Bahrains Digital Government Journey Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

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The Government of Bahrain has been one of the pioneers in the world to recognize the importance of utilizing the technological developments for the benefits of its constituents- precisely, citizens, residents, and businesses. The leadership of the country has taken several steps to ensure the promotion of digital transformation in the public sector and focus on service-oriented and citizen-centric operating approaches. The rapid pace of the digital transformation requires a paradigm shift in the interaction and communication between citizens, business, and Government.

The government of Bahrain has driven the digital transformation by the guidance and direction of the Supreme Committee for Information & Communication Technology (SCICT), chaired by H.H. Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister, and with membership of key misters who have stake in the public service transformation.

The Kingdom's Digital Government journey is summarized in five phases to date:

Phase 1: Prior to SCICT
Phase 2: eGovernment Strategy 2010
Phase 3: eGovernment Strategy 2010
Phase 4: eGovernment Strategy Refresh 2018
Phase 5: Digital Government Strategy 2022

Phase 1: Prior to SCICT

At this stage, Bahrain had a few eServices and ePayment solutions. Main challenges at this stage: 

  • Limited transparency in government transactions
  • Limited customer satisfaction of government services
  • Limited citizen participation 
  • Limited spread of IT literacy amongst the public

This stage was also characterized by high costs incurred by government entities in Human Resources and establishing and maintaining facilities to provide services and archival of documents. Towards the end of this stage, the Kingdom witnessed fast-paced advancements in the field of ICT. The Government was prompt in recognizing the benefits of technology in order to enhance access and delivery of information as well as services to the public. This led to the establishment of a fully equipped National Data Centre, followed by creating a secured National Data Network and the introduction of Smart Card to citizens and residents of Bahrain. There was a growing realization on the importance of an integrated, well-coordinated eGovernment program across the Kingdom; and thus, the Supreme Committee for Information and Communication Technology (SCICT) was formed chaired by H.H. Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister, as constituted from the Cabinet Affairs decision made in 2005. 

The SCICT aimed to implement the directives of the Cabinet Affairs in line with eGovernment initiatives - devising comprehensive strategies and plans to develop the ICT sector across the Kingdom. Consequently, the eGovernment Authority was established in 2007 to implement the eGovernment program under the SCICT directions and respond to the needs of citizens for a better life through having different channels for public service delivery and day-to-day business activities. 

Phase 2: eGovernment Strategy 2010

This phase was characterized by the conceptualization and implementation of a well-defined eGovernment strategy outlining the broad objectives and KPIs with the support of SCICT members, the eGovernment Authority and with active participation of the civil society members. 

Bahrain’s National eGovernment Strategy 2010 focused on ensuring the delivery of eServices to all customers - citizens, residents, and businesses - effectively and efficiently under the motto "Delivering customer value through a collaborative government." During this period, the government entities revisited their public services to enhance efficiency and effectiveness; involving Business Process Reengineering practices that led to the implementation of 200 electronic services and the introduction of four main service delivery channels: eGovernment National Portal (www.bahrain.bh), Mobile Gateway, National Call Centre (80008001) and the eKiosk machines in addition to the eService Centers. Besides this, numerous strategic projects and initiatives were conceptualized and implemented to achieve the broad objectives which include, but not limited to, the National eGovernment Interconnectivity projects such as the National Enterprise Architecture Framework, Integrated Workflow Management System 'Zajel,' National Gateway Infrastructure, National Authentication Framework, and the eInvestor. 

In addition to this, several re-engineering projects were introduced for electronic procedures and quality and security, such as Government Procedures & Operations Re-engineering Project, eGovernment Portal Infrastructure Project, eKiosk enhancement Project, National Payment Platform Project, Project for Implementing ISO 27001for Information Security, Project for Implementing ISO 27001 for Quality Assurance Standards. Also, a project for Security Level Assessment of eGovernment Services & Websites to minimize vulnerability to security breaches was launched during this period. Further information can be viewed in the 2007-2010 eGovernment Strategy’s Objectives & Achievements Booklet.

Moreover, attention was also given to the Awareness and Marketing programs during the implementation of the strategy. As a result, awareness of the eGovernment services has increased from 25% to over 77% amongst individuals, 96% amongst businesses, and 100% across government sectors. Meanwhile, the usage of eServices shown growth from 7% to 47% amongst individuals, 85% across businesses, and 92% amid government sectors. Such growth was also attributed to the extensive awareness campaigns employing a mix of traditional and digital media, aligned to involve the end-user feedback. The success of the National eGovernment Strategy 2007-2010 was the result of a well thought out strategy, a clear vision mandated by the leadership as well as support by a highly qualified workforce and cooperation of all public entities to achieve the eGovernment objectives.  

Phase 3: eGovernment Strategy 2016

To maintain the momentum, carry forward the achievements, and attain new heights in the field of eGovernment, the Kingdom conceptualized the National eGovernment Strategy 2016 with a motto to 'ADVANCE' eGovernment program. The strategy focuses on the service delivery to citizens and residents of Bahrain; optimally, utilizing the infrastructure that was created and optimized to the next level within the eGovernment arena.  
Building on a strong foundation from the previous period, the strategy embarked the journey towards an ambitious eGovernment vision – ADVANCE; which stands for Achieving next-generation government excellence by delivering high-quality services effectively, valuing efficiency, advocating proactive customer engagement, nurturing entrepreneurship, collaborating with all stakeholders and encouraging innovation. The eGovernment mission encapsulates the new vision: "To realize the Kingdom of Bahrain's eGovernment vision by defining and managing implementation of relevant strategies, setting and monitoring compliance to policies and standards, facilitating transformation of services and advocating incubation of next-generation concepts, all in close collaboration with government entities and effective partnership with the private sector".
The core of the ADVANCE vision is to impact three key identified stakeholder groups within the country - Individuals, Businesses, and the Government. Individuals refer to citizens, residents, and visitors; Businesses refer to small, medium, and large enterprises along with their employees; and the Government refers to government entities and their employees. The 2016 strategy comprised of several eGovernment initiatives which include, but not limited to:

  • Setting necessary legislation and regulations to maintain a secure electronic environment
  • Developing advanced infrastructure and technology capabilities in all government entities
  • Strengthening the procedures of service provision through one-stop-shops
  • Launching new communication channels such as social media networks to communicate with citizens
  • Creating open data platforms to promote innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Developing a number of new applications and services

Some of the key achievements during this period include:

  • Implementation of Tawasul- the National Suggestions and Complaints System
  • Enhancement of national electronic service delivery channels especially the eGovernment National portal (Bahrain.bh) and the eGovernment App Store
  • Development of various mobile apps based on open data platform

Another major highlight during this period was the active electronic participation of government entities with their constituents. More than 80% of the government entities have started interacting with their constituents through social media. The Government also supported international and regional interactions between public and private enterprises and educational institutions in propagating the best practices in the field of electronic Government by facilitating study tours, workshops, and eGovernment forums. Besides this, Government entities were encouraged to produce 25 open data sets annually in the National Open Data portal.  This was followed by providing the financial assistance of BHD 20,000 for each of the six identified projects that resulted from the effective utilization of open data sets in the open data portal. During this time period, special efforts were put forth to improve the digital awareness of the citizens, and 5000+ citizens were trained in the field of ICT which made them capable of using the electronic services offered by the Government.

However, due to the macro-economic environment factors that prevailed during the period, the Government had to refresh and align the eGovernment strategic direction in accordance with the Government Action Plan 2015-2018.

Phase 4: eGovernment Strategy Refresh 2018

This phase is characterized by the dedicated focus of the eGovernment program for accomplishing the Government Action Plan 2015-2018. The previously named eGovernment Authority (eGA) and Central Informatics Organization (CIO) were merged to form the now Information & eGovernment Authority (iGA) and facilitated the execution of the National eGovernment Strategy Refresh 2018. The strategy refresh had the following objectives:

  • Nurture active participation and engagement among country constituents
  • Provide high-quality, personalized services to deliver seamless user experience, with a focus on mobility
  • Cultivate service innovation by better leveraging government data 
  • Ensure security and privacy of citizens’ information
  • Focus on G2C (individual-centric) services and enabling foundational elements

Support national priorities and facilitate decision making for government leadership
The implementation of the strategy helped to raise eGovernment awareness among all citizens, optimize the ICT investments in the public sector, establish advanced ICT infrastructure (especially cloud) to provide an economic environment that attracted more foreign investments and strengthened the communications channels between private and public sector.
As the focus was on cost optimization, the electronic government initiatives were able to save about 30% of the government cost by the end of 2017.  Cloud computing technology was introduced at a national level ably supported by the Government cloud-first policy and Government sponsored training on cloud technologies to the professionals. The sustained focus on eGovernment saw an incredible 43% growth year-on-year on electronic payment services. The national cybersecurity strategy was developed and implemented, backed by the training of 3500 employees on cybersecurity. By the end of this period, 95% of the government entities were interacting with their constituents through social media.

Phase 5: Digital Government Strategy 2022

Despite the impressive progress achieved in the digital transformation programs in the public sector, especially in transforming individual services, it was identified that there is still a huge potential to increase the public sector digitalization as well as promote digital innovation that positively shape the future lifestyle, business practices and governance in Bahrain. The Digital Government Strategy 2022 highlights the Government's commitment to proactively transform its services utilizing digital technologies and thereby reinforce the advancements made in enabling the Digital environment, Digital readiness, and Digital usage in Bahrain.
Through the Digital Government Strategy 2022, the Government of Bahrain, as stipulated in its Government Action Plan, is in pursuit of advancing the utilization of both emerging and mature technologies to enable a more open, responsive and efficient government. The Government aspires to develop services that are designed around the needs and experience of citizens and deliver them in real time on the device they choose to use. An effective monitoring mechanism supervised by the Supreme Council for Information & Communication Technology (SCICT) has been constituted and supported by the National ICT Governance Committee which monitors the coordination and implementation of strategic digital initiatives across the Kingdom. Various strategic initiatives are envisaged to lead the citizen-centric digital transformation based on the following specific focus areas:
Government entities; where possible, shall: 

  1. Develop an approach that makes provision of digital services for everyone (leave no one behind) with specific emphasis on strategies in order to tailor the service offerings to the specific needs of citizens. 
  2. Channelize the efforts to attract more constituents to interact with Government via the digital channel of their choice. For those who cannot access online services, utilizing Assisted Digital approach is available to support the access of digital services independently.
  3. Design the new public services on a 'digital first principle' and concentrate on digitizing the entire chain of activities where they provide the most benefit to the constituents.
  4. Consider rebuilding identified public services with digital delivery at the foundation.
  5. Enable citizens and businesses to supply diverse data only once to a Government entity.
  6. Utilize advanced technologies to make more accurate predictions and smarter decisions through the analysis of the vast amount of data.
  7. Consolidate government data and make them available to the public to enable greater transparency and civic engagement.

Based on the above, the Government has identified ambitious plans for extensively utilizing digital technologies to strengthen its services, processes, decision making as well as in sharing data to its constituents. In addition, specific emphasis is also made to strengthen the individual, organizational capabilities of Government entities by aligning their digital strategies to the national digital government strategy, strengthening the governance mechanisms, enabling a digital workforce, adopting agile development, and analyzing platforms while deploying robust cybersecurity measures and controls.
Some of the key initiatives accomplished to strengthen the citizen-centric digital transformation are:

  1. Develop an approach that makes provision of digital services for everyone (leave no one behind) with specific emphasis on strategies for tailoring the service offering to the particular needs of citizens: The Government of Bahrain continues to pursue the advancement in its Digital Government journey by ensuring the involvement, support, and contribution of constituents. Government entities are to ensure the digital inclusion of leaving no one behind as well as to propagate the digital Government as a right that defines their initiatives considering various factors which includes but are not limited to access, affordability, age, bandwidth, content, disability, education, gender, migration, location, mobile, speed and last but not the least the usage of services. Few initiatives towards this direction are listed below:
  • Free access to the internet: Access to free Wi-Fi in public places such as malls, traditional markets, and Government service centers to ensure that the constituents have access to the internet while being mobile. Joint efforts with private sector telecom operators have also ensured free access to the most commonly accessed electronic government services.
  • Enhance Network Infrastructure: Preparations for the rollout of 5G networks in the Kingdom of Bahrain are complete and anticipates that Bahrain will be one of the first countries globally to provide commercial 5G services to consumers by June 2019, pending availability of consumer handsets.
  • Improve Digital Literacy in the society: Currently, in order to ensure inclusion and facilitate an Assisted Digital approach, digital training are provided to citizens through government entities (via service centers), in order to access electronic services, and through partnerships with the private sector. As an Example, paying training providers a fixed fee per person trained, and/or subsidizing training facilities with ICT equipment in exchange for training a certain number of citizens. Moreover, efforts to improve the digital literacy coupled with the strong network infrastructure and free access to Wi-Fi has enabled migrant workers to communicate with their families through video calls and remit their savings instantly to their home countries.
  •  Advance Digital Education: Bahrain has an advanced educational system that mandates the ICT related courses in all its public schools starting from the first grade. Hence, ICT related educational programs are integrated into the curriculum of classrooms at a primary, intermediary, and secondary education levels. Besides this, the edunet portal (www.edunet.bh) facilitates the continuous engagement of tutors, students, and parents online. 
  • Universities in Bahrain have also developed intensive ICT curricula and classroom training to provide students with ICT knowledge and skills in order to meet the needs of the market and offers specialized world-class ICT programs for students wanting to specialize in ICT-related domains. In addition to this, universities also establish ICT-related internship programs, through partnerships between universities and local or international employers, to allow university students to gain real-world experience in ICT-related jobs. Moreover, vocational institutes like Bahrain Polytechnic conducts specialized ICT vocational training programs that provide a link between formal education and the working world. Also, eGovernment is being taught to public administration trainees as a part of the National Leadership Program at Bahrain Institute of Public Administration as well as a separate subject in the Ministry of Education Curriculum.  
  • Involving the people with special needs: While the Government understands and appreciates the growing appetite for online services among most of its constituents, it has also laid out specific plans to ensure that there is no one left out to access the digital services due to any disabilities. The national portal (www.bahrain.bh) has 'ReadSpeaker' tool to facilitate the access and usage of eservices for people with special needs. Besides this, the National Contact Center also has a special video call service with Sign language- to facilitate the interaction of people with special needs with Government for any of its services.

2. Channelize the efforts to attract more constituents to interact with the Government via the digital channel of their choice. For those who cannot access online services, utilize the Assisted Digital approach to support digital services access independently: Bahrain's Government, through its eGovernment program, has been successful in ensuring awareness on eGovernment services among its constituents.  This is because of a well laid out, clear and targeted communication strategy implemented since 2007 attributing to the extensive awareness campaigns employing a mix of traditional and non-conventional media, aligned to involve the end-user feedback. Moreover, each Government entity has to engage with its constituents and identify who will and who cannot use its digital services, the factors that lead to the limitation in the uptake of digital services and appropriately devise actions to mitigate the challenges in increasing the usage of its digital services. Some initiatives towards this direction are listed below:

  • Awareness of eGovernment services takes a different form according to the nature and audience of the Marketing campaign. Different mediums and methodologies are used to ensure that users are well aware of the services the eGovernment has to offer. Depending on the marketing strategy, some of the tactics used are Digital Marketing (including social media posts, paid social media advertisement, paid online ads placed on local news agencies and international websites), targeted email marketing, targeted SMS marketing, booklets, flyers, roadshows, and more.
  • Raise awareness and increase the relevance of Government eServices to stimulate its usage. The initiative comprises analyzing the usage of existing 300+ electronic services and determine the top 25 electronic services that require an increase in service utilization and usage. More information about the eGovernment channel and services visits and usage can be found in Channel Statistics.  

3. Design the new public services on a 'digital first principle' and concentrate on digitizing the entire chain of activities where they provide the most benefit to the constituents: The Government appreciates the fact that the above-mentioned focus areas shall further push its agenda to design the public services on a 'digital first principle.' Few initiatives towards this direction are listed below:

- Sijilat (Commercial Registration Portal)

The Sijilat system (www.sijilat.bh) has transformed the nature of doing business in Bahrain. This portal enables the business community to assist them in applying, changing, and renewing Commercial Registration electronically. The portal also allows for businesses to inquire about the steps and concerned entities to approach without physically visiting them, therefore, saving their time and energy. The physical service centers are only provided to guide and coach the business fraternity who need assistance to use the Sijilat. 

- National Taxation System:

  • Spearheading the race of digital incarnation, the Information & eGovernment Authority together with the key constituent ministries – NBR (National Bureau of Revenue) and Bahrain Customs Affairs (CA) have adopted the AWS cloud to design, build and operate the national taxation system for Bahrain. This is the first of its kind in the region, and it has set the trend for others to follow.
  • This system provides a full range of services related to the taxation system including mainstream services like – VAT payer registration, filing, payments, refunds, audit/risk assessment plus ancillary services likes VAT lookup, newsletters, public awareness campaigns, etc.,
  • The system is currently up and running with two main components - the gateway portal to the public, and the backend TRM system of SAP. Due to the inherent benefits of AWS cloud like on-demand computing, elasticity, high availability/fault tolerance, time to market, etc., the whole system was up and running in record time.

- National Social Health Insurance Program (Sehati)
The National Health Plan (2016-2025), which was endorsed by Cabinet, came to pave the way forward for the health industry in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Plan provides the building blocks for the provision of high-quality health services, healthcare sustainability, and securing the necessary workforce and infrastructure, to achieve the set goals of the Economic Vision 2030. 
One of the main objectives of the National Health Plan is the adoption of the Social Health Insurance Program (SEHATI), to develop the quality of the current health system and ensure sustainability. Sehati aims to build a patient-centered system with high-quality standards covering both locals and expatriates. It is also intended to revolutionize the local health sector through better utilization of the available resources while overcoming pressing challenges, which are mainly due to the rapid increase in population. 

- Financial support services system

The financial support services system assists the Ministry of Social Development to enhance the provided social services and improve the beneficiaries experience in requesting the services. The requested Social Information System seamlessly integrates with other eGovernment systems so that services are fulfilled, analyzed, and tracked. 

- Implementation of recommended changes on the selected electronic services to increase the utilization of the services including conducting marketing campaigns whenever required, suggesting policy changes, and conducting any mandatory development efforts to improve the user experience in order to achieve the main objective of the program.

4. Consider rebuilding identified public services with digital delivery at the foundation signifying that the primary method for accessing these services shall be through digital channels: a.    Closely associated with the 'digital first principle,' the Government has identified core public services to be revisited to ensure digital delivery at the foundation. Some of the identified initiatives include but are not limited to i.    Enhance service offerings excellence through service centers. Government service centers are being evaluated and rewarded based on their ability to deliver digital services. The centers are motivated to achieve higher grades based on the availability of digital infrastructure and solutions that enable the customers to access the Government online services even if they do not possess a device at home and/or unable to access the internet due to lack of skills or internet breakdown. Government service centers are also encouraged to ensure that the customer spends less time in the center and are recognized for enabling the provision of end-to-end digital service to customers during their first visit without the need to carry any records, which were already provided to any of the government entities.

5. Enable citizens and businesses to supply diverse data only once to a Government entity. The Government of Bahrain, in line with its Government Action Plan 2019-2022, is promoting the use of digital technologies to enhance the Government's service delivery as well as its internal operations. Bahrain's Government is actively considering the use of nation-wide digital identity schemes that can enable the development of new products and services, as well as reducing operational costs. As the Kingdom aspires to consolidate and advance its government and economy enabling digital empowerment, it is pertinent to focus on the implementation of an advanced nation-wide digital identity and access management initiatives with a greater reliance on people, process, technology and governance perspectives.  Few of the identified initiatives, not exclusive, are mentioned below:

National Enterprise Architecture Framework (NEAF)
NEAF is an aggregation of models and meta-models, governance and compliance mechanisms, technology standards and guidelines put together to guide effective development and implementation of Enterprise Architecture (EA) by numerous government entities across the country.

Sijilat (Commercial Portal)
Sijilat is a virtual one-stop solution available through multiple channels offering an integrated 'Whole of Government' service where users - citizens, investors, CR applicants, and holders, as well as professional bodies - can use a single streamlined form to apply, update, renew and terminate multiple licenses concurrently. Sijilat represents a major transformational mindset change and delivers innovative, pro-enterprise, and customer-centric licensing solutions, through an extensive collaboration rather than working solo. Sijilat is a 'Whole of Government' effort in innovation and mindset change to foster a pro-enterprise environment and improve customer service for the country's businesses.

National Gateway Infrastructure
National Gateway Infrastructure creates a unified electronic platform that facilitates electronic integration of government systems according to consistent standards and policies to improve eServices delivery so that each government entity can utilize any service offered by another entity.

Enhanced National Digital Identity  
An enhanced national digital identity system for Bahraini citizens, residents, and businesses to transact digitally with the Government and private sector in a convenient and secure manner.

6. Utilize advanced technologies to make more accurate predictions and more intelligent decisions through the analysis of a vast amount of data. The Government of Bahrain is currently pioneering the use of business intelligence and technology to serve citizens better. In pursuit of boosting the economy, the Government of Bahrain signed an agreement with one of the global leaders in cloud computing 'Amazon Web Services' to establish data centers that will advance the Kingdom to become the home of 'Big Data' in the region. Few of the initiatives include:

  • Utilization of Big Data in the Census project, which incorporates the Geographic Information Systems Data as well as Land Use Data that collects preliminary census data. 
  • Utilizing Big Data within current statistics projects like Tourism and the Consumer Price Index initiatives. 

7. Consolidate government data and make them available to the public to enable greater transparency and civic engagement. 
The Government recognizes the importance of data that is usable and accessible to all the constituents. The open data enables significant insights and leads to informed decisions. Government of Bahrain shall continue to unlock the full potential of the data respecting privacy requirements, and utilizing the data to drive citizen legislation, policies, and processes. Few identified initiatives include Open data. The Kingdom's open government data portal aims to promote transparency and assist investors as well as the business community in creating new innovative services and business models.  

 


Page Last Updated: 01 Aug, 2019