Bahrain weighs its options on Smart Cities’ project

MANAMA: As the global experts deliberated on the salient features of the smart cities’ concept, the CEO of eGovernment Authority played down the excitement by saying that there is a lot of work has to be done before embarking on this project.

“Smart Cities’ project is an ambitious, very technical and integrated model and Bahrain has to evaluate each and every aspect of this model before embarking on this project,” Mohammed Al Qaed, the CEO of eGovernment Authority told The24X7News Bahrain (

“The availability of Internet or technology at any given area is not synonymous to smart cities but it is a much broader and complex subject,” he added.

The Bahrain International eGovernment Forum 2015 commenced with the plenary sessions at the Isa Cultural Centre where prominent keynote speakers discussed a number of issues related to Smart Cities and eGovernment.

Day one sessions began with Former Prime Minister of Sweden H.E. John F. Reinfeldt who gave a keynote speech, which touched upon several of Sweden’s experience in ICT, open government data, and Sweden’s international aid, only to name the least. He clarified that the right usage of eGovernment improves the lives of citizens; smart cities create jobs for people in need; also, authorities must carefully study the digital divide (amongst the elderly and youth) before placing information as well as educate the public of how to use such information. He continued to explain that obtaining a stronger economy requires creating more jobs and expanding the working hours; in 20 years from today, 53% of jobs will no longer exist and become completely different with the presence of digital transformation. “The conference is about a way to look into the future and how to make better conditions for people to live,” H.E. Reinfeldt, said.

Gartner’s Executive Partner Eric Smith, who spoke about the ‘Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for Digital Government’, declared that by 2020, there will be thirty billion electronic devices. He described how technology is evolving in governments; smart cities create better lives for citizens by creating digital cities; also discussed how open government is also about ensuring that data is available to other governmental entities. “Technologies enable digital government and create smart cities that change the way businesses run; digital government save costs and achieve better services with the new use of technologies; also, creating a digital place enhances collaboration,” he added while praising Bahrain for joining its government.

Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to the GCC Region Ambassador Adam Kulach also presented a keynote speech in which he stated that there is tremendous potential for cooperation between the GCC and EU in eGovernment, research and innovation. EU has been developing eGovernment coordination for more than 10 years; thus, approaching the end of the second Action Plan. As for research and development, EU has an immense project ‘Horizon 2020’ which provides funding of 80 billion Euros – the biggest research innovation program worldwide and is open for cooperation with international intrigued partners.

Day one also comprised a joint session of two speakers – the Co-Founders of Arab American Design and Master Craft Initiative Hala Hemayssi and Jim Jacoby. Their topic ‘Digital Civilizations: Design as Transformation for Teams, Companies and Nations’ discussed how feelings count in design and trigger behavior; design is a process that helps solve problems; and how transformation is about making choices related to knowledge, identity and taking action.

The second day of the forum consisted of a plenary session along with six sessions in which Ms. Teresa Carlson Head of Worldwide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services discussing Amazon’s innovative experience of Cloud Computing in developing its business. She also explained the company’s expansive capacity due to the world-wide nature of its operations. According to her, Amazon utilized high-end technology to ensure smooth running of its operations in 28 areas and across 53 sites. She stated that Amazon is currently trying to reach all users of Cloud Computing and has enhanced its security levels and consequently became the go-to provider of innovative Cloud Computing solutions for many public and private entities including Instagram and Microsoft among many others. She said that the Cloud Computing services have increased drastically within the last seven years to meet users’ needs. She concluded her speech by highlighting the ICT sector’s growing need for more trained individuals and praised Bahraini women who represent 50% of the sector’s workforce – wishing them more success for the future.

Whilst Tom Loosemore, Founder and Deputy Director of UK’s Government Digital Services, discussed UK’s government digital strategy and its eServices across the Kingdom, pointing out that the availability of services has attracted 13 million visitors, particularly the mobile Apps which annually save about 62 million pounds of government budget. He added that the customers’ feedback is one of the key criteria in developing the services and that considering customers’ suggestions have contributed to UK’s high index of customers’ satisfaction which reached 90%. He also added that the work is currently proceeding to design the services – not only delivering them in electronic form – through the adoption of flexibility in the development process, updating services on a weekly basis, or once a day, depending on the content of websites. Such flexibility helps to meet the customer’s needs and is the foundation in a world where digital risks are on the rise.

Loosemore explained that UK’s eGovernment is keen to combine all services in a single platform to facilitate users’ identity verification as a team of experts is working to deliver an integrated set of services to customers. “We are to promote these services locally and share our experiences with other partners in the ICT sector – there is much of open data, a digital blog and principles of design to share with others, in addition to the Service Guide which is in line with international standards,” he added.

While Dr. John Bertot, Professor and Co-director of Information Policy and Access Center at the University of Maryland, focused on ‘Information Policies Expansion associated with Smart Cities implementations’. His topic addressed the overlapping policies that Smart Cities are capable of creating. He declared that smart devices will require Open Source policies to make the exchange of date possible; however, this may clash with users’ needs for privacy and security. He urged governments to maintain transparency and free the sharing of data. He concluded that Smart Cities will be a challenge that requires high-level of flexibility and constant amendments to policies, especially since the data will come in massive quantities and will be difficult to determine ownership before it can be shared as Open-Source data.

In another session, David Burrows, Managing Director at EMEA Government Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft Corporation, introduced ‘City Next: Smart City’ where he highlighted the opportunities and challenges towards smart, sophisticated cities with over 75% of people are expected to live before establishing the necessary infrastructure. “The need to develop these cities is undeniable where smart devices would become part of everything in these cities,” he added while sharing recent statistics which indicate that three billion people will use the internet worldwide by the year 2020; therefore, it is important to focus on technology infrastructure and innovation.

The topic ‘Urban Lifecycle Management’ was presented by expert Professor Claude Rochet, Professor at Aix Marseille University – Head of Research Laboratory in Competitive Intelligence at the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Paris. He emphasized the need to engineer a modern technological system that serves citizens and stated that a system’s basic operations must be designed in a comprehensive, intelligent and interactive way. The system should have the ability to reproduce itself, the potential to continue and should not be complex so as to not collapse. He admitted that though this system is intangible, it reflects real life needs and therefore must be fortified by laws that make it viable.

Dr. Zakareya Ahmed Al-Khaja, eGovernment Authority vice CEO, concluded the forum’s sessions by presenting Bahrain’s National eGovernment Strategy 2016. He explained that eGA is continuing the second strategy which initiated in 2011; however, placing more focus on making the strategy more citizen-centric by utilizing mobility – in line with the Government National Work Plan. Moreover, eGA has observed that Bahrain’s market is awarding the mobility aspect and based on such observation, the authority is focusing on providing services through its mobile channel.

Dr. Al-Khaja also indicated how the authority is cultivating innovation, adapting creative ideas and supporting entrepreneurships within the ICT and eGovernment sectors. eParticipation was another aspect he portrayed – stating that eGA is developing a platform to measure the interaction on different channels such as the social media.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Supreme Committee for Information and Communication Technology, officially inaugurates the Bahrain IT expo 2015 on Tuesday at the Bahrain International Circuit Paddock Hall, which will run with eight parallel ICT-related workshops until Thursday, 19th March.

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