Arab Public Administration & the Transition from e-Governance to m-Governance

Arab Business Review
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  • Development of a robust ICT infrastructure has helped Arab nations adopt e-governance at a fast pace.
  • GCC countries lead the pack when it comes to e-Governance readiness, but other Arab countries have also started developing citizen-centric e-governance programmes.
  • However, all governments in the region are yet to adopt mobile-based applications for delivering e-governance services.
  • Arab governments will need to continuously upgrade their existing knowledge and attitude towards e-governance to remain in the lead, as shown by the example of UAE, whose e-governance framework has evolved over the years to meet changing requirements, and is currently considered one of the best in the world.

Development of a robust ICT infrastructure has helped Arab nations adopt e-governance at a fast pace. Arab countries are looking to upgrade their existing public service delivery infrastructures, and according to a survey, the average e-governance development index in Western Asia continent largely comprising of Arab countries was above the world average, i.e. 0.5547 to 0.4882 in 2012. The performance is driven by the growing investments aimed at building digital knowledge-based economies that has led to development of the ICT infrastructure in the region. High internet penetration in the region has enabled hosting of government web portals to share information.

Further, telecom companies in the region have transitioned from voice services to provide bundled telecom services with 3G / 4G services on smart phones, and fibre-optic networks.  As a result, internet usage in the Middle East is higher than the global average and the citizens in the region are often classified as heavy users of electronic social networks having high dependence on digital communications. This all-round development and usage of internet in the Arab world has laid the perfect ground for e-governance in the region.

GCC countries lead other Arab countries when it comes to e-Governance readiness. GCC nations have been making efforts to induce eGovernment in their societies and promote digital transformation and literacy. These governments are competing among themselves to develop a new knowledge-based economy, which will reduce their dependence on oil, and enable them to make their products and services competitive on a global scale. As part of these efforts, they are creating service oriented and citizen-centric operating models, and developing electronic operating environments that have the potential to support the e-Citizens model.

Key initiatives launched in these countries include network readiness, infrastructure readiness, service availability, citizen inclusion, and development of a national identity management infrastructure. Further, technological advancements have enabled these governments to provide ‘citizen services’ through multiple delivery channels such as the internet, smart phones, or contact centres. At present, conventional service counters are the most-used channels; however, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, that own evolved government portals, provide lot of citizen transactions online. According to an Arab Advisors Group report, 20% of the portals provide messaging services via mobile, whereas 65% of the portals deliver transactional services.

The leadership position of GCC countries is reflected in the results of the Arab world’s 2013-14 e-Governance Development Index recently published by MRD and Orient Planet. Further, according to United Nations 2012 Survey, UAE ranked 28th (up from 49 in 2010) on the global e-government development index. Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, ranked among the top 100 countries worldwide.

Other nations have been following these e-governance leaders and there has been a significant development in adoption of citizen-centric e-governance programmes in the Arab world. The e-governance movement is not limited to GCC nations only, and this is reflected in the fact that by August 2013, 18 Arab countries had electronic government portals – these countries included Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen.

The increased penetration of the smart phones will lead to increased usage of e-governance portals and other offerings through mobile channels; however, all governments in the region are yet to adopt mobile-based applications for delivering e-governance services. Most countries in the Arab World have built their base for e-government services, however, provisions for m-applications and social media for service delivery is yet to be integrated completely. The larger and the richer countries are have been adopting the social media and m-applications in public services at a higher rate than the smaller ones.

Also, governments in the region will need to continuously upgrade their existing knowledge and attitude towards e-governance. Current e-governance practices in the Arab world have been shaped and influenced by IT vendors or consultancy firms, and there is a need to upgrade these practices to keep in-line with evolving citizen requirements. Such an upgrade will entail much more than just a technology upgrade; instead it will require a fundamental change in thinking where governments will need to act like service providers and treat citizens like customers.

Among other things, there is a need to provide single window system and integrated platforms to enable faster citizen transactions with the government. Such systems should also sustain the momentum of complex, cross-departmental projects, promote good governance, and ensure easy solutions to the change management challenges of governments. Finally, such systems should allow the governments to monitor their e-governance development and evolution.

Long story short, some Arab countries have made good progress in their march towards e-governance, but a lot remains to be achieved as online public administration systems are in the process of being implemented in most countries. And for countries already having such systems in place, it will be important to continually upgrade those to meet e-citizen standards being followed worldwide. The following case study of steps taken by the UAE should be useful for other countries looking to adopt e-governance best practices.

UAE – a case study for successful e-governance implementation in the Arab World

UAE adopted the e-governance path way back in 2001 when it launched an electronic card known as the eDirham to collect service fees. After that, the country has continuously built its e-governance prowess and today the nation is considered to have one of the most advanced and world-class information and communication technology infrastructures. UAE was ranked third in Accenture’s list of leading digital governments. A timeline of e-governance implementation in the UAE is appended below.

UAE Federal e-Government Evolution

Source: European Journal of ePractice

One of the reason for the success of the e-governance model in the UAE is the hybrid approach where the government departments create new online services, while the central authority work towards building the common parts required by all departments, such as payment and customer support. This approach leads to standardization, cost savings and rapid execution. One of the examples can be “Markabati,” a portal from the central authority enabling people in UAE to connect with every aspect of vehicle service in the public and private sector. All the services can be found and transacted through the portal.

Further, the UAE e-governance system has adopted latest technology trends, and seeks to move from e-government to m-government. The country has one of the largest smart phone and mobile penetration rates in the world. The government had announced its plans to set up the region’s first lab to test secure ways to offer residents m-government services. Citizens would be able to deal with government departments via their smart phones without any restrictions on time. UAE has plans that all the government departments should be able to provide a one-stop store for applications and enable all transactions through a single login. Other initiatives include the building of a federated identity management system to provide secure, unique and tamper-proof digital identities to its citizens.

All this is a part of UAE’s Federal eGovernment Strategic Framework from 2012-2014, which covers more than 35 initiatives across four vital eGovernment areas:

  1. Strengthening the regulatory framework and governance mechanisms for eGovernment in the country.
  2. Infrastructure support of information systems in the United Arab Emirates.
  3. Launching and providing eGovernment applications and services.
  4. Development of effective mechanisms for performance management.

Arab nations looking to develop effective e-governance systems will need to develop long-term frameworks (like UAE) that meet their local needs and are in line with contemporary e-governance standards.

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