Information and communication technologies during past decades have evolved rapidly with a significant impact on our way of life. This digital transformation is particularly tangible in the government.
The term “E-Government” is the most visible crystallization of the IT and ICT in today’s governance to a degree that the E–Government Development Index (EGDI) is often considered a key indicator for transparency and efficiency.
Due to international trade sanctions and severe political and economic limitations throughout the 1990s, digital information and telecommunication technologies came relatively late to the Kurdistan Region.
Following the 1991 Gulf War and uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, the newly established Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administered what became known as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, KRI.
The establishment of the KRG in 1992 coincided also with the worldwide transition to offline desktop computers and workstations replacing traditional typewriters.
The emergence of the Internet redefined the world of computing. The KRG registered its first Internet domain, ‘KRG.org’, in 1997 giving it a presence on the World Wide Web.
Businesses as well as individuals followed by establishing online identities through websites.
The Kurdistan Region has been leading the ICT sector in Iraq since 2003. State of the art, advanced and high capacity connectivity infrastructure such as optical fiber and LTE networks mark the ICT field in our country today. ICT infrastructure has advanced to the extent that foreign visitors occasionally remark that Internet service in the Kurdistan Region is better than in their hometowns.
Rapid developments in the field of IT and ICT as well as the increasing demand for complex IT solutions in the government require a carefully formulated IT strategy and a clear roadmap for a phased approach.
In 2007, the KRG Department of Information Technology (DIT) was established to better focus and manage this process. In 2011, working towards formulating an IT strategy and a clear roadmap for implementation, guided by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) the DIT conducted surveys and assessments to determine IT disposition and capability within KRG organizations.
Not only did the KRG need to plan and build critical infrastructure, it also had to ensure that all stakeholders were prepared for digital transformation and e-government.
Far-reaching regulatory and standardization requirements along with financial support and investment were other results of this in-depth study. Strategic objectives were developed and outcomes were articulated. Projects and initiatives were aligned, categorized, and fit to strategies according to blueprints and priorities. For example, here are two project initiatives:
.KRD, Kurdistan Region’s top-level domain
Managed by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), top level domains (TLDs) group to gather online resources on the Internet for assorted reasons. UN member states and recognized territories are assigned unique country codes - TLDs (ccTLDs) for example “.UK” while companies and organizations use generic TLDs (gTLDs) such as “.COM” and “.ORG”.
Until 2014 Kurdistan Region’s institutions, individuals and businesses had no option to choose an online name space (TLD) to represent them according to their geographical, governmental, or cultural affiliations.
To overcome this impediment, in 2013 the KRG applied for “.KRD” as a new top-level domain for the Kurdistan Region. In July 2014, fulfilling all requirements, “.KRD” became a technical and operational reality. Government entities and universities were given priority to move to “gov.krd” and “edu.krd”. While “.KRD” is a crucial component of our online infrastructure, an aim is to also make it commercially attractive.
The Biometric Registration Project
Weak identification documents are major problems for developing countries. Multiple identities and lack of a system to detect such cases result in irregularities opening the door wide open for fraud. In addition, ambiguous identities prohibit online systems to deliver e-services requiring authentication.
To begin moving beyond a decades-old practice in Iraq of government service being a normal form of social welfare, the KRG embarked on acquiring a solid grip of all persons on the government payroll. This process began with a biometric registration system using iris and fingerprint recognition technologies.
To safeguard the security, privacy, and availability of data, the KRG’s first datacenter based on the latest cloud computing technologies was established. On June 15, 2017, the KRG announced that close to 1.2 million individuals receiving monthly compensation were registered. The system proved to be extremely resilient, stable, and performed well in producing biometric matching results. Unique personal numbers (UPNs) for every individual can now be issued and the way is now paved for a KRG-wide identity management system.
IT and ICT are no longer governance support functions; they are integral to the functioning of good government. KRG leadership has been increasingly supportive of IT projects to modernize governance with a view toward improved efficiency, transparency, and effectiveness. The era of enterprise applications, critical national infrastructure, sound policies and modern governance is finally on the horizon for which people of Kurdistan have patiently waited.
Hiwa Afandi, Head of KRG Department of Information Technology