Protect and serve

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision for e-government in Dubai is two-fold: “To ease the lives of people and business interacting with government and to contribute in establishing Dubai as a leading economic hub.” During Gitex 2005, Dubai Police is announcing how its IT platform will enable other government departments to contribute to this vision.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  September 23, 2005

The digital age has changed the marketplace, as well as business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) relations. Now, the same force is transforming the model and protocol of interaction in extra-government and intra-government communications. The result of this transformation has been a new relationship in government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) communications that is now web-based and easy to use. “Considering that governments are mainly information producers, rather than information receivers, the internet presents itself as an ideal intermediary, becoming the 24/365 passive call centre for government-citizen interaction. Governments around the world, and especially in the Gulf, responding to the society’s continuously increasing cyber skills and wanting to capitalise on the internet technologies, are funding numerous e-government projects aimed at enhancing their own productivity as well as that of their constituencies,” explains George K Kostopoulos of the American University of Sharjah in his paper on e-government. Government administrations throughout the Gulf have recognised that an e-government portal, serving as a gateway to a national web depository, can simultaneously meet two objectives — it can serve nationally, as an information centre and a transaction processing system, while at the same time showcasing the country’s political, cultural and business aims to an international audience. Having realised this, Dubai’s e-government team has made consolidated efforts to provide citizens with the broadest possible range of practical and accessible e-services. As Kostopoulos states, “It is apparent that the Dubai e-government effort is one of the most citizen-centric, serving as an example not only in the Arabian Gulf, but worldwide.” In order to ensure these e-services are able to reach the widest possible audience, a delegation from as many as 21 government departments, including the Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS), Land Department, Department of Economic Development (DED), Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Naturalisation and residency Administration (DNRD), Dubai Municipality and Dubai Police have converged at the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (Gitex) in previous years to showcase the applications of several systems deployed by Dubai e-Government to enable the departments to deliver improved services through multiple channels, including m-Dubai, the channel for mobile services, and AskDubai, the new contact centre. “The participation of government departments at Gitex as part of the Dubai e-Government stand consolidates our efforts to project the portal as the main gateway to access any service of any government department. This will ensure the success of the e-Government project, which has adopted best-of-breed technologies to bring about a change in the way people interact with the government,” says Salem Al Shair, director of e-Services for Dubai e-Government. Dubai Police, for one, has a long list of new e-government projects that are now operational and available to the 900,000 residents of Dubai through its e-services portal, including facilities for the reporting of stolen cars and other crimes, as well as traffic-related e-services to enable the renewal of vehicle registration and driver’s licenses, payment of fines, registering of complaints, as well as real-time news on traffic and safety initiatives. “In line with the growing needs of citizens in the Emirates, we have been constantly developing new e-services with the use of the latest technology, to simplify the lives of our customers,” explains Colonel Ahmad Hamdan Bin Dalmook, director of the electronic services department at Dubai Police. The police portal was aimed at improving public access to information and services within the department, as well as enabling the Dubai Police to share its resources of internal information with other government offices, delivering remote access to data for employees, and updating and centralising the department’s technology infrastructure. The portal was also intended to forge stronger links between the police department and general public. "Dubai Police has a clear mandate to enhance public perception about how we work and the services we provide. Our new e-services portal was created to provide a single source of easily-accessible traffic, crime and related information for Dubai’s residents, which we believe will foster a greater sense of trust and community between our department and the general public," says Colonel Bin Dalmook. A core element of the Dubai Police e-services initiative is the integration of the department’s information stores with other public sector departments including Immigration, Customs, Dubai Courts and Dubai Municipality, as well as other police departments in the UAE. In addition, Dubai Police will soon be offering hosting services for a number of other, smaller governmental departments in the region, which will rely on the police to provide a robust and secure environment for their applications and systems. For these reasons, Dubai Police has dedicated its resources to developing an advanced and highly secure infrastructure based on open systems, using approved standards and forsaking proprietary architectures to provide the necessary levels of compatibility and integration. "Given that police staff will be updating the portal remotely at any given time, and thousands of residents can be paying fines, applying for licenses, and accessing other services and information, it’s vital the Dubai Police e-services initiative be as accessible and ‘unbreakable’ as possible. Other departments like the technology we have in place at Dubai Police and trust us with their information and systems," says Colonel Bin Dalmook. Dubai Police’s secure and high availability infrastructure extends to its network of self-service kiosks, which are strategically located not just around Dubai, but also in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, in public places such as shopping malls. Originally, the police intended to offer approximately 20 different services from these machines when the initiative was first launched. This number has now risen to 50, and the kiosks will be at the centre of a major announcement at Gitex 2005. Although he cannot give the specifics just yet, Colonel Bin Dalmook says, because the project has been so successful, several other key government departments intend to announce the launch of kiosk-based e-services at the exhibition. “The heads of various other government departments have decided to provide services from kiosks. With all the different departments that are interested, however, there would have to be about six different kiosks in each location, which simply would not work. As a result, Dubai e-Government is in the process of finalising plans that mean using Dubai Police’s kiosks, which are already in place in Dubai, to host the services for these other departments,” he explains. In 2003, when Dubai Police first started the restructuring of its infrastructure to centre on open systems, the department could not have known its architecture could have been selected as the basis for such a wide-reaching initiative. Colonel Bin Dalmook is adamant, however, the department was aware such a move would be an advantage in the long term: “We were the first department in the Gulf to shift from proprietary operating systems to open standards when we switched to a Unix system in 2001. It was a risk – the operating system had only recently been made available in the Gulf market, but we went ahead. We then implemented Oracle on top of this, creating a strong platform not only for Dubai Police but also for all the departments. And now we have a platform and infrastructure ready to absorb the other Dubai departments because it is based on open standards.” Initially, in order to create and deliver its online services, Dubai Police partnered with Oracle partner, IdealSoft Emirates, a Middle Eastern software house with a focus on building governmental solutions based on Oracle Technology. IdealSoft managed the development and implementation of the necessary technology, and the primary components behind the portal strategy included the Oracle9i database and Oracle9i application server. "By adopting the latest technology and integrating its resources with those of other police and public departments, Dubai Police is becoming a more streamlined, efficient, customer-centric organisation," states Husam Dajani, vice president of Oracle Middle East. In keeping with this, more recently, Dubai Police has made further upgrades to its infrastructure to better support its own operations, and in preparation for its hosting of the e-government services from other departments on its kiosks. Oracle technology was again selected by the department for improvements to the solutions software, with the department adopting the whole Oracle technology stack, including the real application cluster, and collaboration suite, as well as the application server supporting the portal, J2EE, mobile and wireless, content management, and reporting facilities. “We chose Oracle because we have already been happy with the products and services we have received in the past. We can rely on them for technical support and the systems require less training for our staff than the alternatives on the market,” says Bin Dalmook. The police department has now gone live with a complete data centre set-up for intranet applications, with a high availability and redundancy architecture to assure continuous operations. It has also consolidated all its data and information in a highly available, highly secured Oracle database grid powered by the real application cluster. These deployments will enable the rollout of new internal applications such as those used for traffic licence registration, renewal and inspection. Internal employee collaboration has also been improved with more sophisticated e-messaging and document workflow. Most importantly for the e-government kiosk initiative, however, the updating of the internet portal will improve all external e-services accessible over the website on the new e-government kiosks. “The online services provided through the new application server will make it easier and more convenient for citizens to do everything they need to by way of reporting to the police, as well as ensuring all the other government departments involved will have access to the technology to run their own e-services from our central hub,” explains Bin Dalmook. Indeed, for citizens the decision to expand the network of Dubai Police kiosks to become dynamic and convenient access points for the entire e-Government organisation will make carrying out a variety of bureaucratic processes, from paying parking fines to applying for new licences, permits or travel visas, simple for citizens. The kiosks will also be able to provide up-to-date information and real-time news from all areas of Dubai’s administration, improving G2C and G2B communications and reducing the time and effort required to interact with the government. Soon the Dubai Police kiosks will have e-Government logos above them, according to Bin Dalmook, and he views this achievement, as testimony to the integrity and robustness of the police infrastructure. “We will be acting as a central hub for the Government’s e-service infrastructure, enabling around 1000 services to be made available from our machines for all the various government departments involved. Our open system means we will be able to deal with the e-services set-up of the other departments and. We aim to show the job of Dubai Police is not just about protecting lives — we can also help to make life easier for people,” Bin Dalmook concludes.

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