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Dubai’s ambition is not just to bring advanced technologies and automating tasks

(Image credit: Smart Dubai)

Digital transformation is not a new concept to Dubai. The city’s smart transformation journey began in 1999 with the establishment of the e-Government, later know as Smart Dubai Government (SDG). SDG, an establishment now within the Smart Dubai Office, has saved the Dubai Government over $1.2 billion over the past 13 years, through shared infrastructure and shared smart services provided for more than 70 government entities.

Today, Dubai Government is saving $5.6 for every $1 spent by SDG, Dr. Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai, told TechRadar Middle East. “Dubai’s ambition goes beyond simply bringing advanced technologies and automating tasks. The emirate is looking to establish itself as a full-fledged smart city of the future, build a robust, integrated and interconnected ecosystem where advanced technologies are utilised to serve the people and ensure their well-being,” she said.

To pull off such a significant feat, she added that individuals and organisations from across both the public and private sectors are needed to work together and harmonise efforts, which was where difficulties initially lay.

Over the years she said that SDG has partnered with all Dubai government entities and several federal and private sector entities to build a roadmap for the seamless digital transformation of Dubai, and today, “I will reiterate that these strategic partnerships are the very core of Smart Dubai’s foundation and success”.

A key goal for Dubai’s smart transformation is the successful execution of the Dubai Paperless Strategy by 2021. The strategy aims to 100% digitise all government services, and offer these services to the residents and visitors of Dubai via one mobile platform. “One of the key challenges we foresaw when planning Smart Dubai’s digital transformation roadmap was the legal acceptance of e-documents and e-signatures as proof of identity or ownership, which is why one of the three pillars of the Dubai Paperless Strategy is in fact ‘Legislation’”.

The need for a culture shift

The strategy is expected to help Dubai to eliminate the use of over one billion pieces of paper used in government operations every year and save each resident of Dubai 40 hours due to the lack of travel and service centre visits currently needed for government transactions, and to cut costs.

“Since the launch of the Paperless Strategy in February 2018, we have been working with the Dubai Supreme Legislation Committee to amend laws that accept electronic documentation as proof of ownership and electronic signatures as proof of transaction,” she said.

SDG gave birth to “UAE Pass” in October 2018, a National Digital Identity directly linked to the Emirates ID. “UAE Pass also has an e-signature solution, which allows you to sign contracts or documents, helping you buy a car, register a business or rent a home with a click of a button through the app. Registering on UAE Pass gives residents a single set of credentials which will give them access to any and every government service, not only from local government entities, but federal entities as well,” Bin Bishr said.

However, she said that a culture shift towards going completely paperless is also something “we believe will take time, which is why we are addressing this challenge as the third pillar of the strategy”. Today, she said that it is difficult to persuade people to believe that an electronic document is a proof that they own a house.

“We have been tuned to printed papers, with rubber stamps for years, and this perception cannot be changed overnight. With that being said, we believe once the technology is in place and fully secure, and once the respective legal authorities have fully accepted all form of electronic documentation, we will be running city-wide workshops educating all residents on the environmental, economic and social benefits of going paperless, aiming to change existing perceptions and mindsets,” Bin Bishr said.

Ensuring better customer service

For a government to be truly fulfilling its purpose, she said that its first priority must be its people. No amount of initiatives, projects and programmes introduced will accomplish the objectives unless they were designed with the people’s interest and well-being in mind, she said.

But how does a government confirm that its programmes are indeed fulfilling their goals and how can it effectively measure the impact of their initiatives?

This is where “happiness as a metric” comes in, she said, to determine the extent to which the services are fulfilling their intended purpose. “We must begin by gauging just how happy the people that these services target really are. With that purpose in mind, the Happiness Agenda was conceived to promote a globally unique, science-based, and methodical approach to measure, impact, and sustain happiness across the city. After all, Smart Dubai’s leading objective is to use technology to spread happiness among its people,” she said. 

DSG launched the “Happiness Meter” which records happiness levels during any interaction customers have with 174 government and private sector entities in the city. “These votes, positive or negative, are reported live to the respective entities’ CEOs via a dashboard. Based on the results, necessary changes are made to ensure better customer service, resulting in higher happiness levels in the city. These happiness votes can be recorded across any interaction channels – in person, web or mobile. Over the past three years, we have recorded over 22 million votes, with happiness levels in the city being 90% by the end of 2018,” she said.