CODI aids the m-government transformation
The UAE TRA’s Centre of Digital Innovation is helping government entities to develop and launch secure, reliable and usable mobile apps
As part of the drive for smart government in the UAE, almost all government organisations have launched their own mobile apps and services, to increase their reach to users and deliver greater efficiency and satisfaction. With so many apps going live however, ensuring the quality, security and usability of apps, has become a challenge, especially for smaller entities, in terms of accessing the right skills and technical capabilities. Providing much needed support in the mobile development arena is the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority’s Centre of Digital Innovation (CODI).
Launched in 2013, the CODI has three main areas of focus — capacity building, smart applications testing and virtual reality research and development. Humaid Al Ali, Smart Applications Testing Engineer explained: “Government entities were more focused on making mobile apps and how to transform their services from websites to mobile and so on, and the idea of the centre was to support government entities in this transition from e-government to m-government.”
For capacity building, CoDI aims to drive critical knowledge society skills and the main focus has been on providing training for government entities, and helping their IT professionals to understand the smart government transition. This scope expanded to include professionals in different sectors, job seekers and university students.
The training focuses on several tracks, Al Ali explained, including IT infrastructure, to help IT staff to understand the changes to infrastructure when switching to mobile services; mobile management and how to manage mobility solutions; mobile development and principles of app development; and mobile security. In addition to these tracks, the centre provides training tracks on management best practices, which involves ITIL Foundation, PMP and COBIT5 Foundation. The training also includes business skills including business writing, marketing foundation, basic sales and others.
Around 2,300 people have received training from CODI so far, with a mix of onsite training at CODI, live online training sessions, and self-paced courses in video format available 24/7 through CODI’s portal.
On the testing side, CODI identified a pressing need to assist government organisations that were pushing to deliver applications against the deadline of May 2015, resulting in the creation of the Mobile Application Smart Lab (mLab), to provide app testing.
Al Ali explained: “As many government entities had a very short duration of two years [to launch mobile apps], and everyone was rushing to finish their applications, so the lab was initiated to support government entities in aspects of testing the application. If an entity developed an application but wanted to make sure the application is compatible with different devices, can work on different mobile platforms, had proper security aspects, and would make citizens more confident in these services, then the lab is able to test all of these as well as the quality of these services.”
The mLab offers a set of automated, integrated tests via web portal, which test in areas such as platform and device compatibility, security, data privacy, and load testing and performance, covering the main mobile operating systems and mobile web — iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and HTML5. After the test, a report is generated with recommendations to the entity on how to fix any issues and CODI provides support and consultation to help implement the recommendations.
By making the testing available online, Al Ali explained, the government agencies are able to conveniently test their apps through the portal, saving them the cost of having to buy testing tools themselves, and apps can be tested to a unified standard. Automation helps in reducing manual human interaction, and also means that organisations can re-test their apps on a regular basis, to keep up with the update cycle of the app. The testing is now integrated with the official UAE app store, and all government apps must be tested before they can be released to the store.
An important area of CODI’s activities is in ensuring the security of applications. The centre has recently launched secure coding guidelines for technical personnel, to give them the security topics they should consider when developing applications. Another benefit of having automated testing online is that organisations can regularly test apps to make sure that they meet the latest security requirements, without the need for dedicated security expertise.
“You need to separate the developer from the security guy. Many entities rely on the developer who can make things work, but it might not be the most secure implementation. He can make it work, he can make it fast, but you need someone to verify if it is a secure implementation. More awareness is coming on this level,” Al Ali said.
In the testing field, CODI is looking to integrate more testing for usability and user experience (UX). The centre has conducted a lot of research in this field, and although it is important to ensure that users will actually find apps easy to use and will adopt them, it will require more human testing rather than automation, Al Ali noted.
Another area that CODI has focused on is collaboration with outside organisations, he added. The centre works with all of the leaders in the mobile software and device market, to stay up-to-date with the latest OS updates and devices, and it has also conducted events with vertical markets such as the healthcare sector, to share expertise.
The centre has also hosted UAE national students for internships, and has conducted special training with visually impaired students, to enable them to use online tools. One of these attendees is now an intern with CODI, to help improve its technology for the visually impaired, and also to work on accessibility testing — another area of focus for the centre to help expand the usability of mobile applications.
The overall aim for CODI is to increase app usage by increasing confidence.
“The bigger picture is that the lab is contributing in boosting the confidence of citizens in government services,” Al Ali said. “We have transferred to m-government, but now we want to increase service adoption. The lab contributes to this mainly by boosting confidence in services so that more users will use them.”