Qatar’s technological ambitions: The future is now

QatarICT

Economic News

25 Feb 2015
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With the announcement of another milestone in Qatar’s satellite programme coming at the end of last year, the body of material evidence suggesting significant recent ICT sector development in the state grew in both size and quality.

A launch date for communications satellite Es’hail 2 has now been set, while sector professionals have been expressing confidence that a range of services, from e-government to health, are also now going into orbit.

“Qatar is at a very important stage in its development,” Yousef Al Naama, CEO of IT service and solution provider Malomatia, recently told OBG. “This presents IT opportunities across the public and private sector.”

While actual space transport may still be some way off, transportation is also one of the areas where ITC has an increasingly important role to play – and where many of those opportunities can be found.

Indeed, the government has committed some $70bn to transport infrastructure development over the next few years under its Qatar National Vision 2030 and Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016.

Across the whole range of the giant transport projects currently underway, from the Doha Metro roll out to Qatar Rail, and from roads to port construction, intelligent transport systems (ITS) have been given a vital role in ensuring that not only commuters, but future World Cup 2022 crowds can get around the city with the minimum of delay.

“Transportation is undergoing a massive transformation that requires intelligent IT planning, control systems and solutions, as well as modern technology infrastructure,” adds Yousef Al Naama. 

Ashgal’s 2012-2020 ITS Action Plan seeks to create a single, comprehensive system that integrates information from all the state’s transportation networks. Information from stoplights, station platforms, airport lounges, border crossings, police traffic control units and a host of other sources can then be used in real time to manage transport provision, via a national transportation management centre (TMC). ITS also links this to smart phone or GPS systems of those on the move, providing them with up-to-date travel information.

Ultimately, ITS also forms part of an IT system integrated at an even higher level, the Smart City. At that level, transportation is just one of numerous branches feeding information into a system that includes everything from e-government services to cinema opening times. Advocates of Smart Cities present this as a fundamental change in the way individuals interact with the built and institutional environment around them.

Getting to that stage requires a major investment in IT infrastructure ­– and also in human resources. In many ways too, it is the latter requirement that can be the most challenging.

Qatar’s move to a knowledge-based economy is one factor behind the surge into ITS and the satellite programme. Yet, as many IT sector insiders recognise, Qatar remains a net importer of knowledge.

Building a national resource base in ITC is thus a key part of overall sustainable development, with companies such as Malomatia keen to stress that they are doing their part. “We are a local company committed to building and sustaining local capabilities”, Yousef Al Naama explains.

Cultivating expertise in any sector, or country, can be a lengthy business, however, with the limited size of the national population also a major constraint on any attempt at ‘import substitution’ in the knowledge market.

Fortunately, Qatar has excellent access to some major local IT cultures, such as that of India, as well as to Europe and North America, and has been able to bring in a great deal of expertise – with knowledge transfer a key part of the expatriate role. In the meantime, the ongoing development of domestic skills and talent will continue to take place while physical technology races forward  – as fast as the ITS-integrated high speed trains, or the Es’hail 2.

---This original article from OBG originally appeared in Qatar's The Edge magazine, February 2015 issue.

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