ITA launches Sas Programme in cooperation with UKBI and Coventry University
- Oman: Thursday, March 14 - 2013 at 16:41
- PRESS RELEASE
The 'Sas Programme', the Information Technology Authority's latest initiative supported by UKBI and Coventry University was formerly launched at its premises located on the 4th Floor in the KOM4 building, at the Knowledge Oasis Muscat. The Sas Programme is an ICT business development initiative and a state-of-the-art business designed to help promote small and medium enterprises (SMEs) build a robust ICT sector in Oman.
Speaking on the auspicious occasion, Dr. Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi, ITA's Chief Executive Officer, said, "The Sas programme is a key element of our strategy to develop ICT business incubation in Oman. The strategy was developed jointly with United Kingdom Business Incubation (UKBI) and Coventry University and now the programme is being officially launched from these prestigious premises in the KOM4 building."
Highlighting what the Sas Centre will offer to Omanis, Dr. Al Ruzaiqi said, "The aim is to create a business eco-system which will help to develop globally competitive ICT businesses here in Oman. ITA urges the private and public organizations to allocate 10% of their projects to be given to SMEs, including the ones in Sas Programme. The physical centre for Sas is now officially open, and we invite all Omanis, wherever they are based around the country and who feel that they have an ICT-based idea which can be developed into a business to contact the Sas Team following this launch today."
'Sas' is an Arabic concept that refers to any solid foundation. Hence the 'Sas Programme' is designed to provide the foundation for creating a new and vibrant ICT industry, thereby fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in the ICT sector in Oman.
Targeting small and medium ICT businesses, students, and jobseekers of any age interested in starting a business, the Sas Programme seeks to develop an internationally competitive ICT industry in Oman, attract more foreign and local investment in the ICT sector, encourage and support innovation by contributing to the introduction of new technologies to create innovative products, solutions and services and encourage young graduates to create their own businesses through the development and implementation of entrepreneurship culture-building activities.
Agreement for the Sas Programme was signed in the summer of 2011, with the United Kingdom Business Incubation (UKBI), and already the center has 12 projects; 9 of which are being fully incubated and 3 projects in the pre-incubation phase. The fields of IT specialization for the incubated projects vary but include geographic information systems and software development, graphic design and multimedia programmes, film-making and website design.
Criteria and process to join the SAS Programme
The criteria for joining the Sas Programme requires only that one: is Omani; is not in full time employment; has their own 'big' idea and is fully committed to developing it into a real business; is ready to learn and open to new ideas and techniques; and is ready to take the opportunity to be in control of one's own future. We would like to dispel the common misconception that incubation and business development programmes have an age and/or qualification cap. This is not the case for the Sas Programme; the Sas Programme and Centre welcome all prospective incubatees young and old, whether in possession of a qualification or not.
To facilitate the growth of ICT-enabled businesses in Oman, the Sas Programme offers training workshops and seminars to the entrepreneurs in all aspects of starting up and running a business. Participation also extends to joining ITA's 'networks', thereby allowing new businesses to extend its range of contacts and business opportunities and connect to an international network of dynamic young businesses. The services offered by the Programme include: client needs assessment, accountancy, legal, business management, human resources, marketing, governmental support, investment readiness, access to finance, and client networking.
The three year business development programme will be in four phases: pre incubation, early stage, classic incubation and graduation. In the first stage, incubatees are asked to prepare their business plan and develop it to be then evaluated and selected by an assessment panel. If their plan is accepted, the incubatees will advance to the next stages. Here, they are provided with IT infrastructure, client support services, team-building activities, and business development workshops. In the final stage, they will graduate if they have achieved a sufficient level of sales and profitability that permits them to be successful after leaving Sas Programme.
Almuatasim Al Hinai, Digital Gulf LLC
One of the incubatees recently taken up residence at the newly launched Sas Centre is Mr. Almuatasim Al Hinai, owner of Digital Gulf. Almuatasim first heard about the ICT business development programme during last year's COMEX exhibition. Digital Gulf is a GIS solutions technology business, having been established two years ago. GIS refers to 'geographic information systems' which pertains to information systems which map and publish geographic imagery data from around the world, similar to Google Maps.
To get an idea of the kinds of business that Digital Gulf offers, Almuatasim shares with us some of the work he does for clients: "Digital Gulf is building a GIS system to help the Ministry of Housing manage their extensive land data. Another client is the Ministry of Religious Affairs, who is interested in mapping mosque locations so that future mosque locations are better managed. As a company we create map applications for mobiles or the web, but also develop the 'backend' systems, the databases which help to manage the large amounts of data. Within the private sector, many enterprise businesses do have a need to keep location data and do need to find ways to manage properties, such as utility companies and oil and gas companies. In the public sector, most government organizations either do have GIS sections or are on the way to implement GIS."
When asked about the benefits that the Sas Programme will offer to Digital Gulf, Almuatasim was quick to point out that Sas was more than just a place. The company was located elsewhere in Muscat and recently moved to the Sas Centre. But, as Almuatasim so eloquently states, "The place is not the priority. Digital Gulf desires to be part of an interesting ICT work environment, which the SAS Center offers with all the companies currently resident in the Center. And as new company, we gain the courage to continue on our way and build our company much further."
Almuatasim continues by saying: "Being part of Sas, and by extension the ITA, is like a vote of confidence. The ITA has been a strong supporter of us in the GIS sector and ITA is a sort of supporter of ICT development. We foresee our partnership with ITA will really assist us in making better connections with the ministries. Another benefit we see is the marketing and business development training that Sas offers. We also learn things like how to penetrate the market with our products and services and network. When we first entered the market, we felt comfortable with the technical side of GIS and IT, but lacked the business expertise."
Dhahi Al Mashifari, Global Computers
Another incubatee in the Sas Programme and Centre, Mr. Dhahi Al Mashifari, first heard about the incubation programme from an ITA employee. Dhahi's first foray into business ownership goes back to 1999, when Global Computers was first established. He worked at the business until 2006, until the requirement for full-time work became a necessity, at which time he joined the Information Technology Authority (ITA), resigning in 2012 to re-establish Global Computers.
Global Computers primarily offers software development and system integration. Describing his company, Dhahi said, "Our focus is to develop software that helps people to carry on with their lives in a better way. We are always targeting quality - if we cannot deliver the highest of quality, we don't bid for it. We also like our systems to be flexible and sustainable - a system shouldn't need to be under constant repair; so we use reusable components. Lastly, we implement and enforce best practices and standards in all our systems that we develop or create."
Though an already established IT business owner, Dhahi can see the value and benefits offered under the Sas programme; benefits that he was not getting on his own, as he now restarts Global Computers. Dhahi said, "The tangible benefits offered to incubatees, such as lower rental costs which are vital to new companies, are not the only benefits of Sas. More importantly, the incubatees recognize the value of ITA knowledge and reputation. It's good to be part of ITA, because other people they know that Sas is linked with ITA and ITA is known for the relationship with government entities. Incubatees will gain a sort of added trust to their ICT businesses; 'ITA trusts them, so we will trust them'. It's an indirect benefit." He continues: "In terms of the skills I already have, I bring the technology skills with me. What I have is more than enough for the market, for the time being. But the missing part for me is how to interact from the point of view of business. I lack the business acumen and the sales and marketing skills to sell my product and my business, and Sas can assist me with this."
Speaking to Dhahi, we were interested in finding out more about what gaps in the market existed which encouraged him to create Global Computers, as the recognition of a need or service not available in the market usually drives innovation. This was an easy question for Dhahi who was quick to point out three gaps.
When I first started the business in 1999, there was an overwhelming gap in the creation of available Arabic content online and this is still an issue. Another gap that exists is establishing local companies who can regularly provide sustainable end-to-end solutions. Recently Dhahi made a bid for a contract proposing an end-to-end solution for a prospective client. This client really wanted to award this contract to a local IT business, but could not find one who could deliver his requirement.
Exposing Global Computers to a new market area in his proposal, unfortunately he lost the bid but learned a tremendous amount from the experience. A last gap Dhahi has identified is ensuring that Global Computers is the one company that is expert in linking stand-alone systems. He said. "The company has designed a system that can pull data from this to this, from this to this; it's flexible. He says that about 90% of the globe depends solely on silo/individual systems and integration is not a consideration, but should be."
Following the opening ceremony and speeches during the official launch of the Sas Programme there was a tour of Sas Centre, in which the services and facilities available to incubatees as part of the Sas Programme were showcased. Marking the newness of the physical Centre of the Sas Programme, keys were distributed to the incubatees. Part of the tour of the Centre included brief stops at some of the offices of the incubatees including: Ki-Bro (film-making), Etijahat (graphic design), Digital Gulf (GIS) and Muscat United (software development.)
Center of Excellence for eContent and Application Development
With conclusion of the tour of the Sas Centre up on the 4th Floor of KOM4, it was the perfect opportunity to introduce the public to another one of ITA's initiatives. The 'Center of Excellence for eContent and Application Development' is a new up and coming project aimed to assist with the business development of SMEs. This Centre operates with the support and collaboration of eon reality and ASM Technology. There are three Phases of the project: Phase I - the establishment of a training centre and Omani youth outreach; Phase II - assisting Omani youth to be pioneers in the Gulf region in the production of this type of content; and, Phase III - attracting and implementing regional projects through the Centre.
The first phase of the project is currently underway with the first batch of 40 trainees working on viable projects, with requests already being received to nominate students for the second batch of training. Communication has been initiated with government agencies and non-governmental organizations to raise awareness and create opportunities for the implementation of local projects. As for the physical establishment of the Center, tenders are still under evaluation for construction. The Center aims to train 40 Omanis every 4 months, amounting to 120 per year, for a period of 5 years, for a total of 600 trainees at the end of the fifth year.
Looking ahead, when the Center is has been fully established, we are targeting the creation of 20 Omani companies specializing in virtual reality over the next five years. During the quick tour of the eContent Centre, the audience was treated to short presentations on four virtual reality projects; one describing the history of Nizwa Fort, another one demonstrating safe driving instruction, another designed specifically to help autistic children, and finally a game for children to teach about the healthy eating.
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