While developing the private ICT sector into a valuable contributor to the domestic economy, the government has also recognised the importance of integrating modern ICT systems into its own institutions as a means to stimulate the economy as a whole. By streamlining government bureaucracy through the implementation of new technology, the government hopes to slash red tape and create efficiencies that will in turn generate a more growth-friendly business environment in the Sultanate.
Though the government got off to a relatively late start in creating a comprehensive internal IT policy, the creation of the E-Government National Centre (EGNC) in 2008 and subsequent roll-out of policies has proceeded at an increasingly rapid pace. The initial E-Government Strategic Plan running from 2009-14 laid out five priority goals: developing capabilities and capacity, enhancing governance, strengthening security and trust, integrating the government, and delivering integrated, accessible and convenient e-services. Focusing on citizen-centric services through the implementation of various programmes, including the Civil Service 21st Century Vision launched in 2000, the E-Government Strategic Plan is the latest incarnation of public sector reforms designed to boost private sector capacity. These goals complement other long-term government strategic developmental targets, including equipping citizens with the tools necessary to be competitive in an increasingly wired world. Government entities responsible for the implementation of these plans are headed up by the EGNC within the Prime Minister’s Office and are overseen by the E-Government Technical Authority Body, as well as benefitting from strategic aid from the E-Government Leadership Forum.
Taking into account the country’s strengths and weaknesses as gauged by global rankings, the e-government initiatives will target specific areas in which the Sultanate has room for improvement.
“One of the ways in which Brunei Darussalam could climb up the ease of doing business rankings is to further streamline its government procedures through implementing new cross-departmental computer systems and boosting its online e-government capabilities,” said S Durgaprasad, the director and CEO of local software firm Bahwan CyperTek.
Although the country ranked a very respectable 26th out of 148 economies in the World Economic Forum’s 2013-14 “Global Competitiveness Report”, it posted some of its lowest scores in categories that will be considerably affected by the roll-out of new e-government services. In fact, Brunei Darussalam’s second-lowest score (behind only market size) was for the efficiency enhancer of technological readiness, with a ranking of 71st. Other categories in which the country ranked significantly lower than its overall score were business sophistication at 56th and innovation at 59th. Further polling revealed that 13.9% of respondents thought that government bureaucracy was the main challenge to doing business in the Sultanate, ranking fourth behind restrictive labour regulations (14.6%), poor work ethic (15.3%) and access to financing (17.1%).
One of the keys to boosting efficiencies is the creation of an online one-stop shop where businesses will be able to carry out a wide array of administrative functions, ranging from paying bills to applying for licences. In total, more than 20 government departments are being linked to a network that will be capable of running interconnectable applications, allowing for the seamless transfer of information across different ministries and government entities. “One area where we need to see a marked improvement is the further development of e-payment gateways in Brunei Darussalam. This would greatly reduce delays in online payments to the nation’s various departments and would have an immediate impact on productivity,” Louis CT Lim, managing director of local tech firm ITIS Wescot, told OBG.
Signs Of Progress
As of 2014 the government has made progress in a number of these key priority areas. An overhauled administrative process and significant efforts by the EGNC to train its staff based on standardised procedures have laid the groundwork for further cross-departmental integration. Strong commitment at the upper government levels has also helped to ensure a consistent policy framework is in place.
Beginning with established co-location of IT services and data in 2008, the assimilation of previously independent government services has also seen major progress towards a single integrated, compatible network complete with a unified data centre located at the EGNC. The second phase is now under way in the form of a new cloud data management system that houses government data and services. As of mid-2014 some 80% of new projects were running on the government cloud, leading to an increasing array of shared services. With this data now consolidated, the next step is to provide more open, published information to assist both the public and private sectors. These intra-governmental services include ONEPASS (a digital identification, transaction and communication service for all government employees) with digital encryption, a single internal government enterprise communication network and a central procurement entity for ICT products along with citizen services such as e-Darussalam.
“We have done a lot in terms of driving standardisation and are progressing well in integrating e-services and platforms,” Muhammad Norshafiee, director of the EGNC, told OBG. “Yet, there is scope for improvement in standardisation and integration at the data level. Data is still very much silo based, so the focus now is to provide a central data and integration platform.”
As the initial e-government strategy winds down in 2014, the EGNC is already formulating its next plan to take the sector through 2019. Among the priorities to be tackled in this next phase are building on existing strengths by aligning government ICT capabilities with those of the wider economy and private sector. In conjunction with offering an increasing array of online services, the government will also be working to capitalise on the new efficiencies provided by an integrated, cross-departmental network by eliminating administrative processes rendered redundant or obsolete through the implementation of new applications.
Another key area of focus will be continued vigilance in cyber security. While measures are already in place to protect sensitive data and ensure public trust, the sector remains a priority for the EGNC as it seeks to keep up with the emergence of new threats. One new initiative being rolled out in 2014 to bolster these efforts is a national cyber security framework, which will seek to unify previously disparate security efforts across the public and private sector over 12-18 months.
Although so far citizens have been somewhat reticent to adopt new e-government services en masse, with many preferring traditional face-to-face interaction, there is reason to believe that once these new services are shown to be safe and reliable this could change rapidly. Bruneians have already shown a penchant for quick adoption of new technologies and are active on social media, while the continued roll-out of fibre-to-the-home and 4G mobile service will further incentivise uptake. With the rapid proliferation of smartphones and increased access to 3G, and now 4G, data services, mobile applications are becoming increasingly popular and all new applications will need to take into account portability with mobile platforms. That said, it may be overly optimistic to assume that the bulk of public services will transition seamlessly from traditional ink and paper methods to the electronic form overnight. Challenges will need to be overcome not only in terms of technical infrastructure and administrative reform, but also in terms of social and cultural acceptance of e-services amongst the Bruneian population.
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