13 November 2008

Free time travel to eternal Rome - 3000yrs

Ancient Rome has been reconstructed in his historical period to be viewable in Google Earth. Google's blog says the model contains more than 6,700 buildings and it is truly worth your virtual visit. Interesting information about each landmark can be read from small panels that pop-out in more than 250 place marks linking to key sites.

Before my visit to Rome, I had scoured the net for several days to compile my itinerary and prepared a 3days crash guide. At this point I had used Google Earth and Google Map for locating placed in the proximity and calculate distances so that I can estimate how long it would take to travel to the spot if it can be done by a brisk walk (which is finally how I covered more than I had planned).

My experience in the Time Elevator Ride (3D and Simulator ride costing about ) in a theatre near Trevi Fountain was simply awesome as it took us almost 3000yrs back. This 45 minutes show runs with a commentary available in six languages (English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Russian. But pre-booking is strongly recommended.

My experience in using technology for travel plan, expanded in to a series of articles published in my column. Let me try to locate it and post it here later. I am going to Rome again through virtual time travel. Download your Google Earth (if not done before) at http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html

12 November 2008

IT related events in Oman - ITA/UNDESA Workshop on eGovernment

I plan to keep track of IT related events in Oman:

Here is what is coming up next week. A workhsop on eGovernment by ITA and UNDESA.

Issues to be considered: Internal and External Communications, Website Management and Knowledge Management

Only Invited Guests: Excellencies, Under Secretaries, ICT Director Generals and IT Directors from the public sector

Will keep you all informed on the outcome after the event.

11 November 2008

His Majesty’s speech - 11 Nov 2008

Full text of His Majesty’s speech before the convening of the annual session of the Council of Oman.

Praise be to God for His great and abundant blessings and peace be upon the seal of His Messengers and Prophets, and upon His family, companions and followers.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

It is a blessing of God that deserves our many thanks and appreciation that we meet a new year after a year in this blessed Council, through which we look forward — with full confidence and hope — to realise more achievements for a stable and secure Oman, with God’s assistance and guidance.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

Giving attention to human resources, including the provision of the various tools required to enhance their performance, incentives to develop their capabilities, diversifying their creative talents and to improving their scientific and practical qualifications, is the basis of real development and the cornerstone in its structure which is based on solid foundations. The human element is the maker of a renaissance and the builder of a civilisation.

Therefore, we are sparing no effort and will continue to spare no effort in order to provide our human resources with all the help they will need to develop, hone and train. We will also provide educational opportunities for them in order that they may acquire useful knowledge, the required experience and the necessary technical skills that will be needed in the labour market as required by the sustainable development programmes in the various fields.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

We have always emphasised the importance of learning and knowledge and we have always been open to the adoption of new developments in this field.

Information technology and communications have now become the main elements that move forward the development process in this third millennium; therefore, we have accorded our attention to finding a national strategy to develop the skills and abilities of citizens in this domain with the aim of further developing e-government services. We are closely following the important steps that we have made in this regard. We call upon all government institutions to speedily enhance their performance, and to facilitate their services, by applying digital technology in order to usher the Sultanate into the constantly evolving spheres for applying knowledge.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

The necessary pillars for any sustainable development are good government performance in different sectors, serving the country and citizens with honesty and dedication and putting public interest over all other considerations.

While we commend the government’s performance during the past period, we at the same time wish to stress the need for a constant revision of the State’s administrative system. This will ensure that the best and most successful means that lead to the simplification and facilitation of procedures are followed, thus expediting the decision-making process in the interests of citizens and residents who are contributing to the service of Oman and assisting in its building.

Here, it is worth noting that the government’s performance in laying down the groundwork for sustainable development relies on those carrying out their duties, as well as on their supervisors. This places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of employees who are entrusted with the work in the different government sectors. If their work is carried out in an honest manner and with a spirit of responsibility, away from personal interests, then they would be happy and so would their country. But if they stray from the right path and consider the job as a means to achieving personal gains, influence and power and they linger in carrying out their duties in complete honesty and dedication, they should be held accountable and legal procedures should be taken against them in accordance with the principles of justice upon which we have laid down the pillars of rule.

In accordance with these pillars, we are required not to allow anyone to be above law and order, or to let anyone unlawfully affect the interests of our people as guaranteed by the State as well as the interests of the community which is protected by legislation and supported by our laws and regulations.

Therefore, we emphasise that the issue of enforcement of justice is imperative and inevitable, and that our monitoring apparatus is alert and dedicated to carrying out their duties and responsibilities in order to safeguard the country’s achievements.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

We have followed with concern the economic situation currently being witnessed by the world and the turmoil prevailing in the international arena due to these circumstances. We would like to point out that the policies adopted by our government over recent years have contributed — praise be to God — to averting the effects of this situation affecting our economy.

In this regard we confirm the continuation of the development and building policies in accordance with the endorse plans. We also affirm the need to diversify sources of income and the need to exert more efforts in this respect. It is also necessary to look into ways of benefiting from alternative energy resources and to seek ways of achieving food security as much as possible. In this regard we have given our orders to the authorities concerned to set up appropriate plans.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman, Dear Citizens,

We currently live in a world of overlapping policies and interests but our international co-operation is in line with the Sultanate’s higher interests and in line with our contribution to the establishment of world security and prosperity. Thanks to these policies our country has acquired the respect and appreciation of the international community.

Co-operation and exchange of benefits and interests among nations in an atmosphere of harmony and peace is a vital issue that we should all relentlessly pursue with diligence and dedication for the sake of the welfare of humanity, its security and prosperity. We in the Sultanate constantly put this issue before our eyes.

We have joined various international and regional groupings with a view to positively contributing to alll efforts that bring about welfare for all of humanity in an effective manner. On this occasion, we take the opportunity of the convening of the 29th Summit of Their Majesties and Highnesses, leaders of the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council, scheduled to be held in Muscat soon, to welcome our brothers to their second homeland as honourable guests and pray to the Almighty to make this brotherly gathering a success, and to grant the GCC further well-being and progress.

With the name and praise of God we began, and with the same we conclude, may God ordain guidance and wisdom for us in all our deeds and may God fulfil our hopes. You are the hearer and the one who responds to our prayers.

May God grant you success and may God’s peace and blessings be upon you.

The annual session of the council of Oman was attended by Royal family members, chairmen of Majlis Addawla and Majlis Ash’shura, ministers, advisers, commanders of armed forces, Royal Oman Police, senior military and civil officers, honourable members of Majlis Addawla and Majlis Ash’shura, heads of the diplomatic missions in the Sultanate, shaikhs and dignitaries, editors-in-chief of Oman News Agency (ONA), local newspapers, as well as editors-in-chief and representatives of Arab and foreign media.

The Council of Oman was established as per the Royal Decree No 86/97 issued on December 16, 1997. It comprises Majlis Addawla and Majlis Ash’shura, which the basic law of the state defines the prerogatives of each of them, their terms, systems of work, the number of their members, the requirements that should be met by them, method of selecting or appointing them, requirements of their dismissal and other regulatory terms.

BLOG Primer & Blog from Oman

This topic is on Blogs along with a focus on blogs authored by people in Oman.

To begin with, a Blog is a simple Web Log: a journal of commentary which may optionally include pictures, links and videos. For example a traveller might blog his experiences with his pictures and a company can blog its product news in a hope to receive useful feedback from the public. It is a form of free speech online and not complex for a newbie. Although there are about 9 million blogs online, only a portion of them are active and worth reading.


Blogs are easy to begin with cost nothing but your Internet connectivity and personal time. Create a unique username, secure with your password, name your blog, choose your layout, write your first post and there goes your blog live. But the key challenge is in regularly posting content and attracting visitors and engaging them in conversations. Most active blog readers also have their own blogs and network links. Blogger communities get together in real life through Blogger meet carnivals.

Blogs can be started by registering with blog-service providers at http://www.wordpress.com/, http://www.blogger.com/ , http://www.blogspot.com/, http://www.livejournal.com/ or even host one with the normal web-host domains. There are many widgets (software components) readymade that can be simply plugged into your blog to bring in more dynamic features.

Content and comments

Every piece of writing on a blog is called a post and the latest one shows in the main page. Bloggers tag their posts with keywords and now posts can be categorised based on these tags and also by date of post. Most often the layout is simple with a double frame: main one for the posts and right side panel for archives, links, flickr, youtube and other widgets. Just like websites blogs can send RSS feed links to its subscribers every time a new post is made. Interesting part of the posts is the comments other readers post in response. They can range from simple agreement to totally intolerant flaming wars.

Blog Culture

Blogs give a forum for people who like to complain about issues in anonymity. There are experts who are authorities in their domain of knowledge or passion or even experiences and posts in such blogs are authentic and original. Over time these bloggers gain authority over a subject area. Each blogger links to other blogs that he commonly reads / responds. All ethics and net-etiquettes apply to blogs as well but freedom of speech does cross the thin line sometimes.

Fame with blogs

Blogs are basically a platform for citizen journalists and some of them have made their way to popularity through their posts. Notorious bloggers can get convicted for sensitive posts while authentic critics can even be welcomed to participate in corporate design and testing process. Influential bloggers are able generate revenue from advertisements and product reviews.

Types of blogs

Blogs tend to be more of personal reflections of people and so personal blogs are the most common. Apart from this there are certain thematic blogs such as travel, consumerism, health, music, celebrity news, beauty care, sports, automobiles, lifestyle, technology, quizzing, art, photography, cuisine, etc. Businesses can use blogs for marketing purposes and they are called corporate blogs.

Popularity Ranking

Technorati which began in Dec 2007 is blog search engine which are indexes and ranks blogs based on their popularity and it indexes over 1.5 million new blog posts in real time. Bloggers pride their ranking in technorati and enrich the web with their personal reflections. A single number called ‘Authority’ is given to a blog and higher the authority the higher will your blog’s rating. Authority is based on the number of unique blogs indexed by Technorati that have linked to yours in the past 180 days.


Blog posts with sensitive content have caught the attention of legal authorities. There have been instances of blog being asked to be brought down due to political influence. Most convictions of bloggers are because of anti-government and anti-religious content. Sometimes defamation of famous people has been framed under libel cases and legal action has been taken against the blogs.

Blogs in Oman

In Oman both local and expatriates have blogs and this number could be anywhere between 50 and 75 and about 15% of the Fortune-500 companies in US have corporate blogs (quoting Kishore Cariappa an avid blogger). With over 1.4 billion people currently online, there are about 40,000 new blogs are created every day but only 0.1% of them are engaging (Quoting Sachin Toprani an eCommerce expert).

About 20 blogs in Oman are very active and their topics range from local news, current affairs, cuisine, travel, poetry, NRI experiences, technology, stories, thoughts and musings. Blogs in English from Oman are more active while in Forums the Arabic ones are more active. Most of these blogs have begun in 2004-05 and many of these are run by students.

Identity versus Opinions

Oman bloggers operate mostly under nicknames but however some of their identities in the real world are well known within the community. Posts normally bring out opinions of bloggers on news and current affairs while few bloggers would share their gossip stories anonymously. There is a lot of self-moderation in blogs of Oman due to the nature of general control over media content.

Blogs success

Blogs are increasingly popular because of their openness and authoritative content. As agreed by most bloggers, authentic and original content in a well presented format makes a blog successful. Just like normal media sensational news and gossip make posts famous and readers feel blogs are more personal and candid than other media. But over time a blogger gains reputation based on the genuinity of his posts about and his opinions. Just like websites, blog need to be marketed specifically through media and deep linking and networking with the blogging community.

Corporate blogs

As revealed in a recent seminar on blogs corporate blogs is very nascent in Oman. The oldest one must be the one run by PEIE - http://peie.blogspot.com/ (started in 2005) while the ones we knew about from the seminar are the ones by Khimji Ramdas group at http://khimjiblog.com/, http://bigbusinessidea.blogspot.com/ and the most recent (http://intilaaqah.blogspot.com/) which is perhaps the only Arabic corporate blog in Oman . The PEIE blog is actively marketing its services, members, events and for example the next Smart Manufacturing Conference section has reading matter about various seminar topics including books and recommended industry blogs.

Recommended blogs

Here are a few blogs to visit this week. Read a proposed bloggers code of conduct at http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/04/draft-bloggers-1.html.

Master the ‘Ten Tips for writing a blog post’ at http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/12/30/tens-tips-for-writing-a-blog-post/.

To learn to promote your blog go to http://www.dailyblogtips.com/10-important-facts-of-blog-promotion/.

Read the Wordpress plugins directory at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ to better your blog.

To know the ‘What and Why of Blogging’, visit http://www.technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/the-what-and-why-of-blogging/.

Notable Blogs from Oman - (In completely random order)


Enabling and Empowering - Oman Vistas 2008

The Sultanate of Oman has made giant strides to transform the nation by diversifying its economy, harnessing Information and Communication Technologies. A plethora of ambitious projects are in progress enabling the public and private sectors and empowering its people to meet the challenges of the global economy. Under a comprehensive vision of e-Oman, the nation’s ambitious march towards a prospective future has reached key milestones. E-Oman encompasses all stakeholders to make a collaborative effort to improve efficiency and enable easy access to information and services to all members of the society.

Impressive rankings

Oman’s relatively young ICT sector is making leaping strides as revealed by the Sultanate’s e-readiness ranking having jumped up by 28 points to the 84th position in 2008 from 112th position in 2005 according to the latest UN e-Government readiness report. The rise is a reflection of the pace of progress through initiatives to build ICT infrastructure, offer electronic services and building capacity within the country harnessing the power of technology.
The e-readiness index comprises of three indices, namely, Web Measure Index, Infrastructure Index and Human Capital Index. In the e-participation index which measures that tools for dissemination of information exist for timely access and use of public information, Oman ranks notably higher in the 60th position among 192 countries.
Further, this considerable leap in ranking signifies the acceleration of e-governance related activities spurred by the public and the private sectors of the Sultanate. The move to automate the business processes and re-engineer current processes in order to deliver services through modern means that can be reached easily by the public is at a fast pace.

Strategic drive

In line with the nation’s Economic Vision 2020, subsequent to a thorough readiness assessment, a comprehensive Digital Oman strategy was formulated. Oman’s National IT Strategy was launched in May 2003, and subsequently an ICT industrial cluster called “Knowledge Oasis Muscat” (KOM) was started in September 2003 as a public-private partnership model.
The strategy highlighted infrastructure provision, ICT-sector strengthening, employment creation, e-services delivery alongside enhancement of people readiness. One of the key factors of success was identified as the acceptance and adoption of e-services by the society at large. Hence clear focus was to be given on increased awareness and empowerment of the public with required IT skills.

Administrative lead

Since its establishment in 2006, the Information Technology Authority (ITA) is spearheading the implementation of Oman’s Digital strategy under the directive of the Royal Decree 52/2006. Acting as an independent public authority under the chairmanship of H.E. Mohammed Nasser Al Khasibi, Secretary General of the Ministry of National Economy, the governing board of ITA makes vital decisions that steer the projects towards e-Oman.Pioneering the implementation of e-Oman is the mission of Information Technology Authority (ITA). E-Oman comprises of a wide range of initiatives and services that are designed and created to improve the efficiency of government services, enhances the activities of businesses and empowers individuals with skills and knowledge to meet society’s needs and expectations and to direct Oman towards becoming a knowledge-based economy.

Connect and communicate

Infrastructure being the fundamental framework, the telecommunication sector has introduced comprehensive connectivity and novel services that have transformed the way people connect and communicate. Having the tasted the power of the web, consumers now have a higher level of appetite to connect faster, be connected even on the go, and would like to both offer and use electronic services. The adoption of online system status queries, SMS-based services, corporate web presence and e-mail business communication is on the rise, challenging the existing infrastructure.

While broadband services and wireless Internet offerings have improved the Internet connectivity, the education sector is adopting VSAT connectivity to network remote public schools which currently have either wired or wireless computer labs. Bandwidth and continuous availability are now posing significant challenges to telecom companies. As more and more public connect to the digital meshwork, as the third mobile service provider and second Internet service provider enter Oman market, the connectivity charges are likely to come down escalating service levels, capacity and coverage.

Initiatives of e-Government get a significant boost with the presence of Government network and the forthcoming Ubar portal and national data centre. Government websites that currently offer informative and enquiry services will rise to the next level of transactional models once the Internet-based payment is operational this year.

Mobile power

According to the ITU reports*, the number of mobile cellular subscribers surpassed the 3 billion mark in August 2007. At current growth rates, global mobile penetration is expected to reach 50 per cent by early 2008. Although access to the Internet has been growing rapidly, the number of Internet users in developing regions remains limited. By the end of 2006, just over 10 per cent of the world’s population in developing countries were using the Internet, compared to 60 percent in the developed world.

Based on TRA statistics, at the end of 2007, there are about 261,207 fixed line subscribers and 2500,000 mobile subscribers and 70,308 Internet subscribers in Oman. In comparison mobile subscriptions is 9.3 times that of fixed line subscriptions. The mobile telecom market of Oman has been growing at an annual rate of 40 per cent. Combining the power of the growth in mobile penetration can be leveraged for increasing Internet penetration by the possibility of using wireless broadband services.

New ways of m-commerce, m-learning and m-Government have to be explored rather than waiting for higher Internet penetration to deploy e-service models. OmanMobile’s ‘Pay as you Use’ wireless Internet services and Wireless 3G+ Internet services from Nawras, which began in November 2007, have immense potential for more clients who await a reduction in cost per Kb/Gb of download.

Ubiquitous technology

Technology has permeated all economic sector of the country, and it is now a key enabler for progress. The oil and gas sector can be called ‘the cradle of technology-enabled systems’ having worked with mainframe-based for its information systems since the late 70s. The finance sector of the country has always adopted technology rapidly to ensure integrity, transparency and control over all internal and external business processes. With patient care and comfort as key focus, the health sector stands integrated with the centralized – Al Shifa Medical Record management system enabling MIS-based decision-making process. Retention of electronic medical history is the norm for most pubic and private health centres.

The education sector is actively embracing technology in its revised curriculum, higher enrolment and retention rates. With the launch of the education portal, the academic community is closely networked with the administrative, student and the parent communities. This connectivity is sure to bring about a healthy exchange of knowledge as well as parental involvement into the future champions of the digital nation.

With key ICT projects in progress and several others in the anvil, the ICT sector is one of the most vibrant sectors spurring industrial and economic activity within the country. Mobile commerce and e-governance will soon become a reality with the launch of the Oman gateway portal and national payment gateway.

Opportunities for technology education which began with the Sultan Qaboos University and the Higher Colleges of technology have now grown beyond these campuses with the advent of new universities, private colleges and approved training institutes. Over 7000* students study certificate, diploma and baccalaureate programs in Computing, IT and related disciples, offered from over 21 institutions of Oman showing an annual growth rate of 70.6 per cent. It is necessary to provide further educational and research opportunities to this growing ICT-skilled sector through master and doctoral programs.

People readiness

ITA is focusing on building capacity within the nation through a range of digital literacy measures. Public-sector trainings enable government employees to engineer public service delivery processes and implement integrated technology systems. From basic digital literacy to specialized training in vendor-based technical certifications to niche trainings in IT contract management and security, risk management has been launched, and the number of graduates is growing significantly.

Community has reflected a growing appetite for creating e-Oman by embracing a digital lifestyle. Use of mobile phones to pay utility bills and enact banking enquiries is common among the public. The affordable members of the society use computing devices ranging mobile phones, PDAs, PCs and portable laptops. Corporate community uses blackberries and palmtops to connect to the Internet and communicate using e-mails. With a set of community-based centre established and collective initiatives for women and unemployed youth roll out, the digital literacy will rise significantly bridging the digital divide.

Oman’s IT-hub KOM now houses over 60 companies including multinationals such as Microsoft, Oracle, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei Technologies, Omantel-Siemens and NCR Corporation along with two IT colleges, namely, Waljat Colleges of Applied Science and Middle East College of Information Technology. The apex IT body of Oman ITA also is located here to work closely with the ICT cluster and drive knowledge-driven activities. The combined power of ITA, KOM and the technology colleges will escalate IT literacy rates by create centres of technical excellence to nurture the local ICT industry.

Awareness events and competitions

Oman is working towards convergence and the narrowing of the Digital Divide by undertaking to spread the benefits of its e-government projects and initiatives based on the principles of e-inclusion. In order to improve the awareness of the potentials of technology and benefits of offering products and services electronically, several seminars, road shows and conferences are being held in Oman.

Competitions for gaming, ICT-based business ideas, excellence in performance, and Omani websites have taken the quality of digital offering from Oman to a higher level. From humble beginnings, these events now witness overwhelming and competitive responses from contestants reflecting the growing potential of the nation. The intense competition standards also reflect the rising trend towards international standards and world-class performances. Events such as the COMEX, ArabTelsat, mobile gaming competition, e-Culture corner at the Muscat festival, Oman Web Awards, Big Business Idea Competition, ICT Business Forum and IT Quiz challenges are promoting the digital culture and nurturing performance excellence with awards and deserving accolades.

Challenges as opportunities for action

To keep the digital society momentum in a sustainable manner, certain impediments have to be handled tactfully. With the complex topography and the spread of the country, most projects have been deployed or concentrated around the capital. A wider spread of effect narrowing digital divide needs community-based initiatives as well as government-driven projects.

Literacy levels in terms of basic digital literacy and specialized technical expertise have to climb at a rapid rate considering the large young population of the nation which is schooling at the moment. The number of students graduating with technology qualifications have grown about 30 per cent between 2006 and 2007, and this is to be raised higher with new programmes and new specializations required by the market.

Internet usage in the Sultanate is estimated between 12 per cent and 15 per cent and the current Internet subscription growth rate between 2000 and 2006 stands at 18 per cent. This should be enhanced further with informational and transactional activities, addition of service providers and lower tariffs for selected segments of the community.

Trust and consumer protection forming the basic foundation of a digital society must be ensured. This requires enactment of appropriate e-law and electronic transaction laws along with consumer protection legislations. This must be supported with the establishment of enforcement body and redress mechanisms.

Citizen-readiness escalation has a catalytic effect if need-based learning and market demand-based offerings are focused upon. New models for creating local customized and relevant digital content suitable for local community and their culture must be formulated. The business sector must deploy matured technologies based on bottom-line traffic, tariff and quality of services and not merely on operational profits.

Optimistic future

The Sultanate is poised well with a unique strategy and a committed lead to implement the digital Oman IT strategy. The unique proposition of Oman in creating a knowledge society has gained momentum in the last two years, and the efforts will start bearing its fruits soon. At every milestone there are benefits awaiting the community as a whole both in terms of economic gains and better welfare. Led by a visionary, combined with the enthusiastic efforts of the public and private sector in harnessing technology for the progress of the nation, the future for e-Oman is bright and prospective.

* Statistics based on data from International Telecommunications Union reports, Ministry of National Economy – Economic and Social Statistics and Indicators, Ministry of Civil Services data, Telecommunication Regulation Authority reports, Omantel, Oman Mobile and Nawras officially published statistics.

Harness the power of social media

In 2006, ‘YOU’ the public were honoured as the ‘Person of the year’ by the Times magazine reserved reminder wishes again and again. Enabled by the power of technology you are connecting to your friends across the world and sharing your views, blogs, pictures, videos and audio. This week we are to explore the power of this social interaction sphere that we have all built together and see what effect it has in our public relations.

Businesses can longer neglect the power of not just the online world but also the prominence of the social media, as their customers are already there. They are actively discussing their purchase plans, soliciting opinions of customers. Their conversations are live and genuine and are happening in multi-dimensions. Increasingly products launches are hot themes and your first customers can blog their experiences or even upload videos of problems and safety concerns.

There are sceptics as well as well wishers for any product or service offered and their presence online is almost uncontrolled. It is high time for businesses to listen to these social media conversations and perhaps join them too in a healthy manner.

Take for example the ongoing presidential campaigns. It is possible to read the entire biography and professional background about potentials candidates. Their debates are recorded and available online so the world can watch even the winks and reply with their interpretations. Election fund campaigns treat the Internet as yet another strong media (almost at par with press, radio television and movies) and launch advertisements as seed news.

Paparazzi closely follow candidate’s lives and post candid pictures on Flickr and SnapFish. Blogspotting discussions are almost a requirement in this scenario to fit the puzzle pieces and reveal the true identity and vision of candidate. Even the print media looks up to the online media for real-time follow-up. They are also present in the social media like Facebook, MySpace and some of them have hyper-active behaviour in the blogger’s world.

Motivated by the rate of increase in the number of people in the online media and their increased interactions and social content, it is time to adapt to this revolution and feed it right. Social media can be used as a trial launch platform or as a marketing and public relations tool. Online tools have the power to build communities and it is very simple to enter this virtual world and it costs nothing to host your home-brewed content in the social media.

Like birds of a feather, flocking together these communities are bound by common expertise or interest or even background. So it is relatively simple for businesses to test this within a limited audience with very little investment. The idea is to evaluate the relevant social media and approach it with a strategic plan. Web 2.0 has give a plethora of options to customise your message to suit your target audience.

Technology has also simple and free online tools to prepare your messages in a range of formats and offer specific messages to a particular community of people at specific instances in time. Marketers must also include online branding as a part of their strategy and launch suitable media. As a study on blog-reading reveals that on an average one out of every four online visitors are in the blog world, it is necessary to be choosy.

So as a final word your customers are potentially at your finger tips and get online with them with your offerings and have a healthy interaction in the digital world. But is one big world and so choose your community and truly be active in this digital groups.

With about 9 million blogs and 2 million videos available online, it is to time for you to think about Facebook, Youtube, MySpae, Orkut, LiveJournal, Wordpress, Ustream, Mixx, Digg, Reddit, Bebo, Twitter, Eventful, Epinion, Imeem and del.icio.us as part of your profession and live a Secondlife. By the way, all these are websites related to social media and see you too there until we meet again through Digital Oman.

This week’s web-link is http://mashable.com/2008/03/19/ebooks-social-media/ where you find 15 e-books all about social-media.

IT initiatives in the sultanate - Business Today November 2008

National IT strategy implementation

Oman’s integrated national IT strategy, pioneered by the Information Technology Authority (ITA) for implementation in close cooperation with other government bodies, has set the direction and pace for eGovernment.This model has worked well in the public sector, with successful projects such as the commercial registration by MoCI, eServices from Muscat Municipality, National Registration System by the DGCS, HR Management System by MoCS, eServices from ROP and the Social Development Ministry and eTendering approach by the Tender Board.

IT & Telecom infrastructure

Oman’s telecom infrastructure providers Omantel, Oman Mobile and Nawras have increased their phone penetration and network coverage significantly. With customised IT solutions, they offer several value-added services including SIM-based Internet.

Maturity in IT solutions

The local IT sector demonstrates a higher level of maturity in its IT solutions portfolio. Along with automation and infrastructure solutions, fresh activity is seen in enterprise management and business Intelligence systems.The number of international IT vendors with a physical presence in Oman is on the rise and they provide state-of-the-art support services.


Since the implementation of its RTGS (Real-Time Gross Settlement) system in 2005 and ACH (Automated Clearing House) in 2006, the Central Bank of Oman is acting to modernise the nation’s banking industry.The new electronic image-based Cheque Clearing system (CCS) expedites the cheque processing cycle. Banks in Oman, connected through a high-speed, secure switch network by Omantel, are able to improve process efficiencies and both phone banking and Internet banking are gaining momentum.

Education portal & HEAC

The education sector is experiencing a surge in activity with the education portal and the Higher Education Admission systems (HEAC).Most schools and all colleges are connected to the Internet and the school curriculum now includes IT literacy. Over 25 institutions offer IT-related academic programmes building IT knowledge and skills within the community with a number of private technical training institutes.

Al Shifa Medical System

Healthcare in the sultanate has matured with the implementation of the Al Shifa – Medical Records Management system in most referral centres and all hospitals across the country. This system integrates the management of patients’ medical records, pharmacy, treatments and appointments.

e-Payment gateway & e-Law

A spike in electronic commerce is expected with the implementation of the national e-Payment gateway and the enactment of the Electronic Transactions Law. Businesses in the sultanate are currently considering revamping their websites to be more interactive as well as be capable of making payments online.

Secure, e-procurement systems

Business sectors in the sultanate such as oil and gas, tourism and aviation have sophisticated IT systems that are constantly being expanded and upgraded. There is a trend to assure business continuity by implementing secure e-procurement systems and enabling secure web-based interfaces.

e-document handling systems

Both private and public firms can benefit by moving towards Electronic Document Exchange and e-procurement. Such e-document handling systems often provide a secure web-based interface between their clients to handle business documents as an outsourced service. Tracking solutions enable effective administration.

IT-savvy generation Y

People in Oman are becoming tech-savvy and this particularly applies to generation Y. All school graduates are digitally literate through an integrated curriculum. Over 7,000 students study diploma and baccalaureate programmes in computing, IT and related disciples, and the number is growing by 70.6 per cent annually. Civil servants are to become digitally literate and fresh IT graduates are also well placed.

Era of E-Payments- Oman Economic Review, Oct08

The national e-payment gateway launched by the information technology authority takes electronic funds transfer (EFT) to a new level of maturity in the Sultanate.The cycle of commerce cannot be complete without a payment and this is more critical when goods or services are delivered online. With the newly launched National ePayment Gateway, Oman is now blazing into a new era of ecommerce and e-government.

Electronic Fund Transfers

Payment through electronic means has been happening since a very long time. Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) system is a cluster of technologies enabling the execution of financial-transactions by means of electronic messages without requiring paper-based instrument of exchange. Most EFT systems invollve computers, networks and telecommunication links, access equipments and automated data exchanges. Some examples of such systems are Automated Clearing Houses (ACH), Automated Teller Machines (ATM), point-of-sale terminals (POST) used at shopping malls, telephone-based bill payment systems, online banking, etc.

The implementation of the Real Time Gross Settlement System (RTGS) in September 2005 and the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system in September 2006 has enabled completely automated safe and speedy transfers of funds between the financial institutions of the Sultanate. But with the national ePayment Gateway launched by the Information Technology Authority (ITA), EFT in Oman has reached the next level of maturity. Now both the public and private sector can accept and make Internet based payments. Any public sector entity or a company registered in Oman can become a member of this payment gateway.

Plethora of possibilities

In eCommerce, where in trade occurs beyond borders through the ubiquitous new medium called the Internet, it is vital for businesses and customers to be able to pay for products and services online. This completes eCommerce with electronic exchange of payment instructions and settlement. Now, true eCommerce can take place in Oman and the public sector can offer e-services through the Internet and public can pay online too. This also makes the e-purse proposal for using National Identity smart cards to hold cash credit feasible.

True mobile commerce with WAP websites offering catalogues and shopping carts can now connect to the ePayment Gateway and settle payments. M-commerce model involving small amounts of credit held in cards can now take off in a big way with more participating outlets and ability to register and encash loyalty points online. With the integration of e-services through a common gateway, it will soon be possible to verify the authenticity of the customers online through the national ID.

ePayment Gateway of Oman

The Information Technology Authority (ITA) has recently opened up an Internet Payment Gateway for adoption both by the public and the private sectors. ITA has taken up the strategic initiative to drive the development of e-Payments in Oman. The objective is to implement an efficient and effective e-Payment infrastructure to support these e-Government initiatives as well as future e-Commerce development.The ePayment Gateway is built on MasterCard Internet Payment Gateway Services (MIGS) and facilitates customer’s bank to transfer funds to merchant’s acquiring bank.

A secure payment server acquires e-Payment and seeks an authorisation of payment from the customer’s bank. MIGS accepts all international credit cards, debit cards including Visa, MasterCard, Amex and Diner cards. The gateway has been tested for resilience with public, private and retail sector entities, resulting in zero-defect processing of over 5000 transactions in the first five months. To connect to this gateway entities can apply for membership through ITA. Corporate service providers of Oman, need to have a website online with catalogue and shopping cart applications.

Entities having a website that can process orders online can also utilise the gateway.In a unique model, Oman’s Payment Gateway securely integrates merchant websites with the financial systems within minimum number of hopping points to increase both convenience and security. The payment server doesn’t share customer’s details with the merchant’s systems except for payment requests and approvals. The system is reliable, secure and future proof with payment card industry standards. The scope of this gateway will now extend to include account transfers and mobile payments in its next phase. The ePayment Gateway, can completely change the way we pay.

For example, Ministry of Sports Affairs has utilised the payment gateway to sell tickets to football competitions online. Both OmanMobile and Nawras have enabled online payments for all their registered subscribers. The subscribers can register online for free, track their accounts details and pay with their debit/credit cards through the Internet. Once the payment is complete, an email and or SMS is sent for confirmation of the transaction. Customers pay no extra fee for making online payments. Only the merchant needs to pay a one-time joining fee, annual merchant maintenance fee and a nominal fee per transaction.

Number of advantages

Businesses that are looking for leading edge can offer better customer service by enabling Internet-based payment options. With a well developed catalogue and shopping cart services they can reach potential customers even across borders. They widen their client base without having to invest in physical infrastructures or staffing. Settlement of payment through debit/credit cards in real-time through a payment gateway reduces settlement risks and minimising the time-based credit risk to online traders.

Government institutions can truly extend their services to the public at their convenience in terms of place and time. They can now avail of services through the Internet from anywhere and at anytime without having to visit the physical premises. With better efficiency and administrative cost reduction, the public sector can serve more effectively. They can compete in quality of service offering a secure payment processing to world-class standards.

Customer-the king gets to be served like a king: services at the click of his mouse and payments also accepted online. This is true anytime, anywhere, fast and flexible service that they simply deserve. With the electronic transactions law in place, use of electronic signatures, communications and documents is now legally valid in Oman. Oman’s financial institutions are constantly enhancing infrastructure for security and prudent efforts are made to move towards chip-based cards and upgraded ATMs. All this assures adequate level of security in making electronic payments for day-to-day operations.

Caution around the corner

Despite some skeptics view that the scenario is not adequately ready for online payments, reality has proved that once people perceive the viability and benefits they will adopt it very quickly. With major players like mobile services providers and few other public and service sector organisations going online, the digital culture is sure to have a catalytic effect within the community in a couple of years. With well designed websites and thoroughly planned computing infrastructure, merchants can handle large number of transactions even with existing Internet speeds. Several key projects on the anvil to increase PC penetration and Internet penetration such as broadband services will further activate the pace.

The gateway is built with secure encryption facilities. Membership criteria also ensure that the merchant websites have adequate security systems built within. Customer shop online and payment is processed via a Secured Socket Layer enabled session. Transactions sent from merchant’s shopping cart applications to the MIGS Payment Server are channel encrypted to prevent alteration in transit. MIGS supports ‘MasterCard – Secure Code’ authentication initiative and the ‘Visa-Verified by Visa’ authentication initiative. So with multiple layers of security implemented, it is safe to transact online through this payment gateway.

Security is everyone’s responsibility and customers need to be security conscious while transacting online (See box - Online Security Tips). They must transact with reputed websites and confirm authenticity before giving payment instructions. Any online payment related doubts and queries must be directed towards either the merchants or the card providers.

Poised for progress

Organisations treading the information super highway are truly empowered to complete their entire suite of business transactions online. Efficient payment systems within a country promote financial stability and the more transparent, secure and robust these systems are, it is less risky and more efficient for all parties involved. The launch of the national ePayment Gateway is a milestone achievement for the country that aspires to harness technology and triumphantly stride toward realising a knowledge-based economy.

Omani women empowered through IT

1163 Omani women certified IT graduates in only 18 months

A silent transformation has been taking place here in Oman pioneered by women, run by women for women. The Women in Technology (WIT) program organised by the Omani Women’s Association - Muscat (OWAM) along with Microsoft and the Institute of International Education (IIE) has graduated 60 more women in IT this week, reaching a number of 1163 certified IT graduates with 33 trainers at 11 centers.

The WIT program for MENA region is funded by the US Department of State and managed by IIE through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The MEPI aims to promote economic reforms and the empowerment of women in the region. WIT program aims to train 10,000 women by 2010 and induct them into mainstream workforce.

The program delivers IT training through Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum along with Professional Development workshops to improve women’s standard of living and quality of life by building their knowledge and skills and to eliminate illiteracy in information technology (IT).

Quoting Mrs. Shkour Al Ghamari, Chair Person-OWAM, "We aspire to set up Community Technology Learning Centers in each of our 43 branch across the Sultanate and till date about 11 centers have been set up. The program's success so far can be attributed to the support and contributions of sponsors: Microsoft, IIE and MEPI. We expect the graduates to cherish this gift and move forward with higher levels of IT literacy".

Apart from the major partners, Omani private sector organisations such as Oman International Bank (OIB), National Bank of Oman (NBO) and OTE (Oman Trading Establishment) have made their generous contributions for the program.

The WIT program currently operates in centers at Muscat, Musanna, Sohar, Ibra, Ibri, Taqa, Salalah, Rustaq, Saham, Buraimi and Khaburah. The UP runs for 112 hours with Personality Development workshops for another 30 hours. The trainees benefit from a soft skills training program comprising of Communication, Leadership, Management, Decision making, Team building and Problem Solving skills.

"Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) is designed to help narrow the technology skills gap and aid global workforce development by providing access and training opportunities for communities underserved by technology including women", explained Mr. Abdullah Lootah, Country Manager - Oman, Microsoft Corporation.

In line with their mission to support non-profit organisations, Microsoft has contributed 90 computers through their Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment program to OWAM specially to equip the project centers with the right hardware. They have also donated the required software packages and cash assistance. Till date 33 women are trained by Microsoft as certified 'Trainers' to run the program.

On speaking to Ms. Abeer Al Mukhaini, Program Manager-WIT and Ms Khadija Al Ali, IT Coordinator-WIT, they explained that the program specifically addressed women's IT literacy requirements at their convenient locations in a socially comfortable environment. Empowerment of women with technology helps them to enter IT workforce that was hitherto considered exclusive for men, they added. The WIT program gives preference to young unemployed graduates and members of low-income families. Deserving students are also awarded scholarships.

The UP curriculum — teaches basic computer skills, such as how to use Windows operating system, surf the Internet and work with Microsoft Office. It also teaches fundamentals of Web design and digital media, including audio, video, and photography.

As pointed by Mrs. Al Ghamari, 'Women cannot do without using technology because even their children use computers to communicate and get latest information from the Internet. This training bridges this generation gap and in our community, when we educate a girl, we educate her whole family'.

Ms. Maryam Al Zadjali is one of the scholarship trainees of the program and it was her moment of pride when she received her certification accompanied by her child. She considers that there can be no future for anyone without learning how to use computers, email and Internet.
Women interested in the program as trainees or trainers can approach their nearest Omani Women's Association center and apply. On successful acceptance they are allocated to one of the centers for training lasting about three months. All successful trainees are awarded graduation certificates.

"We are proud of the success of the WIT program here in Oman where they have managed to graduate 1163 trainees as of today within a short period of 1 1/2 years since March 2007", lauded Naushad Hamza, Country Marketing Executive, Microsoft Corporation - Oman.
UN's Millennium Goals to 'End Poverty', 'Achieve Gender Equality', 'Universal education' and 'Global partnership for development' can be achieved not only by formal organisations working towards these but also by community groups as shown by the success of the WIT-MENA program deployed in the Sultanate of Oman. With many more academic institutions willing to establish centers in their campuses and more and more students willing to help their community by becoming trainers, the butterfly-effect is sure create a silent transformation - one that is powered by empowered women creating the digital society of Oman.

Play a game to feed the poor

Yes, by playing a word-meaning game on the Internet and every time you answer right you get to donate 10grains of rice the feed the hungry and the poor across the world.

The game
FreeRice available online at www.freerice.com, is a creative web-based vocabulary game. For each click on a correct answer, the website donates money to buy 10 grains of rice. The rice is distributed by the United Nations-WFP.

This Internet word game has generated enough rice to feed 50,000 people for one day, through the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).According to Josette Sheeran, Head of the WFP, "FreeRice really hits home how the web can be harnessed to raise awareness and funds for he world's number one emergency.’

The Spiral
There is plenty of food in the world for everyone. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish themselves. Being constantly malnourished, they become weaker and often sick. This makes them increasingly less able to work, which then makes them even poorer and hungrier. This downward spiral often continues until death for them and their families.

The solution
The UN estimates that the cost to end world hunger completely, along with diseases related to hunger and poverty, is about $195 billion a year. Twenty-two countries have joined together to raise this money by each contributing 0.7% (less than 1%) of their national income. Some of the countries have already met this goal while others have failed to fulfill their pledge and even you could pay up the deficit.

The programme
WFP is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. Operations aim to:
· Save lives in refugee crises and other emergencies
· Improve nutrition and quality of life of world's most vulnerable people at critical times in their lives
· Enable development by (a) helping people build assets that benefit them directly; (b) promoting the self-reliance of poor people and communities
The World Food Program is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

The idea
Word about the game has spread with the help of internet bloggers and websites like Facebook and YouTube thanks to viral marketing. FreeRice is the invention of US online fundraising pioneer John Breen and having started on 7th October 2007 FreeRice has now raised 1bn grains of rice.

The benefit
The freerice vocabulary game will help you to better yourself to formulate your ideas and Write better papers, emails and business letters. For students, this game will help them get better grades in school or college and possibly score higher on tests like the SAT, GRE, LSAT and GMAT. To anyone in any part of the world, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive.

The Revenue
FreeRice has two goals: Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free and help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free. Several sponsors who have joined the programme advertise on this site. Companies advertising on the website provide the money to the WFP to buy and distribute the rice. This is regular advertising for these companies, but it is also something more.

The score
FreeRice has a custom database containing thousands of words at 50 varying levels of difficulty. The game starts by giving you words at different levels of difficulty and then, based on how you do, assigns you an approximate starting level. When you get a word wrong, you go to an easier level. When you get three words in a row right, you go to a harder level.
This one-to-three ratio is best for keeping you at the “outer fringe” of your vocabulary, where learning can take place. The program keeps track of how many people get each word right or wrong, and then adjusts each word’s difficulty level accordingly. So the words at the easiest levels are the ones that people most often get right. As more and more people have played the game, these levels have become increasingly more accurate.

The links
FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site, www.poverty.com. More details on the WFP can be had at www.wfp.org. For your websites you can find banners for Freerice at www.freerice.com/banners.html. Details on the donations can be found at www.wfp.org/how_to_help/Ways_to_Donate/freerice.asp?section=4&sub_section=5.

Better care for Laptop batteries

As revealed by the sale at both Comex-Oman and Gitex-Dubai, tech-savvy computers prefer laptop computers over bulky desktop systems. Digital Oman explores the technology behind the laptop batteries in the context of 35,000 defective laptop batteries (an additional 65,000 batteries were sold worldwide) recalled by Sony in the last week of October 2008.

Increasingly workforce is provided with laptops so that they can work from anywhere, literally speaking. Some organisations even provide VPN (Virtual Private Network) connectivity to their internal systems so that the employees could access and update live internal systems. Ubiquitous email and Internet connectivity enable any one with a laptop set up an instant office even at a coffee house that provides wireless Internet connectivity.

The benefit of using laptops doesn’t stop here. It goes on to give access to current versions of your files for reference instantly. You can load music, movies and other entertainment software and you have mobile music and movie halls wherever you go. It is common to see people watching movies in planes despite the in-flight entertainment broadcasts.

All this depends on one fuel that is the power either from the battery or from the AC source. Let’s get to know what powers them on the move and how to make this power last longer.

Laptop batteries are re-chargeable and modern laptops contain Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries. The older versions had nickel metal hydride or nickel-cadmium batteries and their power lasted much less. The Li-Ion batteries are also superseded by Lithium polymer (LiPol) batteries which are cheaper to manufacture and sturdier than Li-Ions.

Most often the battery power lasts anywhere between 3-4 hours. The more intensive the application is and the more interactive the user is with his laptop, the faster the battery drains. Playing games, watching a movie DVD are all graphic intensive applications that drain battery power. In this aspect the laptop battery is an important consumable and you should know how to care for it.

Here are a few points to remember with regard to laptop battery care:
Lithium-ion batteries can even explode when exposed to high temperature, (for example in prolonged direct sunlight or leaving your laptop in the car) and so avoid heat. The best range of temperature to care for batteries is 0° to 35°C (32° to 95°F).
Read the instructions manual for loading your batteries in proper manner and never force them in to place. You may damage the contact lead and secure clamps by mistake.
Do not full-charge batteries again and again without draining the charge. This means you charge the battery full and store it away from the power source – be it in the laptop docking station or inside the laptop. This also reduces the weight of the laptop while working on direct power source.
If you are to work on you laptop from direct power source for extended periods, then the battery should be stored in a cool place away from the heat produced by the computer.
Never use counterfeit batteries but buy the original brands that suit your portable computer.
An average battery life lasts anywhere between 2 – 5yrs and do replace the battery once it is unable to retain required charge as its performance has completely degraded. The life of the battery will also depend on the usage of the laptop.
While on travel, charge your battery full and carry it in the hand luggage and not in the registered packs (some airlines restrict this). If recharge is required certain airlines have special sockets built under the seat and customised adapters can be requested from the cabin crew.
Remember that when your laptop is docked or AC adapter is plugged into a power outlet, the battery is not being used and the battery can never overcharge. And so batteries may be stored in the laptop or outside of the laptop but they must be charged before storing.
Do not attempt to open or modify a Li-ion battery's casing or circuitry as it can be very dangerous. These batteries contain safety devices that protect the cells inside and any tampering can harm this safety measures.
As in the case of certain companies calling back their batteries, presence of contaminants inside the cells can defeat these safety devices and cause the batteries to explode in adverse conditions. In case you recently bought your laptop, check if your batteries belong to a defective lot recalled by the manufacturer, and if yes get it replaced.
Just in case you need more battery time, try to use additional modular battery in the DVD/CD drive provided your laptop has this feature. The modular bay battery is used first, and when it drains the system automatically switches to the primary battery.
All normal power saving tips like hibernation, etc still apply when caring for laptop batteries.

Just in case you have bought a new laptop recently and worried if your battery may be one that is recalled refer to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission official notice released on 30th October at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09035.html. The website lists all laptop models with possibly defective batteries.

Consumers are requested to immediately remove the recalled battery from their notebook computer, and contact their computer manufacturer to determine if their battery is included in the recall and to request a free replacement battery. According to this info there have been 19 reports of the batteries overheating, including 17 reports of flames/fire (10 resulting in minor property damage). Beware and take care.

10 November 2008

What makes one a Digital literate?

Digital Literacy is making news these days across the globe. People use it in the context of digital divide, digital society, etc. There are talks about teens being digital literates and government employees requiring digital literacy in the Omani media. This week let us understand what exactly digital literacy is and also check if you are a digital literate.

Literacy can be generally described as one’s ability to read and write. This definition is certainly very broad and several experts have expanded this capability to the following version:
basic reading and writing skills in English
the ability to read and comprehend a newspaper article
basic reading and writing skills as well as a sense of empowerment
reading and writing skills (about 1500 characters) and at a level of functional literacy skills linked to employment
This generic concept, when placed in the context of a Digital society means that a person is able to process electronic information and communicate using electronic means. Let us explain this further. To be a digital literate, fundamentally one needs to know how to process text, numbers and images using electronic media.

With modern means of networking with people, a digital literate must also be able send, receive & process information in electronic media like emails, Internet, CDs, disks, etc. For this one should know how to operate a computer, manage files and folders, surf the internet, seek using search engines, use email software, word-process documents, include numbers, charts and images and create both soft and printed copies of documents.

So if you answer YES to the following questions then you are considered digital literate:

- Can you create electronic documents and communicate with your peers and colleagues electronically?
- Can you manage your electronic files effectively in electronic media and create clear printed copies if required?
- Can you manage and operate your computer safely and use other input, output devices appropriately?
- Are you able to read and evaluate information from electronic sources?
- Can you operate ethically in handling electronic information and their communications?
- Do you give due regard to copyright materials found freely on the Internet
- Do you have netiquette (or Net + Etiquette) in online communications like for e.g. emails, chats, forums, and blogs?

Quoting Pim Dale, Vice President and General Manager of Dell’s Emerging Markets, in his keynote address at the recent 2008 Gitex Technology Week Global Conference, ‘…..there’s a lack of skills in terms of knowing technology ……. Today, there’s a real issue of digital illiteracy that has to be addressed over the next five to ten years’.

In Oman, an agreement was recently signed to build ICT capacity within the public sector, in order to expedite the process of e-government implementation and create a pool of ICT skilled civil staff. This agreement was signed with Certiport Inc, US for an internationally accredited digital literacy program called ‘IC3’.

Certiport is a leading authority in developing global digital literacy standards and programs and is actively involved with government leaders, businesses and educational administrators to create solutions that promote digital literacy among all populations.

Certiport’s Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC³®) is a leading global standard for digital literacy. It plays a significant role in the global community’s program to become digitally connected and help bridge the digital divide. Digital divide is a division or gap between the have’s and the have-not’s – a divide between those with in-demand skill sets and those without the skills they need to provide for themselves or a clear pathway to get them.

Through the recent agreement Certiport will train the public servants of Oman and enable to get certified in digital literacy skills. Certiport’s IC3 is recognised worldwide and more formally by the following institutions (Source: http://www.certiport.com/portal/desktopdefault.aspx?flash=false):

•National Skill Standards Board (NSSB), USA
•Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)
• American Council on Education (ACE) (IC3 certification is eligible for credits from more than 1,800 accredited, degree-granting colleges, universities, and other education-related organizations that are members of ACE)
•Manpower Inc., USA
•International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
•National Infocomm Competency Center (NICC), Singapore operating under the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA)
•Reliance Webstores Ltd, India

Digital Oman will bring more details on the content of the IC3 program and its relevance to workforce enhancement and society empowerment in the next week. In the meanwhile readers can have their digital literacy profile done free online at http://www.certiport.com/Portal/desktopdefault.aspx?tabid=183&roleid=102 to see how proficient they are in Certiport’s IC3 digital literacy skills.

Women in Technology

The ‘Women in Business Conference 2008’ saw several interesting issues being raised by the delegates to motivate and inspire women who are either in business or even considering starting their own business.

One of interesting observations made by few speakers is that the number of women in technology is very low and this observation contradicts with the overwhelming performance of women candidates in technology oriented academic courses.

Interestingly, the issue of challenges in the field of technology were raised by two women Shamsa Al Seefi, head of Informational Technology, BankMuscat, and Huda Al Habsi, Head of Marketing & Product Development, Oman Telecommunications Company. Both these women have come a long way facing the challenges in a technology oriented professions and stand as trailblazers to the forthcoming Omani women technologists and ICT entrpreneurs.

Historical perspective

Looking back at the history of computing, there have been several feats women were able to achieve in the field of Information Technology / Computing. Let us see some of these pioneering women whose accomplishment stands to motivate modern women who think ‘technology: it’s a man’s world’.

Lady Ada Lovelace

The first programmer in the world of computing comes just after the famed ‘Father of Computing’ – Charles Babbage. She is none other than Lady Ada Lovelace who is also the daughter of the poet Lord Byron. When Lady Ada heard about Babbage’s plans for this new calculating engine, called the Analytical Engine, she was ready to make her predictions for its potentials.

True to real life, she in fact predicted that such a machine might be used to compose complex music, to produce graphics, and would be used for both practical and scientific use. As a mathematician she wrote her plan to suggest to Babbage as to how the engine might calculate Bernoulli numbers. This plan, is now celebrated as the first computer program deservingly making a women the first computer programmer. In commemorating her honour, the U.S. Department of Defence befittingly named a software language they developed as ‘Ada’ in 1979.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Often called as ‘Amazing Grace’, Grace Hopper served in the US Navy and rose to the position of Rear Admiral. Her influence on computing was through software development for Generation 1 computers such as the Mark I and the UNIVAC I.

The most fascinating catalogue of hers is her reference note on why the Mark 1 didn’t function properly, where she noticed a dead moth in one of the computer relay circuits. Since then any error in computing is called ‘a bug’ and we owe this madam Hopper. She and her team did introduce a new term when they announced that they had 'debugged the machine’, thus introducing the terminology 'debugging a computer program’ for the first time ever.

She made extensive contribution to one of the most famous computer languages called the ‘COBOL’ normally used for business applications. She even developed a compiler for COBOL language. A compiler is an intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer. So programmers could now use English like commands instead assembly languages to program.

Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke studies mathematics and worked as ‘Computor Assistant’ (which at that point in time meant a skilled mathematician) to AT&T research engineer Dr. George Campbell. In 1918, Edith enrolled in the EE program at MIT, earning the first MSc. degree ever awarded by that department to a woman in 1919.

Later she took a job as a computor for General Electric in new York and in 1921 she filed a patent for her invention of a ‘graphical calculator’ that could be used to solve electric power transmission line problems. In 1947, she worked as a professor of EE at the University of Texas-Austin, and became the first woman to teach engineering there. With so many first feats, Edith Clarke shines in the Computing Hall of Fame.

Francis Allen

Allen was honoured as a Fellow for her contributions to program optimization and compiling for parallel computers. She is a pioneer in the field of optimizing compilers with includes code optimization and parallelization. She has developed several programming languages that have advanced the fields of computer science and optimization compiling. She helped create one of the first automatic debugging systems and, as a member of the Stretch/HARVEST project, developed an advanced code-breaking language known as Alpha.

In 1989, she became the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow. Her Parallel Translation Group (PTRAN) formed in the 80s to study compiling for parallel machines is recognized as one of the top research groups in the world dealing with parallelization issues. Allen was also elected president of the IBM Academy of Technology in 1995. She has been inducted into the Computing History Museum’s Fellowship Award in 2000.

Final Word

Although engineering field, traditionally attract few women, the pendulum is swinging back as women enter the Information Technology field from areas such as medical informatics, e-learning, graphics and programming and are setting a new trend for the future generations.