The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is implementing an ambitious digitalisation strategy that could revolutionise governance in the Kurdistan Region. To learn more about this effort, Iraq Policy Group spoke to Dr. Nawzad Kameran Al-Salihi, Head of Digital Business Intelligence and Requirement Analysis at the Department of Information Technology.
Can you tell us more about this digital transformation?
The Department of Information Technology (DIT) is leading the digital transformation of the KRG and is fulfilling its commitment to serve the people of Kurdistan by making it easier for them to engage with the government and access government services. Digitalisation at its essence transforms and optimizes existing government services by making it easier for citizens to undertake processes that may normally take days and weeks, if not months. On another level, it increases transparency and accountability because the centralization and automation of data makes it easier to account for spending in the public sector. Digitalisation opens up opportunities for economic growth because it reduces waste. The optimization of existing processes and the resulting increase in efficiency will also lead to higher productivity rates. These are all essential elements of the economic revival that is being undertaken in Kurdistan.
What are the medium and long-term benefits?
Digitalisation is about more than just improving IT systems and processes. In the broadest sense, it means doing things differently in an increasingly inter-connected world — adopting new mindsets, skillsets, technologies and data to benefit people, the government, and the economy in one-go and on a collective basis. It creates linkages between the three that are critical in the current economic crisis. Accelerating the KRG’s digital transformation will help people benefit on a personal level – renewing a driver’s license or registering a business can be an arduous process for example – and the availability of, and access to data will open up avenues for accountability and citizen engagement that may otherwise be difficult.
Digitalisation reinforces and improves institutional structures, and imposes procurement regulations. Connecting provinces directly to the KRG’s online spend system, the Internal Information System (IIS) for example, will allow local councils to submit spend requests online, reducing paperwork and bureaucratic delays. It brings visibility and accountability to public spending. These will all play a major role in creating an open, transparent and inclusive government that will be fundamental to the economic recovery in Kurdistan.
What were the key focal points?
The project started in September 2019 with the adoption of a new approach to the digital delivery of public services. The online platform that is currently being developed provides users with a seamless process and access to updated content. Furthermore, this platform will allow for open and free information exchanges that will increase transparency and open up opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs. At its core, the goal is to achieve a level of efficiency and professionalism that will be unprecedented in Kurdistan and Iraq as a whole. The focal points were: firstly, how to convey the main message and make information immediately accessible. Secondly, how to put the user first (through a comprehensive user-centred design and platform), which required aggregating the different end-users and their needs. Third, how to actually organize and manage the data, and how to organize access to the data.
In the simplest terms, what will digitalisation achieve?
Less paperwork and bureaucracy. More time to pursue opportunities in work and personal life. Our belief is that a single minute, hour or day saved equals an extra minute, hour or day to be productive.
How much progress have you made?
We have completed the first phase and have reached an important milestone to create a single online gateway for Kurdistani citizens. We are replacing the 30-plus separate, in many cases disorganized and poorly designed websites currently managed by the government (many of which are dysfunctional and lack data) with a single and consolidated platform. We have already made huge savings since the consolidation of the portal and there will be substantial savings moving forward. Our approach is modelled on success stories around the world, and these actually indicate that digitalisation is an ongoing process that has to be continuous and aligned with existing and future public services, and public demand.
Dr. Nawzad Kameran Al-Salihi
Dr. Nawzad Kameran Al Salihi is Head of Digital Business Intelligence and Requirement Analysis at the Department of Information Technology, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). He holds a PhD in Electronic and Computer Engineering from Brunel University. He has widespread professional experience in satellite navigation systems, wireless mobile communications and advanced manufacturing systems. He was previously Assistant Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler (UKH).