How Bahrain’s “cloud-first” philosophy will accelerate digital innovation

Bahrain has been on the forefront of digital transformation since the late 2000s. The Kingdom’s digital transformation efforts began with the National eGovernment Strategy in 2007 with a plan to deliver eServices to all constituents – citizens, residents and businesses – under the motto “Delivering customer value through a collaborative government.” The success of the strategy further propelled the Kingdom to develop numerous projects and initiatives ranging from the 2021 Economic Recovery plan to the most recent 2023 Government Action Plan that aims to position the Kingdom as a regional leader in digital transformation.

One of the key achievements was Bahrain emerging as a regional pioneer in the adoption of cloud computing. From being the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to adopt a ‘cloud-first’ policy in 2017 to Amazon Web Services setting up their first cloud region base in the GCC region in Bahrain in 2019, the drive to adopt cloud computing transformed the Kingdom.

This commitment to cloud computing doesn’t just make doing business easier — it has the potential to revolutionise how both the private and public sectors operate, and create a new phase of digital governance and economic growth.

Why cloud matters

Cloud computing has transformational attributes. It allows for a positive disruption with many advantages for governments and private corporations seeking to serve their citizens more efficiently and effectively. It enables users to access computer resources — such as data storage, processing power, and applications — wherever they need them. It offers the flexibility to scale operations up or down as require, while its pay-as-you-go nature removes the need for high upfront investments.

A paper by Harikrishnan Sugumaran, iGA Governance Architect, and Dr. Khalid Almutawah, Deputy Chief Executive for Operations and Governance, identifies further benefits which include:

• Positive environmental impact: Efficient use of computing capacity is beneficial for the environment because it consumes less energy than traditional computing networks, which rely on energy-hungry data centres.

Scalability: It offers unlimited scalability, meaning networks and services are less liable to be disrupted during periods where they face high demand

• Enhanced security: The cloud is centrally controlled, which enhances network security and increases operational efficiency. 

 Disaster recovery: Cloud provides more disaster recovery programs than traditional disaster recovery models for organisations to restore information in a more time efficient manner and have efficiencies in cost.

Bahrain’s drive to ‘cloud-first’

Digital culture has been the driving force for Bahrain to become a leader in digital transformation. The government’s digital-first policy aims to leverage the power of mature and emerging technologies to transform the Kingdom’s public and private sectors at the same time transforming the digital experiences of the citizens and end users.

As part of Bahrain’s drive for digital transformation, the cloud-first philosophy is now driving a coordinated government approach in areas such as fintech, robotics, cybersecurity, smart cities, and gaming.

Even before the pandemic, Bahrain was already a regional leader with one of the top five fastest-growing start-up ecosystems in the world. Bahrain was “up and running 24/7 during the pandemic” because of the Cloud First policy, according to Hesham Ebrahim Al-Hashemi, Director of Government Systems Support and Maintenance at the Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA).

Amazon Web Services, a leading cloud provider, established its first AWS Middle East Region out of Bahrain in 2019. According to latest figures, around 85% of government data has been transferred to the AWS platform, resulting in cost savings and time efficiencies.

For example, iGA says that “By migrating our national portal, mobile apps, and workloads to the AWS Cloud, we were able to reduce infrastructure cost by 70% and procurement cycle time by 60%.” Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, stated that the migrations to AWS resulted in flexibility in conducting their business. “The migration allows us to run our servers anywhere in the world, significantly reducing the need to maintain and upgrade hardware.”

Local private sector companies in Bahrain are also adopting the cloud, with the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait, National Bank of Bahrain and Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard Company among those who have moved to AWS.

The Kingdom’s drive for further transformation has led the iGA to launch a project to develop and modernise the infrastructure of its private data centre which resulted in a partnership with VMware, marking Bahrain as the first in the region to implement multi-cloud and hybrid cloud systems.

iGA’s Dr. Khaled Al-Mutawah, explains that with the implementation of this project, Bahrain will be the first country in the region to implement the multi-cloud and hybrid cloud system in the government sector, pointing to several advantages achieved as a result of activating this project. Some of the benefits are the provision and creation of an internal environment through which the systems are hosted as services in the internal cloud computing environment of iGA’s data centre (Private Hosting) managed by iGA’s team, while the role of the company, VMware, will be limited to carrying out the modernization of the centre’s infrastructure, supervising its operation, and performing periodic maintenance.

Supporting education to boost innovation  

Central to Bahrain’s cloud-first philosophy is an emphasis on equipping the next generation with the skills to make the most of the cloud. Already 70% of tech employees in the Kingdom are Bahraini. Ensuring a future stream of qualified workers means start-ups will be able to reach scale and Bahrain will be well positioned to attract foreign investment.

In 2019, the University of Bahrain became the first in the Middle East to introduce a cloud computing degree program. In the same year, AWS opened two new Cloud Innovation Centers, at the University of Bahrain and Bahrain Polytechnic. The Cloud Innovation Centers are intended to form the basis of long-term collaboration between the public sector and AWS to solve challenges facing the government as they evolve. 

At Bahrain Polytechnic’s Cloud Innovation Centre, students have been working on projects such as a chatbot for issuing proof of address certificates, and a satellite imaging system to map green areas in Bahrain and make it easier to identify and address non-permitted development.

Looking to the future

Bahrain’s digital transformation journey is only just beginning: ICT spending in the Kingdom is expected to exceed $2 billion in 2023, and the government is also partnering with STC to begin developing the region’s technology park.

The cloud therefore isn’t only modernising the Kingdom’s technological infrastructure, but positioning it for continued growth and competitiveness on the global stage.

Through these and other ongoing developments, the transition to the cloud looks set to reap continued benefits for the Kingdom’s public and private sectors alike.

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