Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Microsoft makes first trip to Kurdistan

Erbil, Kurdistan - Iraq - Aiming at helping the regional government of Kurdistan to develop its technological sector, a leading delegation from the Microsoft Corporation made its first visit Sunday to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

The visit was made possible by an invitation by the two-year old Department of Technology of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that has set a five-year IT strategy to increase the use of technology in the government.

Leila Serhan, general manager of Microsoft in Lebanon chairing the delegation, was “impressed by the level” of technological facilities available in Kurdistan.

“We have seen not only an evolution but a revolution,” Serhan told reporters in reference to the occurrence of the region’s technological progress in the last two years, since the establishment of the KRG’s IT department.

Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991, the end of the Gulf War. Unlike the rest of Iraq, which has been largely plagued by violence, this region has been a relatively safe haven allowing foreign investors to come and help the three provinces of Erbil, Suleimaniah and Duhok to boom.

But there are still challenges facing the business-friendly region as it is trying to build an IT infrastructure or become an electronic government (e-government).

Botan Osman, director of the IT Department, said that the Kurdistan government is still in the very beginning of a long journey to reach an e-government.

“E-government is a vision. It’s not easy,” said Osman.

He added that the main challenges that the local government is facing include the lack of equipped cadres, technological illiteracy, and the lack of willingness to accept some changes that e-government would bring with itself.

“We don’t have a budget yet,” said Osman, in a press conference held in the Council of Ministers in Erbil.

“It should not be like that. Regardless of its technological advancement, a country like the UK spent 3 percent of its budget last year in ICT [information of communication technologies].”

The delegation also included representatives of Microsoft from Africa and Pakistan.

“Our aim is to explore opportunities for Microsoft here,” said Rajai Khadem, Microsoft Business Development Manager in Iraq.

Serhan, of Microsoft, expected that Kurdistan would face similar challenges that Microsoft witnessed in other developing countries like Lebanon.

“But we are experienced. I am sure we can overcome, let me use a stronger word, destroy them,” added Serhan.

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