Wired Into The Electronic Age

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In a bid to develop a knowledge-based economy, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is working to promote the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to gain an edge over its neighbours.

Given its limited hydrocarbon resources, RAK has sought to focus on a number of strategic sectors to guarantee economic stability and prosperity. Central to this policy is the development of a strong financial services sector, a vibrant tourism industry, a growing industrial base and the establishment of the emirate as a trade and transshipment hub. All of these sectors have increasingly come to rely on ICT to remain competitive.

To grow a broad information technology platform, the government has both put a suitable infrastructure in place and encouraged the setting up of educational facilities to provide the skills needed for sustaining and developing a knowledge-based economy.

Part of this programme includes developing a dedicated technology park within the RAK Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ), intended to serve as a regional hub for overseas information technology firms, existing local companies and start-ups.

Another plank of RAK's ICT policy is to boost the information and technology education pool of the emirate, with both local and foreign colleges and universities operating in RAK offering a wide range of courses.

The latest overseas educator to set up in RAK is India's University of Pune (UoP). Speaking at the launching ceremony of the university on February 5, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, RAK's crown prince and deputy ruler, said it was important for the emirate to develop its human resources.

"We are living in the age of the knowledge society, where a country is recognised on its knowledge base and how it organise its human resources," he said.

In January, the RAKFTZ also announced a partnership with information technology training firm New Horizons Computer Learning Centre to provide online teaching services to employees and clients of the free zone.

According to Oussama El Omari, the RAKFTZ's chief executive officer and director general, the targeted training will create an environment that will empower the zone's workers.

"Technology-supported learning offers tremendous potential for those who are seeking to enhance their development needs," he told the local press.

The state is also active in making use of information technology in its own work. It already offers 30 government- related services online to the public and has fully automated the internal operations of all government departments.

According to Ahmad Al Naeaimi, the deputy manager of the Ras Al Khaimah e- Government Authority (RAK-eGA), these services are about to be taken to the next level.

"We want to provide our residents with an advanced eGovernance platform, offering an easy-to-use yet sophisticated technology structure that will maximise productivity and attract investments to the Emirate," Al Naeaimi was reported as saying in early February.

RAK is also making extensive use of online services to facilitate business. Licencing applications, payment of trade licence fees, real estate property management services and building permit requests are all able to be processed through the state's electronic portals. By the end of 2009, RAK-eGA plans to provide more than 150 services online.

It is not just in the fields of information and communication that RAK is capitalising on new technology. The emirate is also home to the CSEM-UAE Innovation Centre, a joint venture between the government of RAK and the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology, established in 2005 to advance innovation and process improvement for industrial and entrepreneurial partners in the UAE and the wider region. The centre focuses on developing applications for usage in industry, particularly in the fields of solar energy, water treatment and intelligent building design, all increasingly important to the Gulf region.

One of CSEM-UAE's latest projects is a solar island, made up of large floating platforms equipped with photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. The $5m project, fully funded by the RAK government, has reached the trial stage in December and, when put into production, water borne solar power stations could help alleviate some of the emirate's electricity shortages.

With the use of innovation, education and investment, RAK is strengthening its economy through the use of technology, building for the future on existing solid foundations.

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