Riding on the cloud to a Smart Bangladesh by 2041

By Yong Shu Chiang

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the State Minister for ICT at the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications & Information Technology, tells GovInsider how a government cloud enables Bangladesh to better serve citizens going forward.

State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak shares that the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) can help Bangladesh to advance its digital transformation. Image: Oracle.

Ten years ago, on a visit to Singapore, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications & Information Technology State Minister for ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, first learned about the Singapore Government’s plans to implement a government-on-commercial cloud strategy. 

Speaking with GovInsider in April on the sidelines of the Oracle CloudWorld Tour Singapore 2024, Minister Palak called this his “first learning and education on government cloud”.  

“We have since seen how the Singapore Government has created smart solutions for its citizens and become a role model for the world. In Bangladesh, we are really interested in migrating all our government services into the cloud.” Where he spoke about the country’s recent partnership with Oracle to set up a government sovereign cloud. 

Adopting a government cloud 

As the youngest Minister in Bangladesh’s cabinet, he has received accolades for his forward-thinking approach to digital government and was listed as one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government" in a 2018 list by Apolitical.

“We had designed and introduced the Bangladesh national digital architecture – the National Enterprise Architecture (NEA) Bus, also known as the National e-Service Bus – and one after another, we introduced different digital government services,” he said. 

“But all these different platforms need to be securely hosted somewhere, and we cannot store our national data, our citizens’ critical data, outside of our country. That is why we have decided to have a very robust and secure cloud facility in our government-owned data centre.” 

On May 6 this year, the Bangladesh Data Center Company Limited, Bangladesh’s government-owned data storage and disaster recovery services provider, announced that it had implemented Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Dedicated Region in its own data centres to help accelerate Bangladesh’s cloud-led digital transformation initiative called Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041.  

GovInsider previously covered how the Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041 aims to eliminate poverty by 2041 and achieve high-income status with a per-capita income of over US$12,500. Its digital plans include introducing a universal digital identity, digital skilling programmes, and a paperless government. 

2,500 government services digitalised 

At the event, Minister Palak shared that the Bangladesh Government had, to date, digitalised approximately 2,500 government services. The government cloud will help the developing country continue its digitalisation journey, he said. 

By adopting a government cloud strategy, “we can accelerate the modernisation of key government activities such as e-voting, e-health service, e-filing, virtual courts, e-judiciary, and so on.” 

“I consider [a government cloud] the backbone of our smart government vision,” he told GovInsider, adding: “Whatever services we would like to introduce, from government to citizen, we need to store, we need to process all the services, all the platforms, in a data centre. But without having cloud solutions, we cannot scale it up, we cannot make it secure, we cannot accommodate all the frontier technology-based solutions. 

“That is why we decided to have a very robust and secure cloud facility in our government-owned data centre, and that is why we decided to [implement] Oracle Cloud.” 

Catering to citizens, maintaining trust 

Digitalising government services is one thing; getting citizens to use these services is another.  

“Our younger generation have different types of requirements,” said Minister Palak, who noted that his government had identified three different categories of citizens who use government services that the government will need to design for. 

These include the older generation, who prefer accessing services in physical centres, as well as people who prefer to access a combination of digital and physical services. 

“The third group, the Millennials and Gen Z, they don’t want to visit offices or meet any government officials anymore. They want faceless, contactless, presence-less government services, the Minister said.  

Another issue is that of data security and citizen trust. Minister Palak noted that Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, produces a significant amount of citizen data. 

“Not only in Bangladesh, but anywhere in the world, citizens really face a dilemma in giving their personal data to any organisations, whether it’s government or private sector, whether it is local or international.  

“Our goal is to ensure data-driven decision-making in every sphere of our government procedures. 

“That’s why it’s very important, and [a secure cloud] also protects our government critical information infrastructure, from unauthorised access, to make our infrastructure and service platforms secure, at the same time protecting our citizens’ private data.” 

Bangladesh’s recently announced sovereign government cloud enables it to control its cloud infrastructure and store data locally to help its government entities meet digital sovereignty requirements, he added. 

Public-private partnerships will help Bangladesh “leapfrog” 

Minister Palak said that his country’s encouraging ICT journey over the past 15 years has convinced him that private-public partnerships are the way forward. 

“Ten years ago, when we decided to install fibre-optic cables to our villages, we did so in partnership with the private sector,” he said, noting that this enabled the authorities to better serve its citizens across the country. 

“During Covid, we got the ‘benefit’ as everything shifted from physical to digital. This even enabled Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to conduct 1,600 digital meetings with national and international stakeholders.” 

Minister Palak noted that Bangladesh still had a mindset of having to catch up to the rest of the world, as the country had “started late” on government digitalisation. 

“Before 2009, we had no digital footprint in our government procedures or mechanisms. We realised then there was a legacy and a dilemma, a reluctance in government to embrace new technologies and to innovate. 

“But now we don’t want to wait so long [for progress], and we want to have a ‘leapfrog’ progress in the next 17 years, to fulfil the target of building a Smart Bangladesh.”