In the wake of the financial crisis of 1997 and the plummeting price of oil at that time, His Majesty’s government set up the Brunei Darussalam Economic Council to review the economy and to suggest ways to strengthen it. In the Council’s report, a central theme was the need for Brunei to diversify its economy away from its traditional dependence on oil and gas.
Amongst the elements recommended to help diversify the economy was the development of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry. This resulted in a flurry of activity in the ICT sector from both the government and private sector. Admittedly, these activities are limited only to second (system integration) and third (supply & maintenance) tier projects. Little or no first tier (research and development) activity is currently underway.
Brunei’s economy has always been primarily government driven. Predictably, the activities of Brunei’s fledgling ICT industry are mainly centered around government related projects.
Under the 8th National Development Plan, the Brunei government has allocated over B$900 million for the development of the ICT sector. A substantial part of this budget is devoted to the development of infrastructure for the government’s “e- Government” initiative to apply information technology to the operations of government.
The “E-Government” initiative will expand the breadth and depth of the fledgling ICT industry in Brunei from merely piecemeal projects addressing vertical needs, to multi-million dollar projects which address the horizontal needs of government.
The Ministry of Finance flagship called TAFIS is the first of these massive projects to rollout. Other projects which have been identified as flagships include Human Resource Management System (HRMIS), Multipurpose Smart Card, EG Centre Services, EG Bandwidth Services, e-Health, e-Education, Mukim.net and the Brunei Darussalam Eco-Cyber Park.
All these flagships point towards government being the leading edge user of ICT in Brunei. ICT is now beginning to be seen within government as a profit center rather than purely from a procurement perspective.
In line with the global trend to outsource information system management processes, the Brunei government is also moving towards an outsourcing model. This is a welcome development as it will generate plenty of downstream activities especially in the ICT services sector.
The trend is also towards localization of the ICT industry in Brunei and one of the most welcome moves from which the private sector will benefit greatly is the setting up of the Brunei Information Technology (BIT) Corporation under the business development plan of the Brunei Information Technology Council.
As a corporate body, the BIT corporation will focus on the promotion and development of an indigenous ICT industry. It will also form partnerships with others to carry out its functions which include:
- research and strategic innovations,
- corporate and business developments,
- technology park related developments,
- research and development information technology in line with Brunei’s national information technology mission and national philosophy,
- and other relevant ICT activities.
The challenges ahead as I see it are as follows:
Human resources – How do we develop ICT literate human resources to service the ICT Industry both within and outside Brunei? Brunei’s ICT industry requires a new breed of worker, the “knowledge worker”. The industry emphasizes the need for creativity and innovation. Our education system may need to adjust itself according to the new requirements of the new economy.
Government – How quickly can government turn itself into the leading edge user? How do we address the problem of “over-cautiousness” and inertia in government? With the current drive towards electronic government, the Brunei government has the opportunity to progress up the IT maturity scale fairly quickly. The problem of “over-cautiousness” can be addressed when there is an increase in empowerment within the ranks of the civil service to make certain decisions which will benefit the nation at the end of the day.
Private/Business sector – How do we foster a private/ business sector capable of anticipating and seizing opportunities rather than simply reacting to developments? Brunei Darussalam’s E-Initiatives present a unique opportunity for the private/business sector to develop itself through implementation of large scale IT projects like the e-government flagships. This is an opportunity not to be missed and the private/business sector needs to adopt a pro-active approach in educating and creating awareness among their government counterparts on what is available out there.