Technology-driven innovation picks up pace in Dubai

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Local government initiatives to enhance service provision are creating opportunities for Dubai’s ICT sector, while new federal laws to attract innovators and investment should help the emirate achieve its technological objectives.

In late May the Dubai government unveiled the Real Estate Self Transaction (REST) initiative, a management platform for real estate dealings to be created in partnership with the private sector and operated by the Dubai Land Department (DLD).

REST will provide an online platform for property purchases, sales and leases, and is set to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2020. Based on blockchain technology, the programme will also allow owners to pay service and utility bills electronically.

“By enabling customers to directly manage all elements of the real estate transaction process online, the platform helps them save considerable time and effort,” Sultan Butti bin Mejren, DLD’s director-general, said at the launch of the scheme.

Indeed, with around 40% of Dubai property owners based outside the UAE, and property transactions largely reliant on the physical presence of parties and the completion of paperwork at DLD centres, the REST programme has the potential to have a major impact on the way the market operates.

Broader goal of streamlining public services

REST forms part of the Dubai 10X initiative, which aims to better harness disruptive innovation to improve service delivery by replacing or streamlining existing business or operational processes.

Launched in February 2017 and expanded in February this year with the introduction of 26 new projects, the 10X initiative seeks to advance Dubai’s smart credentials a decade beyond those of other cities. At its core is the goal of making all Dubai government functions paperless by 2021, and moving all property transactions online is a step in that direction.

Dubai Tourism, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), and the Dubai Health Authority are among the 24 agencies launching projects under the second phase of 10X.

Like the DLD’s REST platform, Dubai Tourism will be employing blockchain technology, this time to develop smart contracting services. DEWA, for its part, will be digitising its services, while Dubai Health is undertaking a human genome project. As with all 10X projects, these are designed to reinvent the way government departments provide services and make significant strides in the effectiveness of their delivery.

Visa liberalisation to attract talent, investment

Pursuing a technology-driven economy under the auspices of Dubai 10X is likely to require expansion of the ICT workforce. Although Dubai has already developed a sizeable talent pool, staffing needs are expected to rise as the government’s drive towards its paperless target of 2021 picks up pace.  

To this end, the federal government has been working to facilitate the migration of talent to the country, and on May 20 it announced the introduction of a new visa system, providing long-term residency for business investors and specialists bringing required skills into the economy.

The new regulations, to come into effect in the third quarter of the year, will open the way for specialists in medicine, science, research and technical development, and engineering to obtain residency for a 10-year period.

The regulations also offer extended residency to overseas students of exceptional quality and skills – an incentive for them to stay on in the emirate after completing their education and contribute to the local economy.

Another reform will allow overseas investors to fully own companies based anywhere in the UAE. Presently, only businesses operating out of free trade zones can be 100% foreign owned, with firms outside of these areas required to have an Emirati-majority partner.

The ownership regulations and visa rules are expected to encourage tech start-ups and knowledge-driven firms to establish themselves in Dubai, and the UAE more generally, letting them develop medium-term plans and attract the talent needed to grow.

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