Home Articles Kingdom of Bahrain: Mainstreaming g-technology

Kingdom of Bahrain: Mainstreaming g-technology

Aditya Chopra
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Growing in tandem with ICT sector, geospatial industry in Bahrain is benefiting from trade liberalisation, e-government initiatives, economic diversification drive of the government and the consequent demand from all sectors of the economy. Geospatial World takes a peek into the geospatial scene of this island state. Read on to know more..

Uniquely located in the heart of the Gulf, Bahrain has the most diversified economy in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain offers excellent investment opportunities and unhindered access to the Middle East and North African markets. According to the World Economic Forum (not taking recent events into account), Bahrain is one of the stable economies. According to IMF, the economy of Bahrain managed the financial crisis well.

GEOSPATIAL BEGINNING…
The story of Bahrain and how it grew to become a geospatially endowed nation is an instructive lesson. It is a result of the amalgamation of the vision, hard work and the country’s dynamic economic policy.

Bahrain’s geospatial journey gained momentum in 2004 when Cabinet Decree No. 3/2004 was enacted to recognise the importance of geospatial technology and terming it as an indispensible decision support tool. The decree established the National Committee for Geographic Information Systems (NCGIS). Headed by the minister for cabinet affairs, the committee constituted key people from all ministries and organisations involved in the production and use of spatial data.

Geospatial technology has provided a new dimension to plan and monitor projects across the nation, thus delivering the necessary fillip to Bahraini government’s endeavours for equitable development in line with the country’s 2030 economic vision.

GEOSPATIAL FOOTPRINT TODAY…
The geospatial growth in Bahrain is at par with the growth of ICT in the region. With giant strides in ICT sector, the integration of IT with geospatial technology has become widespread. The Bahrain information and communication technology (ICT) market is expected to reach USD 180 billion by 2012 (source: Markaz – GCC Infrastructure Report 2010), due to high demand for IT products and services from both public and private sectors. With the geospatial market expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 6% over the forecast period, the Kingdom of Bahrain will continue to be a lucrative market for technology products and services, benefiting from trade liberalisation, strong demand from almost all sectors and government geospatial and e-governance initiatives. The growing need for robust IT solutions is also being driven by massive e-government and e-commerce initiatives, which are aimed at achieving economic diversification.

According to CIO Bahrain sources, the present value of geospatial market is between USD 250 and 300 million. There has been a growing awareness of the importance of geospatial technology among government organisations in the country and an increasing number of organisations are utilising geospatial technology in some way, either in managing their data and assets and/or in supporting their strategic decisions. Indeed, geospatial technology is now accepted in the Kingdom of Bahrain as a mainstream technology within local government and utilities, particularly for managing infrastructure.

To analyse the status of the utility of geospatial technology in Bahrain, Geospatial World conducted survey involving the various government agencies in the region. Table 1 shows the basis on which the survey is based and a few observations.

On the basis of the survey, it is estimated that about 85-90% of the government organisations are making use of geospatial information and 50-55% of private industry is now relying on geospatial information.

At the government level, a notable number of agencies have introduced the technology into their strategic business plans. The most notable examples in this respect are the Central Planning Unit (CPU) of the Ministry of Housing and Works, Survey and Land Registration Bureau, Central Informatics Organization (CIO) and the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture.

The results of a recent survey carried out by the Department of Social Sciences at UOB indicate that geospatial technology is used in various tasks in a wide variety of government agencies as well as local government and municipalities. In addition to those mentioned above, the Ministry of Electricity and Water, Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), Ministry of Interior (which has recently developed its own Geographic Security System), Ministry of Health and Wild life and Environment Protection Committee are actively utilising geospatial technology.

However, there is significant variation between organisations that are regular users of geographic information (they have computer literate staff, they hold their own geospatial datasets, have a high proportion of digital geospatial data, they update their datasets more regularly, they are larger organisations) and those that do not use geographic information regularly. The importance attached to training varied significantly across the organisations, as did the level of financial commitment to geospatial technology. It is also observed that there is a high degree of awareness vis-a-vis data sharing. The survey results point out that about 70% of the organisations were engaged in data exchange. However, government agencies were much more likely to share/exchange data than private firms or educational institutions. Updating was often ‘outsourced’.

 

Enabling role of CIO Bahrain
With the objective of implementing a successful geospatial infrastructure and enterprise GIS in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the GIS Directorate of Central Informatics Organisation (CIO), acts as the primary stakeholder and the custodian of geospatial databases in the country. It is now incorporating spatial models into its base technology, enabling stakeholders from government, public and private sectors to use geographic tools in their applications. Table 1 gives the list of geospatial achievements of GIS Directorate of CIO Bahrain. Figure 2 shows the ways in which Bahrain is benefiting by using geospatial technology.

National GIS Steering Committee (NGISSC)
In compliance with the prime minister’s decree of 2004 for the creation of the National GIS Steering Committee (NGISSC), and recommendations to establish the ‘Bahrain Spatial Data Infrastructure (BSDI)’, an initiative lead by the National GIS Steering Committee (NGISSC) decided to develop a National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse (NGDC). The development of NGDC involved all geospatial data stakeholders in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The committee has taken several progressive steps towards the implementation of a spatial data infrastructure in the Kingdom.

Bahrain Spatial Data Infrastructure (BSDI)
BSDI is a repository of geospatial data. It is an endeavour to cater to the geospatial requirements of all government organisations, private sector companies, academic institutions and public sector organisations of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Presently, more than 20 government and private authorities are benefiting from the portal of BSDI.

NGISSC has successfully implemented the ‘Data Exchange Policy’ to benefit data users and providers alike. This acts as a binding deed for data exchange for parties involved and incorporates agreements regarding exchange procedures and protection of data and data sources.

Data standards ensure effective sharing and easy dissemination of data resulting in user satisfaction amongst the stakeholders. Standards followed by BSDI are officially mandated and are in accordance with the specifications of international organisations like ISO and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Inc.

Geospatial projects in Bahrain
A high degree of awareness and a committed government are ensuring greater penetration of geospatial technology into the organisational fabric of Bahrain. Several sectors already show maturity in utilising this technology and offer ample opportunities to the industry. Oil and gas sector accounts for 80% of Bahrain’s exports and it accounts to 20% of Bahrain’s GDP. Bahrain is planning on spending more than US $20 billion in the next 20 years in developing its oil and gas sector.

Bahrain is a well connected nation in terms of mobile phone subscription base, with the market penetration greater than 150% relative to its population. The telecommunications sector contributes 4.7% of GDP and offers ample opportunities for geospatial industry.

In 2009, Bahrain had 2.8 gigawatts (GW) of installed electric generating capacity. All of Bahrain’s electricity was generated with conventional thermal sources, mostly natural gas and oil. In total, 11.2 billion KWH of electric power was generated in 2009. Bahrain’s electricity generation grew by an average of 9 percent in the last five years, and Bahrain’s Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) expects this level of growth throughout this decade.

Desalinated water now accounts for more than 80% of Bahrain’s water consumption, a proportion that is likely to increase over time. Desalinated water capacity has increased significantly since 2009 with the commissioning of the third phase of the Hidd Power Company desalination plant, which has raised output to 90 mn gallons a day (g/d) – an increase of 60 mn g/d over its previous capacity.

Defence is another potential sector for geospatial industry in Bahrain. The government spends around $ 630 million annually on the military, which accounts to about 20% of the total expenditure. With the help of the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain has upgraded its defence systems and modernises its armed forces over the past 20 years. Bahrain’s strategic location in the Gulf has made it an ideal place for travel and trade. This geographical advantage has also necessitated a sophisticated security systems, be it surveillance Setting up the National GIS Steering Committee and BSDI has tremendously helped in mainstreaming the geospatial activities across the verticals. Various government agencies are now sharing, updating and using geospatial data for a variety of applications. This has enhanced the efficiency and the effectiveness of the processes and streamlined the development process in a sustainable way. Table 3 lists some of the geospatial applications in Bahrain.

 

CONCLUSION
Bahrain has everything that makes it a mature geospatial user. With a geospatial governing council in place, right mix of policies and the willingness to share data, Bahrain is a rising star in geospatial technology deployments. With the current rate of geospatial growth, the day is not far when geospatial technology will be imbibed in all government and private business processes.