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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Emirates building fast on foundation of innovation

Among some of the many government services now available online are transport payment options, police reporting and bill payments

Last year, Dubai Police recruited the world's first robocop. Anna Nielsen / The National
Last year, Dubai Police recruited the world's first robocop. Anna Nielsen / The National

The UAE has a history of innovation stretching back decades and today, the driving forces are digital solutions such as blockchain.

"Blockchain will improve people's experience," Aisha Bint Buti bin Bisher, the director general of Smart Dubai, told The National on the sidelines of Unlock Blockchain Forum this month.

"The applications are in various fields, some of them are in RTA, road and transport, some of them are in energy, health and education. These 20-use cases are under pilot, and we are looking forward to see the results so we can scale it," she said.

The Dubai Blockchain Strategy aims to make Dubai the "first blockchain powered government".

In 2013 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the launch of SMART Dubai Government Establishment (SDG) with the ambition of transforming Dubai into a smart city providing online services to its citizens, businesses and residents alike. The move towards online services is part of the Government’s aim to make Dubai the happiest city on earth.

Among some of the many government services now available online are transport payment options, police reporting and bill payments.

The Nol card is a smart card that enables users to pay for all modes of public transport in Dubai. It can now also be used via a smartphone. The card is now the only accepted mode of payment for the metro, buses and water taxis.

The Dubai Now app was launched by SDG in 2015. The app features more than 50 smart services provided by 22 government entities. It offers customers a set of service packages built to meet their needs delivered as sub-bundles that are classified into 11 categories to access services anytime and anywhere with ease and speed - in one place. The categories are Payments and Invoices, Public Transportation, Security and Justice, Health, Car Driving, Visas, Education Services, Islam Services, Business, Housing, and Public Services.

In 2017 SDG launched an extension of the app, the Dubai Now platform, to complement it. Dubai Now is intended to act as a one-stop-shop to access all government services in the emirate. Last year the force recruited its first robot officer.

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"Building smart cities requires consolidation of efforts among all relevant organisations, to offer best-in-class services," Ms Bishr said at the time. "This will ensure top-of-the-line experiences for all users, which helps achieve the ‘Happiness Agenda' set by Smart Dubai."

It was announced in October 2017 that users will soon even be able to pay for their fuel at Enoc petrol stations via the Dubai Now app.

The Dubai Police App, meanwhile, allows motorists to report minor accidents via their smartphones without the need to call police to the scene. The app also gives options to pay fines, report suspicious activities and report dangerous or illegal driving to the police.

At the end of October, the Dubai Government held a "Day without service centres" to try and encourage citizens and residents to use services online. The Government also said it would ease traffic congestion around service centres and reduce pressure on government departments. Abdulrahman Saleh Al Saleh, the director general of the finance department in Dubai Government, declared the initiative a success, with a 30 per cent increase in online transactions compared with the previous day.

In April 2017, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, stated that: “The Dubai Government will issue its last paper transaction in 2021” in launching a new phase in the SMART Dubai project, Smart Dubai 2021. To support the move, he also announced the launch of Dubai Pulse, a central platform to house all government data, describing it as the "backbone of Dubai’s transformation and shift towards smart technologies".

Together with the rise in the use of technology, however, is the need for regional talent to actually build and support these platforms. To address such issues, in October 2017, Sheikh Mohammed launched the One Million Arab Coders initiative, a scheme designed to equip young Arabs with the tools necessary to succeed in the digital age.

And certainly there is a strong appetite for such opportunities. In the first week alone, more than half a million people from 22 countries applied to join the One Million Arab Coders programme.