Interview: Khalifa Al Barwani
How is Oman using data-powered services to achieve its development and diversification targets?
KHALIFA AL BARWANI: The sultanate is in a transition period defined by moving from simply collecting data to creating services that are powered by it. Like most countries, entities in Oman mostly store their data on collection, but the new global norm is to then add value to it by creating derivative services. In an increasingly digitised world people and businesses require direct access to data in a comprehensive and usable format. Data-powered services have the potential to contribute to Oman’s diversification efforts and its economic plans, such as the sultanate’s Vision 2040, by empowering communities, businesses and entire sectors, ranging from logistics to manufacturing and beyond.
In what ways can the sultanate use mobile data to create big data solutions?
AL BARWANI: The UN Statistics Division has recognised Oman’s ambition when it comes to using mobile big data as part of its official statistical system. Indeed, the NCSI is exploring a partnership with Oman’s mobile network operators (MNOs) by which MNOs would provide the NCSI with anonymous data. This data could then be used to generate assessments of the size and mobility of the population, as well as inbound and outbound tourist numbers, and detailed analysis of the most-visited areas in the sultanate. This would help better inform public and private sector decision-making.
How will Oman’s e-census operate, and in what ways is it expected to help people and businesses?
AL BARWANI: The sultanate aims to launch its first e-census by 2020, which will establish a system by which information will be recorded and continuously updated for three societal categories: people, establishments and buildings. The first will record information about citizens and residents, and their socio-economic background; the second will monitor establishments, such as companies, NGOs and non-profits, in relation to their area of activity and staff; and the latter will assess buildings with regard to their location, and the nature and number of their inhabitants.
What will differentiate Oman’s e-census from a traditional one is its method of data collection. Rather than gathering information through a one-time survey every few years, the e-survey system will source information from the various government entities that interact with each of the three societal categories. The information gathered by these entities will then be centralised into a database managed by the NCSI. In turn, each person, establishment and building will have a profile associated with an identification number. These profiles will constitute administrative records accessible by government authorities that may need such records for processing requests. This system should preclude the requirement for people and businesses to submit the same information to different entities, and should thus simplify approval processes. As a result, the e-census will put Oman on the path to smarter government.
What measures are currently in place to safeguard data collected for the e-census?
AL BARWANI: Identifiable profiles on people, establishments and buildings will only be accessible to government agencies that need them for administrative purposes. Though the same data will be used to generate statistical records and census reports, these records and reports will be anonymised, and will only provide aggregate and meta data.
That said, investing in data protection is an ever-increasing necessity as hackers are becoming more adept in their methods. The NCSI is working with the Information Technology Authority to protect against any illegal accessing of data repositories. Moreover, the Oman National Computer Emergency Response Team provides cybersecurity guidelines and services to all government entities submitting data for the e-census.
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