Interview : Khalifa Al Barwani
How can open data make doing business easier?
KHALIFA AL BARWANI: The dissemination and exchange of open government data is of enormous benefit to the economy and is one of our main goals as we seek to integrate government services, improve decision-making and increase transparency. This will lead to job opportunities, increase access to foreign investment, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, create value-added services, and increase the quality of services in both the public and private sectors.
Oman was ranked 53rd out of 108 countries and second in the Arab world for the quality of its open data in the 2018 report published by the US-based global non-profit organisation Open Data Watch.
How is strategy being developed to enhance this ranking, and what more needs to be done?
AL BARWANI: Since its creation in 2012 the NCSI has adopted five basic values – partnership, professionalism, transparency, knowledge management and dissemination – which are highly related to data openness. These values recognise that data and statistics have become the fuel for progress and successful planning along all tracks and within all communities.
In order to cooperate with concerned institutions to enhance the culture of open data, with a focus on the benefits to the business, industry and service sectors, our working strategy in this area is based on three pillars. Organising the National Open Data Symposium in October 2018 was one of the tasks in the first pillar to reaffirm the government’s commitment to open data initiatives and encourage the expansion of these initiatives going forward.
The second pillar is about partnerships between the public and private sectors that produce statistics that can enhance data openness. One of the indicators monitoring this goal is the number of data sets disseminated electronically through the government’s data portal (www.data.gov.om). We were able to increase these data sets from 23 bases in 2015 to 35 by the end of 2018. These partnerships extend to international organisations that are concerned with open data, which helps us keep up to date with the latest trends in the field and enables the sultanate to maintain its achievements and make further progress.
The third dimension of the strategy focuses on investment in open data, especially in the provision and improvement of services and support for decision-making at the individual and institutional levels. The NCSI has several electronic initiatives using geographical open data, such as the unified national base map and the application Tour Oman. Manafeth is another example of using open data to support the business sector in relation to trade, as the application can be used to prepare feasibility studies that rely on quarterly export and import data.
What is being done to prioritise cybersecurity, and how will the e-Oman initiative address citizens’ privacy concerns regarding big data?
AL BARWANI: Technical security at the national level is carried out by agencies specialised in cybersecurity. In this regard, the NCSI works to ensure the safety and technical security of the enterprise by putting in place national security frameworks and principles.
The NSCI is keen to ensure the privacy of the data collected from individuals and institutions, and that privacy is guaranteed by both the laws on statistics the regulations that implement those laws; thus, this data cannot be compromised at all.
As for the use of non-traditional sources of information – such as big data – in statistical work, the centre emphasises the importance of such sources, but only insofar as they do not compromise the privacy of citizens. The NSCI presently chairs the UN Global Working Group on Big Data, which works to guarantee the privacy of citizens when official government statistics are formulated using new sources of big data.
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