The government of Abu Dhabi is looking to introduce greater automation of service provision – or e-government. This has already started to bear fruit. In 2010-11 the UAE as a whole was ranked 24th in the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index, and in third place for e-government readiness.
Partly, this is in response to global trends; Abu Dhabi is looking to position itself as a global business centre, and the skilled workers it seeks to attract are already used to carrying out a great many tasks online, such as banking or information finding, as well as dealing with the government. However, another reason the Abu Dhabi government has taken to egovernment is that it offers the chance to deliver services more cost-effectively, and often more conveniently, while increasing transparency.
SUPERVISION: The main responsibility for the egovernment programme lies with the Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre (ADSIC). ADSIC was founded in 2005 as a government committee charged with looking into how to implement IT policies and was upgraded to an independent unit in 2008.
Part of ADSIC’s work is concerned with the government’s internal administration code, such as drawing up guidelines and IT policies. However, the agency’s principal task has been to host a platform upon which other government departments can provide services to the public.
ADSIC operates a dedicated e-government portal – abudhabi.ae – through which the public can do around 900 types of transactions with the authorities. Chiefly, these consist of accessing information, paying fines, taxes and so forth, and obtaining government forms and submitting them electronically. ADSIC also operates a call centre so these matters can be dealt with over the phone.
RESULTS: So far, the e-government programme has been relatively successful. According to a survey of household internet use conducted by the TRA in 2010, while activities such as emailing and using social networking sites dominated usage, 6% of users claimed to have interacted with government agencies online over the previous 12 months. Additionally, 9% of correspondents had obtained information relating to health services, 11% had obtained information from government agencies and 12% had paid utility bills (which are paid to a state body in the UAE).
Though the most recent figures on e-government usage date from 2010, the rise in population and keen uptake among affluent UAE consumers of data services and smartphones means these figures are likely to have risen. In 2011 the UAE recorded mobile penetration of 199%, while there were 454,000 dialup subscribers and 874,000 broadband subscribers, yielding an internet user penetration rate of 56.4%.
DIGITAL DIVIDE: That said, as in many other countries, something of a digital divide remains. Older people tend to be less comfortable with computers and using them for services such as banking or dealing with the government. Moreover, Emiratis in general prefer to do things face-to-face.
However, the national population is very young, with around half of Emirati nationals in Abu Dhabi under the age of 20, according to figures from the Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi. As with young people everywhere, they have grown up with computers and consider the ability to use them a right. For those Emiratis who want to improve their computer literacy, ADSIC runs special courses, which are available for free across the emirate.
ICT is now a full and integral part of the national curriculum in the UAE, and the government is moving to introduce greater use of computers in schools in a bid to enhance overall learning as well as improving e-literacy. Recent measures include a $90m project to link 268 schools together with a high-speed network to support e-learning, and an interactive environmental map of the UAE which has been developed by the Environment Agency to teach children about the importance of sustainability measures.
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