As part of its efficiency drive, Abu Dhabi unveiled its new e-government initiative this week.
The new e-portal will bring together 500 of the government's services through the 'e-Abu Dhabi' site (www.abudhabi.ae
). It will also feature pages designed to facilitate business development in the emirate including information about starting a business, international trade with Dubai and rules and regulations.
According to Rashid al-Mansouri, chairman of the Abu Dhabi systems and information committee, the new online service will encourage business growth in Abu Dhabi. He said, "One of the things the business portal provides is a step-by-step guide to establishing a business in Abu Dhabi, where investors will find detailed information, concerned authorities and forms...There is no need for consultation. Doing business can never be easier."
The project will also give people access to a wide range of services for updating and applying for documentation such as passports, ID cards, visas, land and medical records. The e-government developments of Abu Dhabi follow those of Dubai, which launched its programme in 2001 to centralise all of its services through a single portal. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has called for 90% of Dubai's government services to be online by the end of 2007. The municipality of Dubai has achieved this target a year ahead of schedule with 518 services offered through the e-portal. The Abu Dhabi initiative will complement Dubai's efforts and will also fit into a federal plan for e-government.
This all bodes well for the IT sector in Abu Dhabi. The IT market in the UAE is $1.5-1.6bn which can be broken down into software, which accounts for $260m, IT services for $540m, computer hardware for $478m and data communications for $320m. Abu Dhabi alone takes 47% of the software market, 42% of the hardware market, 48% of the IT services market and 45% of the data communications market.
Government contracts in the IT sector continue to be large-scale lucrative projects, which constitute an important component of the sector. One leading IT firm in Abu Dhabi claims that approximately 75% of its enterprise business is still with the public sector, illustrating the broader trend across the IT sector. However, many of these projects involve public private partnerships and the growth of the private sector given the overall size and significance of the IT market.
Integrated technology systems are also becoming increasingly important in less glamorous settings with heavy industry and manufacturing companies requiring more sophisticated technology systems. For example, Abu Dhabi's industrial cities and the new industrial zones at Port Khalifa and Taweelah will require integrated technology solutions.
This has been facilitated by the increasing computer literacy throughout the country - which means the e-government initiatives will now have a receptive audience. According to figures recently released by Internet World Statistics, the UAE witnessed a 90% increase in internet use from 2000 to 2007. There are almost 1.4 million internet users in the UAE, giving it the highest internet penetration rate in the Arab world at 35.1% of the population.
It is in this context that Abu Dhabi wishes to develop a world-class e-government programme. Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Economic Forum, Mohammed al-Bowardi, secretary general of the Abu Dhabi executive council said, "We seek to become among the top-five e-government services providers worldwide."
However, this is not simply about offering better public services. It is part of a wider government restructuring programme that is expected to create greater efficiencies in the public sector to allow for further development of the private sector. For example, at the recent Abu Dhabi World Leadership summit Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chairman of the executive affairs authority, said the government had been successful in cutting down the size of the public sector from 65,000 jobs to 28,000. He went on to say that the target is to cut this by a further 10,000 jobs in 2007 and implementing strong e-government services is a crucial component of this strategy.