Interview: Mohamed Jamil bin Ahmed Mulla
To what extent is the public sector becoming more web dependent, and what is being done to ensure online submissions are being protected?
MOHAMED JAMIL AHMED MULLA: The public sector has shifted gears to transform its services to the web. The Yesser e-government programme, which was launched by this ministry in early 2006, has boosted the transition to web technologies. The portion of government entities able to undergo this transformation rose from 64% in 2008 to 80% in 2013, while those providing e-transactions through the national portal reached 156 entities by 2013, compared to 106 in 2008. The number of government entities using Yesser’s government-secured network jumped from 41 in 2008 to 106 in 2013.
The Kingdom’s advancements in e-government are reflected in its rise on the UN’s E-government Readiness Index, from 70th place in 2008 to 36th in 2014. Moreover, the ministry conducts an annual survey through Yesser that measure the e-readiness and e-transformation of government entities and subsequently submits the report to the Supreme Council.
At the same time, the growing dependency on web technologies to deliver and consume services calls for improvements to infrastructure. The Kingdom has created a national public key infrastructure to secure electronic information sharing. This system is managed by the National Centre for Digital Certification, whose certificates provide authentication, digital signature, encryption and non-repudiation services for those accessing or processing digital information, documents and transactions. These technologies help guarantee confidentiality and integrity of data.
How will introducing more mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) affect the price and quality of mobile broadband in Saudi Arabia?
MULLA: MVNOs can provide value-adding services to businesses and consumers. Nearly 4% of the global MVNO market is expected to come from the Middle East and Africa by 2015. Indeed, market analysis has demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s appeal to both MVNOs and network operators. In order to stimulate competition and give consumers more choice, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) recently licensed two consortia as MVNOs. This will likely improve service quality, lower prices, enhance customer care and create ICT jobs. By splitting service provisioning from network operations, MVNOs will help the main telecommunications operators to act as wholesalers. These firms can then focus on enhancing their infrastructure, in turn improving service quality.
What is the role of the government in IT versus that of private firms? How can both work together?
MULLA: The ICT sector was restructured and liberalised in part to support the role of the private sector in offering services designed to meet the changing needs of businesses. This policy direction has also been emphasised in the second national communication and information technology plan by adopting initiatives to boost the Kingdom’s local IT industry.
In the last few years, the multiplier effect from significant government spending on education, health and network industries, as well as the large portion of the population under 30, has created a surge in IT spending. Indeed, IT spending in Saudi Arabia is projected to reach $5.7bn by the end of 2014, from around $3.5bn in 2010 and IT spending per capita in 2014 is expected to reach $200. This has increased demand for security services and solutions.
Saudi companies are represented in Yesser’s advisory group and participate in a number of initiatives, including the submission of ideas to public consultations linked to the drafting of new laws and regulations. Local firms also participate in planning workshops and seminars conducted by the ministry and the CITC. Our efforts to enable a competitive environment, together with the launch of e-services and special initiatives, have provided many benefits to private sector players operating in a range of industries in Saudi Arabia.
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