Dubai invests in online government services

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The government in Dubai has launched a new online public services initiative, designed to make access easier and faster. Known as Dubai Smart Government (DSG), the scheme replaces the existing e-government system and is set to open digital doors to a broad range of business opportunities.

The goal is to make all government services that can be provided electronically to be available via smart devices within two years, further reducing the need to visit official offices. A set of detailed policies, guidelines and criteria for state agencies is being developed, coordinated by DSG to ensure that all organisations will be aligned towards the same goal.

According to Ahmad bin Humaidan, director-general of DSG, making processes simpler creates efficiencies, alleviates the burden on businesses and eases the lives of citizens in Dubai, which in turn enhances trust and confidence in the government.

“The aim of the government employing e-services and capitalising on the support of private partners, is to get closer to the citizens and businesses,” bin Humaidan told OBG. “Simplified and customer-focused services are mutually beneficial for the providers and the customers.”

The UAE already scores high globally when it comes to its e-government programmes. The Gulf nation ranked 25th out of 144 countries on the latest network readiness index from the World Economic Forum, placing 9th in the category of the availability of online government services. The UAE also ranked well in terms of government success in ICT promotion (1st), online participation of citizens (11th) and the number of mobile broadband subscriptions (49th).

Dubai residents will be able to access e-government services via a log-in linked to their national identity numbers, eliminating the need to register with each government entity separately. Take-up on the services is expected to be strong, with the smart phone penetration rate in the UAE standing at 62%, the highest in the world.

The scheme will likely boost demand for information and communications technology (ICT) in general, as the government invests in new equipment and services to ensure that the system operates smoothly and efficiently. It is also expected to increase the need for data storage capacity, as the number of transactions rises and more services are offered electronically.

Perhaps more importantly for an emirate trying to develop its own ICT sector, the smart government drive could open windows of opportunity for local application developers. The Department of Economic Development has initiated a programme to support software designers, providing funding to create new apps to access government services, as well as financial support for establishing a resident company in Dubai’s small and medium-sized enterprise incubator.

Although there are multiple business opportunities, more may need to be done so that Dubai can fully capitalise on its ICT programme. Eyad Shihabi, managing director for Hewlett-Packard Middle East, says e-government initiatives are a major driver for the ICT industry in Dubai and the rest of the UAE, but this needs to be supported by deepening the human resources pool, and furthering research and development capabilities.

“Dubai has made significant progress to become a knowledge-based economy. However, much remains to be done to achieve this vision, especially in the field of spurring innovation through academic programmes,” Shihabi told OBG.

The government’s stepped-up drive to enhance its electronic footprint is already bearing dividends, with DSG reporting an increase in revenues and completed transactions through its online payment service ePay and mobile payment service mPay, and customer satisfaction ratings approaching 90%. By encouraging the private sector to buy into the programme and educating an already smart phone-savvy public on the benefits of the new initiative, Dubai could make its government more accessible.

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