Though Qatar's economy is underpinned by its hydrocarbons wealth, the state is looking to a future in which information technology will play a vital role.
Qatar's push towards such a future is being guided by the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQatar), set up in 2005 to both regulate the information and communication technology (ICT) sector and to promote the use of innovation to develop the economy, support education and increase access to state services.
The council also advises the government on ICT policies, conducts extensive public consultations on new initiatives, and supports training programmes for both the public and private sectors to boost awareness of information technology.
One of ictQatar's major achievements is Hukoomi, a specially developed online portal giving access to many state services. First launched in 2007, there are now more than 290 services available, with links to 48 ministries and councils, and more services to be added.
ictQatar's Secretary General Hessa Sultan Al-Jaber told a conference on media and technology in mid-January that ictQatar was striving "to foster a technology-friendly environment for small and large businesses alike, spurring a fresh, new ICT sector that will introduce innovative approaches to how we live and work".
Qatar is certainly gaining recognition for it efforts to develop its information technology capacity. The results of a study conducted by the INSEAD business school and the Confederation of Indian Industry ranked Qatar highly in terms of innovative practices. The 2009 Global Innovation Index put Qatar 24th out of 130 countries, and the leader in the Gulf region.
Though other states in the Gulf were also praised for their efforts to improve their competitive abilities through the use of information and communication technology, Qatar came in for special mention. "Qatar, with a per-capita income of $62,000, is incorporating national initiatives to instill changes and innovations at the societal and business levels," the report said, adding that this momentum would be maintained in the coming years.
A cornerstone of the country's ICT aspirations is the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), which will have its official opening in mid-March, though a number of firms have already been operating out of the park since 2007.
Founded in 2004, the $800m project backed by the Qatar Foundation (QF) is part of the even bigger Education City development, a 14 sq km cluster of learning facilities and research centres established with the aim of building the country's knowledge base to foster economic growth.
According to Abdulla bin Ali Al Thani, QF's vice president for education, the park will help establish Qatar as a leading innovative research centre.
"The Qatar Foundation is working to create a culture of research at every level, and QSTP has a key role in facilitating the transfer to industry of the knowledge and skills that are developed at Education City," he told the local press on February 22.
QSTP is intended to be a home for technology-based companies from around the world and an incubator of start-up enterprises, thus contributing to the development of Qatar's post-carbon economy.
Along with the state and businesses, Qataris are also embracing the growing spread of information technology. According to a study conducted by Business Monitor International and released in late 2008, internet penetration in Qatar stood at around 50%, with 10% of households having broadband connections, a figure that is set to more than double by 2012.
This is proving a boon to hardware and software producers. According to estimates, Qatar's information technology market will be worth almost $500m by 2012. Added to this total is the value of the support and services market, tipped to reach $100m by next year.
There is little evidence that the global economic crisis is having a major impact on Qatar's information technology sector. With the country's economy predicted to expand by up to 10% this year according to official estimates, and the government and state agencies actively promoting wider use of technology, it is unlikely the future will be put on hold.