ABU DHABI // Government officials from across the GCC have heard from experts in social media and online security at a conference held this week in the capital.
As local government aims to provide more services through online and mobile platforms, the importance of data security and positive interaction with the public were highlighted as key issues.
Across two days of presentations and discussions, experts stressed that successful implementation of e-government services was dependent on maintaining a dialogue with the public, while upholding the highest standards of information security.
"Part our mandate is to create and share knowledge, not just within the UAE but across the region," said Rabei Wazzeh, executive director of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group, the forum organisers.
"With the expansion of e-government and the progress towards smart government, there is a lot of value in bringing in experts from across the GCC to share their progress and learn from each other's experiences.
"Some of the countries are ahead of others, so it is interesting to hear how countries selected the services that are being provided in e-government, like apps and online platforms.
"There are also important security issues to be addressed. But if these are properly introduced then it leads to better lives for all citizens in this region."
Mr Wazzeh added that the forum had been "very beneficial" and that attendees are "going home with more ideas and more knowledge and, most importantly, they are sharing risk mitigation practises".
It was this risk that Dr Angelika Plate, director of strategic security consulting at helpAG, a security advisory firm, was keen to highlight in her keynote address.
"Social media in themselves are neither good nor bad, they are up to whatever the organisation makes of them," she said.
"In order to get the full benefit, they need to make sure they operate securely and not give out unsolicited messages and don't give rise to any security concerns through their use.
"For security, the human being is always the most difficult bit. Any computer can be set up securely but you need to make sure that people get the message. You need to monitor people who are not doing the right thing and react to that."
HelpAG is working with many of the UAE's government departments to ensure best practise is followed and staff are educated to get the most out of social media.
"Loss of reputation is also a huge issue, especially in this part of the world. The government is very interested in not sending out the wrong messages," Dr Plate added.
"Interacting with the public on social media is good but you must know what you are doing. If the wrong information is communicated, it doesn't matter who did it - the effects can be far reaching.
"What I still see, to my surprise, is that, when a lot of people use social media, they really do not think of all the facets it has and the consequences of their actions."
The message of caution was echoed by many of the attendees at the forum but it was clear that the benefits of social media were still too great to ignore.
The emergence of so-called "big data" was said to have the potential to revolutionise the way governments provide services.
With departments now able to access more online data than ever, the raw figures can be analysed and learnt from, across a wide spectrum of services, from security to healthcare.
Fatima Al Neyadi, the IT director at Al Ain Hospital, said the facility is hoping to capitalise on the increasing amount of data available.
"It presents technical and non-technical challenges, from analysing the vast quantities of data available, to human resources," she said.
"But if we understand and use it correctly, it will improve the hospital's performance, the effectiveness of treatment for patients and save money as well."
The GCC e-Participation and e-Governance Forum concludes today with workshops on social media strategy and big data analytics.