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Kuwait eGov: 24 Years Later

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The Kuwait Knowledge Economy Forum Feb 7-8 is focused on the theme “Government Knowledge”. Some would say that such a theme is an oxymoron. However, since I am a 3rd generation technocrat, I continue to hope that “knowledge” and “government” can co-exist. On the other hand, as I consider the work that I did for the Kuwait government nearly 24 years ago, bringing the earliest eGovernment prototypes to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) and to the Council of Ministers Government Services (CMGS), I must confess I am struggling with cynicism.

In 1994-95 I was part of a United National Development Program (UNDP) team with a mandate to support the democratization of Kuwait government. I was privileged to deliver the earliest eGovernment system prototypes in Kuwait, intended to enhance the government services offered to the people and businesses in Kuwait. The first of those two system prototypes was a Contact Center for the MOCI; the Client Inquiry Services system. That initiative was the brainchild of Dr Waleed Abdulwahab who is now with Islamic Development Bank.

The project mandate was to demonstrate a call center that would serve the entire Kuwait government as a one-stop-shop for all of the people in Kuwait to interact easily with the government for all of their needs. I deployed the first Voice-Over-IP and HTML technology in the Kuwait government in 1994 as part of the Client Inquiry Services contact center.

The MOCI were enthusiastic about the technology and expanded the system quickly. MOCI was the first ministry in Kuwait to implement voicemail for all employees. Sadly, Dr Waleed’s original concept of providing eGov to the citizens was not fulfilled. On the bright side we do now have the MOCI One-Stop-Shop providing streamlined business licensing. 23 years after the first MOCI Contact Center prototype was implemented the One-Stop-Shop was celebrated with great fanfare. However, the original vision of a Contact Center providing full and complete G2C services across the whole Kuwait government is not yet fulfilled.

The second prototype that I was responsible for in early 1995 was a Decision Support System demonstration for the CMGS. Ali Al Shuraidah, IT Director of CMGS, and later of Director of CAIT, was the sponsor of that initiative. His idea was to bring data from various ministries and combine it into meaningful decision support information supporting Ministers in developing new knowledge and supporting wise decisions. The first obstacle that we encounte

red in developing this prototype was the unwillingness of ministers to share recent data. Consequently, we demonstrated the concept with data that was more than five years old. Nevertheless, we were able to demonstrate the concept of what could be done using progressive online analysis technology. That was in February 1995 — 23 years ago. To my knowledge, there is still no comprehensive Kuwait Government Decision Support System.

These Case Studies illustrate the nature of the problem. The technology has been available for many years and is sometimes embraced when people see the benefit to themselves. The obstacles are lack of motivation, commitment, collaboration and vision to employ the technology to support knowledge development and improve government services to the people.

As I look at the agenda for the Knowledge Economy Forum I have noticed that there is an underlying theme of digitization of government information. I hope that the experts will help the leaders of the Kuwait Knowledge Economy understand that the obstacle in not technical. Implementing technology is the easy part of developing the Kuwait Knowledge Economy.

The primary obstacle is cultural and therefore requires change in the thinking and attitude of people and therefore changes to policy and procedure, work habits and productivity. Digitizing information does not necessarily result in knowledge development. Knowledge development always does result in a demand for greater and more easily available information which digitization can support. Let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. Let us develop the Human Capital and Culture first, tech will follow.

By Dana Winner