Bahrain is building a knowledge economy. Under the patronage of HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Chairman of the Economic Development Board, the government has set out The Economic Vision 2030, its blueprint for national transformation. At the heart of Vision 2030 is an aspiration to shift from an economy built on oil wealth to a productive, globally competitive economy.
The foundations for this vision were laid in 2003, when Bahrain became the first government in the region to implement a converged IP network. The initial aim was to use the high-speed Cisco infrastructure to improve the efficiency of services and drive closer collaboration between departments. However, return on investment was maximised in 2007 when the network provided a ready-made platform on which to implement the government’s e-enablement strategy.
A new organisation, the eGovernment Authority, was established by Royal Decree No. (69) in August 2007, to manage the transition of 200 key services that had been identified for delivery during a three year strategy through different channels, such as the eGovernment Portal and others. To date, more than 158 services have been streamlined and automated. This has helped to significantly reduce the cost and delivery time for everyday public services, such as issuing birth certificates online, training applications, car registrations, electricity & water bill payments and the payment of all traffic contraventions.
“Our approach is very much based on building services around customers. We have listened carefully to their feedback and added more services accordingly. Training and regular awareness campaigns have also helped to reinforce adoption rates. In the first year, only 7 percent of the population was using e-services. Now we are running at around 40 percent of the public, 94 percent of the businesses and 75 percent of the government are using our e-services.” says Mohammed Al Qaed, CEO for Bahrain eGovernment authority.
Bahrain’s achievements were formally recognised in January 2010, when it advanced 29 places in the United Nations e-Government Readiness index. It is now ranked the first among Arab nations and Middle East region, 3rd among Asian countries and 13th worldwide.
The latest focus of Bahrain’s transformation is to help foster knowledge and innovation so that businesses can become more competitive and citizens can realise their full potential in the digital world. Having made e-learning more widely available via the eGovernment Portal, the government was keen to explore new opportunities to help promote academic excellence and information exchange.
The opportunity to take another step forward in this transformation presented itself when Cisco sought to extend its presence and bring its Cisco Networkers event to Bahrain. The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) was chosen to provide a spectacular backdrop for the event.
The Bahrain Government, BIC, and Cisco have created an innovative public/private engagement model that supports the strategic vision of all three organisations.
The engagement has clearly defined the roles of the three organisations:
• Cisco helped the BIC to rapidly transform from a top motor sport venue into a multipurpose convention center. This transformation was achieved in two phases. Cisco provided the BIC with a unified architecture based on its latest routing, switching, and wireless technologies. The new network was then used as a platform to support Cisco solutions, including Unified Communications (IP telephony and unified messaging), radio-frequency identification (RFID), StadiumVision, Digital Signage, and TelePresence Technology.
• BIC agreed to host Cisco Networkers 2010, a live technology showcase and a four-day event for ICT professionals, providing technical training and networking opportunities. This event consisted of five programs running in parallel, attracting a varied audience from C-level executives, key decision makers, and ICT professionals from the Government and Business sectors in addition to the press and analyst communities.
• The Bahrain government has provided substantial support to promote the event using all available channels, such as media, audio, video, and many other channels. The government also urged all Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) members to ensure best and attractive airfares, hotel rates, visa and customs fees were waved , in addition to hosting an evening networking reception highlighting the culture of Bahrain.
“It really was a meeting of the minds. It was a fantastically exciting opportunity and, at the same time, a bit daunting. As a relatively small country, we had to grow awareness very quickly and make sure people knew we were here. As the third largest Formula One venue, our global brand helped to fulfill that role,” says Sheikh Salman, CEO from the Bahrain International Circuit.
Following 16 months of extensive planning, marketing, and engineering, the BIC opened its doors on the 28 March 2010 to over 3000 technology experts, key business leaders, and purchasing decision makers.
Bringing Cisco Networkers 2010 to the Middle East for the first time has been a huge success. “It was a dream to hold such an event in Bahrain. From day one, we could see that Cisco shared the same passion. Together, we created an infectious environment, and it has been invaluable in terms of changing mindsets, transferring knowledge, and building contacts,” says Mohammed Al Qaed.
The natural layout of the venue helped to create one long island of Cisco partner stands, which were divided logically by solution, such as Borderless Networks and Collaboration. This arrangement provided a valuable location for meetings with Cisco engineers and experts and opportunity for attendees to meet and collaborate.
The tone was set with a science-fiction-like video welcome as a hologram of Cisco Senior Vice President of Emerging Technologies, Marthin De Beer, appeared via three-dimensional Cisco TelePresence Technology to take part in the live keynote session.
Following the opening keynote, visitors could make their way to the World of Solutions to discuss emerging and core technology solutions. Alternatively, they could visit a Design Clinic, where Cisco engineers were on hand to whiteboard and share knowledge of how to fix a specific problem. For those looking for ‘one-on-one’ time, Meet the Engineer provided the perfect opportunity to work through challenges that they might be facing.
For the BIC, the engagement has also created an oasis of exciting new possibilities. “The big challenge for us is make the in-stadium experience as compelling and as interesting as the watch-at-home experience. Through the use of Cisco technology, we intend to take fan experience to the next level by making it more personal, more interactive, and more fun. We can also think about developing a new business model, one that would help us grow revenue and limit costs,” says Sheikh Salman.
Aligned with Connected Stadium, the Cisco vision for the next-generation stadium, BIC can use the network as a platform to optimise all aspects of the business. These other aspects include the surround components that ‘touch’ and therefore contribute toward defining the overall spectator experience, such as safety and security, media content, facilities management, event staffing, gaming, parking, and concessions.
The Cisco wireless network allows different event configurations to be implemented in different areas of the stadium, for example, to enable security teams to use scanners and speed up stadium entry, or concession holders to use electronic point-of-sale. The wireless network can also be extended, so that spectators can access video playbacks, message boards, gaming, statistics, or online ticket sales and merchandising.
The Cisco architecture can also be used in the future to deliver video, for example, of press conferences, interviews and behind-the-scenes action. As well as making the in-stadium experience more compelling to customers, this capability will help to increase revenues from advertisers, sponsors, and merchandise sales.
BIC can also use the network to consolidate and centrally manage the BIC’s building management systems. The ability to get real-time information on the consumption of water, gas and electricity will help to lower running costs, while also enabling the stadium to become greener and more environmentally friendly.