x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Spending to hit $8.27bn as Mena governments step up digital revolution

IT spending in the region's public sector is set to rise by more than 11 per cent as governments expand their online portfolios and embark on smart city objectives

Online government initiatives and smart city plans will increase public spending in the information communication technology sector by more than 11.4 per cent to US$8.27 billion this year across the Middle East and Africa, up from $7.43bn last year, according to new industry research.

The report from International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that more governments in Africa will go online by launching electronic-government (e-government) portals, while those in the Middle East will focus on expanding their mobile-government (m-government) offerings.

“Steady progress has been made by a number of countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Morocco in relation to the automation and provision of transactional e-government services,” said Mukesh Culani, the research manager for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at IDC Government Insights. “Given the increasing smartphone and mobile penetration rates, these devices will quickly become the key contact point between residents and government institutions.”

Initiatives such as the “technology transit zones” announced by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) to give members reduced rates for telecoms and data transmission as well as the recently announced federal m-government portal in the UAE are helping to drive up such spending.

The m-government portal provides up-to-date information, applications and links to government services, all by mobile phone. It was launched by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) which is building the core ICT regulatory framework for the UAE to help with economic growth and social advancement.

These initiatives require investment in physical infrastructure such as data centres and robust mobile networks as well as cloud computing and big data services, providing opportunities for technology providers. The topic is set to be a big issue at the Government Summit in Dubai on Monday.

“These are exciting times in the UAE,” said Sam Alkharrat, the managing director at the software company SAP’s Middle East and North Africa division. “M-government initiatives are picking up pace, smart city plans are set to deliver new and increasingly sustainable standards of living and Expo 2020 is accelerating investment and innovation across the board.”

Already in the region, there is a strong uptake of government services online, according to Mr Culani — particularly payment portals for bills and services like water and electricity. Across the Arab world, 18 governments have online portals, with about half also offering mobile services. Dubai’s Smart Government mobile-pay amounts increased 265 per cent in 2013, resulting in Dh31.8 million worth of transactions.

thamid@thenational.ae