Efforts taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain to enhance digital transformation.
Digital transformation is a pillar of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, an ambitious national development plan focused on the principles of sustainability, competitiveness, and fairness. Moreover, the Government’s Digital Government Strategy 2022 highlights the commitment to transforming its services through emerging technologies, helping to create a better life for citizens and residents.
The Kingdom has adopted a wide range of emerging technologies in furtherance of these important goals, establishing itself as a regional pioneer in the process. It has implemented several reforms to support technology-driven businesses and empower them to drive the economy, while the government steps into a regulatory role. As a result, the Kingdom has witnessed a surge in economic growth, job creation, and human development, leading to a better life for citizens.
Forms of Emerging Technologies in Bahrain
Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf to liberalise its telecom sector, helping to shift the economy in a new direction. Today, Bahrain’s well-established Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure is among the most recognised in the region.
The Kingdom was ranked 1st in the Arab region on the ICT Development Index (IDI) by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report, and 4th globally in Telecommunication Infrastructure Index (TII) as per the United Nation eGovernment Development Index. Bahrain ranked 4th globally in
‘Internet users’ category with 99% penetration, as per the Global Competitiveness Report by World Economic Forum (WEF)
Today, the Kingdom continues its growth trajectory, deploying modern technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to further develop government services. This has supported business continuity across the public sector, including the judicial sector, by helping to streamline procedures.
The adoption of modern technologies also enabled the education sector to continue seamlessly during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic by offering the remote, cloud-based educational gateway, EDUNET. Meanwhile, the BeAware Bahrain app, developed in-house by the Information & eGovernemnt Authority (iGA), is a national success story that was launched in record time and plays a central role in efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Bahrain’s Emerging Technologies Ecosystem
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, material sciences, and robotics hold incredible promise for the advancement of Bahraini society, and hare helping to spur economic growth.
Creating the right ecosystem for emerging technologies remains a top priority, with the Bahrain Government working proactively to foster a culture of innovation in all segments of society. It also encourages those involved in designing, developing, and deploying new technologies to ensure they are consistent with the Kingdom's values and adhere to international standards.
The use of emerging technologies will play a major role in achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and supports the implementation of Government Action Plan. The Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA), Economic Development Board (EDB), Tamkeen, the Central Bank Of Bahrain (CBB), and other governmental agencies continue to adopt the latest innovations and technologies.
Financial Technology (Fintech)
With the oldest and most established financial services sector in the region, Bahrain understands the importance of enabling innovation within a stable and proven regulatory environment. To empower this wave of innovation, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) launched a pioneering on-shore FinTech Regulatory Sandbox in 2017, enabling companies to test their technology-based solutions for up to a year under supervision. The first initiative of its kind in the region, the Sandbox is an opportunity for FinTech businesses to expand and thrive in the Gulf. To be eligible, solutions need to demonstrate innovation, customer benefit, technical testing, and an intention to be deployed in Bahrain after the sandbox period ends.
Since its inception, the sandbox has nurtured several innovative FinTech businesses, with the first graduate Tarabut Gateway now working with financial institutions across the region to roll out open banking technologies. The initiative also offers smaller enterprises a safe and partially deregulated environment while further strengthening Bahrain’s position as a GCC financial services hub for businesses of all sizes.
The CBB also provides a regulatory framework to facilitate innovations in financial technology and has set up the Fintech & Innovation Unit to ensure the best regulatory and implementation of financial services in Bahrain.
The Bahrain Economic Development Board has taken significant steps to support the FinTech industry in Bahrain, attracting foreign direct investments and setting the direction of the industry. Flat6Labs Bahrain is an accelerator supported by Tamkeen to accelerate and launch both local and international start-ups. It offers mentorship, capital, and connections to investors and business partners.
Open Banking came into force in June 2019, furthering Bahrain’s leadership role in the FinTech sector. Bahrain is the first country in the Middle East to adopt Open Banking, replicating the efforts of global finance hubs such as the UK. Bahrain’s system debuted with the adoption by the National Bank of Bahrain (NBB) of the FinTech Tarabut Gateway’s Open Banking infrastructure. Tarabut Gateway is a trailblazer and was the first company to graduate from the CBB’s Regulatory Sandbox.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Bahrain was the first GCC country to issue standards for IoT connectivity and support the use of the frequency band for IoT (NB-IoT) systems within international mobile communications systems. It is also among a select few Middle Eastern countries to contribute to a International Telecommunication Union proposal for new working document to harmonize the use of the IMT spectrum for narrowband IoT applications. The Information & eGovernment Authority (iGA) provided government entities with the frequency bands to contribute to the Kingdom’s Digital Transformation and support its Vision 2030 goals for smart cities, IoT, and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication.
Cellular networks, technologies, and platforms play a vital role in IoT and M2M communications network infrastructure in Bahrain. Accordingly, the Kingdom’s Wireless and Fiber networks were arranged to accommodate the use of 5G, which increases Internet speeds and connectivity.
Several Bahraini government entities and private bodies use IoT technology in their work to support the economic growth of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Bahrain established the National Space Science Agency (NSSA) in 2018. NSSA's focus is on promoting space science technology and applications in Bahrain through community events, building capacity in the fields of satellite manufacturing, satellite tracking, control, and monitoring, earth observation, data and image processing, and analysis.
The first Bahraini satellite is expected to be launched to the International Space Station during the third quarter of 2021. The satellite will be used to help implemented projects related to IoT (monitoring of gas emissions from factories), utilising AI technologies and their applications in the field of remote sensing.
APM Terminals Bahrain, the operator of Khalifa Bin Salman Port, launched the 'Lift' portal, which allows customers to track and trace their goods, check the status of shipments and vessels, and schedule deliveries round the clock. It optimises operations by giving customers real-time visibility into the status of the cargo in a container facility, enabling them to manage all aspects of the terminal process. Moreover, the integrated electronic portal, Marasi was created to facilitate clients’ access to different port services.
In addition, the Ministry of Works uses IoT to automate its irrigation system, which makes the process more efficient, and the Electricity and Water Authority relies on it for distribution automation, in which the collection, analysis, and execution of data are automated.
The Economic Development Board (EDB) and Batelco launched the “Brinc Centre ” – Batelco Internet of Things HUB, which contributes to the Bahrain ecosystem by fostering the growth of IoT and entrepreneurship in the region.
Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) uses the latest ICT solutions at Bahrain International Airport, including cloud-based unified communications, video cloud, IoT, and big data platforms. These new systems not only enhance operational efficiency and security, they also make the airport experience quicker and more comfortable for passengers. The advanced systems are designed to deliver real-time connectivity while meeting the demand for high volumes of data.
Many industry leaders have recorded significant benefits by adopting Blockchain technology in their business operations, including greater transparency, enhanced security, improved traceability, increased efficiency and speed of transactions, and reduced costs.
The Economic Development Board, in cooperation with the iGA, has developed a National Strategy for Blockchain in the Kingdom, which will set the general directions and support the adoption of Blockchain technology within the public and private sectors.
Examples of Blockchain application in the public sector in Bahrain include:
- The Blockchain Vehicle Registration project at the General Directorate of Traffic (GDT) is part of the Government’s drive to achieve the objectives of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030. The project supports Bahrain's plans to employ modern technologies to further develop services and enhance the role of the private sector. The new registration system significantly reduces the cost of maintaining basic vehicle data and enables vehicle registrars to obtain accurate and up-to-date vehicle information with greater efficiency and transparency.
- The University of Bahrain (UOB) has adopted Blockchain technology to become one of the first educational institutions in the region to award certificates to its graduates through this technology. Through Blockchain technology, it is possible to achieve greater security and to verify the academic certificates granted by UOB from anywhere in the world. This ensures the issuance of certified digital certificates that cannot be falsified and can be easily shared with employers and other universities.
- APM Terminals, the operator of Khalifa Bin Salman Port (KBSP), is working on adopting Blockchain technology in coordination with various stakeholders, including customs authorities and customers. The systems at KBSP have been configured, and, once the Customs Authority has configured its part of the chain, Bahrain will be on the Blockchain technology map.
Open Data is the foundation for the government to provide machine-readable data to society as a whole. Individuals, businesses, and government entities can utilize government data to research and develop new solutions and make better decisions.
The Bahrain Open Data Portal provides multi-sectorial government data without any restrictions to be reused, analysed, or shared while respecting all personal data privacy rules under the Personal Data Protection law.
Dealing with big data has enabled Bahrain to implement several projects that require analysis of large amounts of data such as the population census and other administrative records of state institutions, saving effort, time, and expenses.
The Monthly Consumer price index report embodies the process of collecting information from several different sources and then analysing it electronically to give real indicators of inflation rates in the Kingdom.
The Tourism sector in Bahrain depends on online government records to provide accurate and timely information to the public, including in-bound visitor numbers, tourism destinations visited by Bahrainis, and hotels and restaurants occupancy.
Through Bahrain's first satellite, the National Space Science Agency (NSSA) will generate data related to the environment, agriculture, climate, and more. This will enable the Kingdom to better utilise information and develop its big data analysis capabilities.
Suggest a Data Set
The Information & eGovernment Authority produces large amounts of data that can be used to help develop the Kingdom's infrastructure and economy, particularly in terms of health and education. It also ensures that all stakeholders can access large official data sets through the Bahrain Open Data Platform.
The Open Data Platform provides easy access to a wealth of official data from other government agencies. This is accessible in multiple electronic formats, including raw data and graphical representations.
To facilitate the dissemination of data, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) allows the public to propose data to be added to the portal by filling out the relevant form or sending a proposal through Tawasul.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a pioneer in the eGovernment field and was among the first in the GCC to adopt a government-wide digitization program. This reflects Bahrain’s commitment to modernizing its government ICT capabilities and leading by example. By adopting cloud computing services, the government has reduced operational costs, increased security and productivity, and developed excellent public services.
Bahrain’s forward-thinking vision for data and cloud computing lead to the Cloud-First policy, which provides a clear road map and guidance for adopting cloud technology at the public sector level. Under this policy, government and public agencies are obliged to consider the adoption of Cloud Computing solutions as an integral part of their IT plans and processes.
In 2017, the Kingdom engaged Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the official Cloud infrastructure provider for the public sector. Bahrain has crossed several milestones since adopting its Cloud First policy. For example, the iGA has transferred 1,357 IT operations to Amazon’s cloud computing services; completed the transfer of more than 14,000 government emails to the cloud in cooperation with Microsoft; and provided Amazon Cloud Certification to 550 employees of governmental and semi-governmental organizations.
In 2019, AWS opened its Middle East (Bahrain) Region office, which put the Kingdom in a solid position to capitalize on the advantages of cloud computing. The infrastructure enables developers, start-ups, and enterprises, as well as government, educational, and non-profit organizations to run their applications and serve end-users from data centers located in the Middle East, as well as leverage advanced technologies from the world’s leading cloud, to drive innovation.
AWS estimates that 10,000 data solution architects will be needed across the region in the next five years, with over 2,300 young Bahrainis signing up for the AWS Educate program.
University of Bahrain Cloud Innovation Center
The University of Bahrain’s Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) Program provides an opportunity to collaborate with other public sector organizations on their most pressing challenges, test new ideas with Amazon’s innovation process, and access the technology expertise of AWS. Organizations bring their expertise and work through a challenge engagement, uncover new ways to solve complex problems, and publish their lessons learned to further drive public sector innovation.
*Cloud innovation center Video*
eWallet Payment Solutions
In line with its Vision 2030 goal to become a cashless society, the Kingdom of Bahrain offers a wide range of electronic payment solutions that enable transactions to take place quickly, conveniently, and safely.
The major eWallet solutions in Bahrain include b-wallet by Batelco and AFS, stcPay, Benefit Pay , and Max Wallet by Credimax. The Kingdom of Bahrain is in the process of implementing the eWallet solution as one of the official payment methods on the National Portal.
Electronic Know Your Customer (eKYC)
The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) recently announced the launch of eKYC by financial institutions in the Kingdom as part of its initiatives for the digital transformation of the sector. The move follows the announcement of the national digital identity and the electronic Know-Your-Customer (eKYC) platform in 2019.
The national eKYC platform, the first of its kind in the region to target retail banks, financial services providers, and money exchange networks, is operated by Benefit in collaboration with the IGA and under the supervision of the CBB. It provides a national digital identity database for financial institutions to securely verify the identities of their customers, validate their information, and share data digitally before providing products and services.
This includes retrieval of customer data from governmental entities, including iGA. Benefit has also developed an Application Programming Interface (API) for the platform, which allows for seamless integration with financial institutions’ core systems, digital channels, and mobile apps. The introduction of Open Banking in Bahrain also provides an opportunity for fintech companies to verify customers’ identities through their online and mobile applications.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The vision of Bahrain’s leadership to employ modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) has improved government services and contributed to Bahrain’s digital achievements. The Kingdom also offers training and development programs in this field.
Tamkeen, in cooperation with Bahrain Polytechnic and Microsoft Corporation, launched the Artificial Intelligence Academy at Bahrain Polytechnic, which provides a platform for youngsters to boost their innovation and creativity capabilities. This academy is the first of its kind in the Middle East and aims to train and qualify students from various schools and universities across Bahrain as well as their teachers.
His Highness Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, First Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports and President of Bahrain Olympic Committee, launched a tournament for students aimed at encouraging innovation in Artificial Intelligence. The Khalid bin Hamad Innovation and Artificial Intelligence Competition allows students to showcase their ideas and develop their capabilities.
In 2019, Bahrain announced it will pilot new guidelines for the procurement of Artificial Intelligence in the public sector, produced by the World Economic Forum's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Centre worked closely with the Economic Development Board and the iGA to design guidelines that enable governments to use artificial intelligence technologies responsibly and sustainably.
The Chat-bot Project
The Information and eGovernment Authority is working on the chat-bot project, which is expected to be launched soon. This contributes in enhancing customer service levels and raising the capacity of the Government Services Contact Center 8001 8000 that is going to improve answering frequently asked question more efficiently.
- Bahrain launched several initiatives that reflect its willingness to adopt robotics to facilitate customer service delivery. This is particularly evident in the Kingdom’s pioneering Fintech industry.
- In 2019, the Arab Banking Corporation in Bahrain (ABC) unveiled Fatema, the region’s first emotionally intelligent digital employee. Bahrain Islamic Bank (BISB) also launched its first virtual employee, Dana.
- Kuwaiti Financial House (KFH) Bahrain used the first robotic assistant for loan applications. The “Baitak Assistant” handles customer loan applications and autonomously creates credit reports for applicants.
- On the educational level, Bahrain hosted the 8th World Robotics Olympiad (WRO2018). The competition saw students from primary, intermediate, and secondary governmental and private schools showcase their ideas for the innovative design and construction of robotics.
- The Kingdom also organized the 2015 VEX Competition, a national qualifying event for Bahrain, where students from elementary, middle, and high schools competed for a place in the World VEX robotics championship.
- The Ministry of Labour launched a training programme for youngsters to install and program robots. The program is aimed at inspiring young people to become future leaders in the fields of science and technology.
- The Ministry of Finance adopted Robotics Process Automation in its various departments to increase productivity, minimize human error, and reduce costs.
Oil & Gas 4th Industrial Revolution
In line with the 4th industrial revolution, the Oil & Gas 4.0 initiative adopts emerging technologies to transform downstream, midstream, and upstream activities into a connected, information-driven environment through AI and IoT solutions. Smart Oil Economy and Industry 4.0 also look at improving manufacturing in the broader context of society and the environment to make the Kingdom’s Oil & Gas sector more efficient and productive while creating greater value.
The Kingdom’s continued ICT advancements play a major role in enhancing sustainability, economic viability, and citizen well-being. As a result, Bahrain is moving closer to developing smart cities, areas built using advanced digital and engineering technologies to improve the economic and social conditions of residents.
- The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) applied many smart city initiatives, such as smart traffic lights, a vehicle traffic control system that combines traditional traffic lights with an array of sensors and artificial intelligence technologies, to route vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
- The Electricity and Water Authority is encouraging the public to use solar energy and affordable loans are available to instal a full solar energy system.
- The University of Bahrain conducted the 3rd Smart Cities Symposium in 2020 to create awareness about the future prospects of Smart Cities and provide a platform to exchange ideas.
Bahrain remains committed to developing its national talent pool and equipping citizens with the skills and knowledge needed to adopt emerging technologies. This important objective is achieved through development programmes provided by universities and funded by Tamkeen.
The Kingdom also pays close attention to the needs of early-stage businesses and startups within the sector, in particular, improving access to venture capital funding. Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) supports this process through a range of funding programs.
A major development was the establishment of the Al Waha Fund of Funds in 2018 to address the nascent Venture Capital community in the MENA region. The government-led initiative seeks to invest in Venture Capital funds that will invest directly – or that have a strategic interest in – the MENA region.
Education in the service of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is an important part of the process of curriculum development and education outcomes. To ensure fair and comprehensive education and to enhance lifelong learning opportunities for all, the Kingdom of Bahrain is working hard to achieve a sustainable, knowledge-based, and diversified economy. This is in line with the objectives of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030.
Development of study programs in universities and educational institutes
To keep pace with global developments and market needs, the Kingdom of Bahrain introduced a range of pioneering programs at universities and educational institutions, such as the Big Data Operations Program, the Master of Environment and Sustainable Development Program, and the Financial Technology Master Program.