Born in the era of modern technologies, new generations want the ease of doing everything with one click and this has put enormous pressure on many governments to speed up the digitisation process. As defined by the Chairman of the National Digital Transformation Unit in the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, which itself is undergoing a remarkable digital shift, a digital shift is the gap between the technological advancement and the requirements of communities.
Every country has its own digital and knowledge maturity and different levels of government support. This, therefore, has made the journey towards a digital shift vary from one country to another. The fundamentals of this journey are the same, most importantly the operating model. Countries define their business model that suits their requirements before deciding to embark on a digital shift process. Over the past fifty years, the Omani development model has put the government in the position of providing a large number of services, which led to government units shouldering the responsibility of implementing such plans.
Simplification of procedures is a complex process that includes tremendous planning and actions. The first thing countries do before embarking on the digital shift journey is to reconsider the provision, cancellation, or privatisation of these services. The idea of simplifying procedures stems from the operating model chosen by the government. So, what do we want to shift? Are we going to digitise the current procedures?
Indeed, the Sultanate has gone beyond this stage as it has experiences in digital shift, most notably the experience of the Royal Oman Police, particularly the Omani Customs, which has succeeded in making a mini-e-government that connects more than 40 government agencies (see the writer’s article ‘Omani Customs Success Factors,’ published in Oman newspaper, January 2019).
There are a number of lessons we can deduce from previous efforts to implement an e-government. For example, the government tried to build separate systems for each government unit. This separation rendered it difficult to make a full integration between them, as well as increasing the costs of digitising them.
The Sultanate has also established teams for government units planning to implement the digital shift. However, the proper practice is to establish permanent departments with administrative divisions based on change management science. I have tried to diagnose the obstacles to our e-government process in a previous article entitled “Where is our e-government?” (Published in Oman newspaper in 2016).
The digital shift is a continuous journey that can not be built overnight, as proven by the experiences of the pioneering countries in digital shift, such as Estonia. The Estonian digital shift process has been motivated by many factors. Firstly, the bankruptcy of the country after its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s (1991) and its subsequent hardship.
The second motive was its government’s commitment to providing services to a wide geographical area, although its population did not exceed two million people, in order to preserve stability and security. All of this has helped it to become a pioneering innovator towards achieving a digital shift.
Citizens may experience a higher level of satisfaction upon finding the services they want easily available online, considering it as a positive change in their life. This level of satisfaction is vital, as the digital shift means a new business model that changes the way in which services are provided.
Let us go back to the question we had asked at the beginning of the article: What is the Sultanate’s governmental business operating model? Based on the Terms of Reference of the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, the Ministry shoulders the direct responsibility of digitising the current procedures, with the help of each government unit to simplify such procedures.
This is not a novel position to reach as we have had the same attempts in the past. Had this task been assigned to the Ministry of Transport, who would have been the planner for such business model that the Ministry would use for the digital shift? This question makes it necessary to separate between the planner and the implementer.
In this case, we need one integrated road map for all shift procedures in all government units. We should learn from the lessons of the past and facilitate the process of integrating services so that a citizen would not need to fill in his or her personal data every time he or she attempts to benefit from a public service, aiming to reach the level of the smart government.
This requires an integrated survey of everything and the establishment of an office for engineering procedures as an independent reference. Based on the principle of accountability that requires the existence of performance indicators, the establishment of an Office of Procedures Engineering will facilitate the task of developing such indicators. This will lead to the establishment of a national system of indicators instead of relying solely on international indicators. These are not mere proposals for the Ministry of Transport, but rather a call for all government units willing to adopt the digital shift, especially at this current stage.
We need to identify the roles of the legislator, executive power and the overseeing authority. Thankfully, the Sultanate has completed the separation of these roles in some sectors. It is worth noting here that the digital shift process is not shouldered by the Ministry of Transport alone but is rather a joint responsibility of each of ministry. Without this centralisation of the digital shift process, we cannot measure the government’s performance.
After the recent reshuffle of the government, the Royal Decree 100/2020 establishes the Oman Vision 2040 Implementation Follow-Up Unit. Articles No. 6, 7 and 8 stipulate that the Unit shall follow up the simplification of procedures policies in government units. Hence, we suggest that this Unit includes the Procedures Engineering Office.
The administrative structure of this Unit includes a General Directorate for Government Quality and Excellence Management. This Directorate is responsible for boosting government performance and measure this performance according to the indicators included in the vision.
The Royal Court Affairs’ new project is based on the fundamentals and methodologies of digital shift recognised globally. This is a real pilot project in the Sultanate related to digital shift. The project has obtained a certificate of excellence for its continuous performance improvement. Another example is Petroleum Development Oman’s (PDO) Lean project, which is an important part of the digital shift process. Attracting all these talents would provide the necessary human resources to lead the digital shift in the Sultanate.
It is anticipated that some officials and employees within the government or even private units might display some resistance to change. This is not uncommon and can be solved through building a digital community that appreciates such changes. We have learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic that has moved us steps towards online services and the adoption of distance education. This is the beginning of the process of building a digital society which is the main part of the digital economy. If the digital shift mechanism is in place, where, then, is the mastermind that would conduct the shift?