leadership that is attuned to technological trends and supportive of change. The third component is the availability of tech-savvy human resources that are knowledgeable in change management; this makes investing in human capital a priority.
Fourthly, creating an environment that supports a digital shift. A lack of such environment often presents one of the main obstacles to a digital shift that can be overcome by a supportive leadership through specific tools and a streamlined change management. Finally, the digital shift of government services revolves around serving the citizens and meeting their needs.
In this sense, citizens should be the first and ultimate goal and the electronic services should be designed based on their needs. As the fundamentals of a digital shift are the same, countries’ experiences in government digital shift are similar. This was confirmed by Deloitte’s report co-authored by William D. Eggers, the author of eight books on government digital shift.
There have been many studies on digital transformation, but this report on the government digital shift is special because of the background of its authors, including William’s, and the overall overview of the digital shift process it provided. The report supports some of the points I presented in this article and the results of the field study I conducted with digital shift specialists.
Most of the previously common mistakes in creating a digital shift is investing in technology more than in the change that needs to be digitised. No matter how sophisticated it is, technology remains a tool that cannot achieve a digital shift by itself. Every day, a new technology is invented; its usefulness depends on our readiness to harness it. What disrupts change in many institutions is the technological knowledge that decision-makers have, regardless of their ranks in the hierarchy.
Many countries have overcome this obstacle by investing in educational infrastructure, including establishing digital academies to raise digital knowledge and to build national digital capabilities. When a state determines its priorities at each stage, it will be easier for the private sector to transparently know the types of investments required, so that they can give everyone the opportunity to invest and innovate.The kind of infrastructure we need is this academy that can be built through partnership between the public and private sectors or through Offset programmes.
We have no other options but to press ahead with the digital shift as it is the basis of the digital economy. If we want to seize the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must first drive the digital shift. E-government is the old part of this shift, and until we reach the smart government, which is an advanced stage of digital shift, we must develop a new roadmap that overcomes the past obstacles and learn from the past lessons.
What is the reality of digital shift in the Sultanate? It can be said that each entity differs from the other in terms of digital maturity. The first stage of digital transformation is Presence, which means a presence on the world wide web. When public services are provided through electronic forms, this is known as the Interaction stage. Then, the third stage is called the Transaction, in which the service is requested directly electronically.
The fourth stage, which is what can be called a digital shift, is when government establishments are interconnected so that the citizens will not fill in their data every time.
A smart government is at the stage in which the interconnection of public establishments has been completed, as well as being able to connect with international agencies to provide common services, for example linking ports with international shipping lines.
Reaching the level of smart government can greatly help the Sultanate to achieve one of the pillars of the Oman 2040 Vision, “Being a proactive government”.
Proactiveness means the ability to anticipate the needs of society and the required services, and, thus, the government will not be in a crisis management cycle. The government can also reach the stage of anticipating global trends in technologies and making use of them at early stages. This is the journey of a digital shift that should be adopted by countries to keep up with the new changes.
In subsequent articles, I intend to raise questions and present suggestions that may help to guide us towards some of the most important aspects of the digital shift process.
What we need at this stage is to take initiative. Everyone is waiting to see how serious the transformation is, despite the measures that have been taken during the last administrative restructuring and new appointments.
We have to break the barrier of hesitation and skepticism and move forward with our ideas and projects. The resistance barrier is overcome with persistence and the adoption of dialogue for the interest of the country, in order to avoid any personalisation or narrow individual interests.