Smart is key to strategy for National Archives

The UAE’s National Archives has launched a number of smart applications as part of its mission to preserve the history of the Emirates

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Smart is key to strategy for National Archives National Archives is working on many different smart projects to preserve historical documents, says Al Mehairi. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 25, 2016

The National Archives is one of the oldest institutions in the United Arab Emirates, and the largest documentation centre in the Gulf region, with responsibility for organising local and federal government archives, and other important documents and resources.

In line with the declaration of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to shift the UAE government from e-government to smart government, National Archives has undertaken a major drive to create smart services. HE Majid Al Mehairi, Executive Director of the National Archive has led the transition process to smart applications services. He explains to .GOV magazine the progress made so far, and future smart plans.

Why did you aspire to offer smart services? How can you achieve that when all your acquisitions are historical?

In our era, smart applications are not for luxury or fun any longer; they have become a necessity and an essential factor. Smart applications significantly speed up communication between people, and between us and users searching for information available in our archives, especially given that smart more than 90% of households in the UAE own at least one smart device. So it is necessary for National Archives to join the smart society, and deliver our activities and services in a smart fashion.

The National Archives’ most important treasures and sources of information are the documents, that researchers and historians rely on for their studies into the history of the UAE and the Gulf region. The National Archives strives to provide a limited percentage of the main documents of the UAE on smart phones via a special electronic application that constantly updates the program with new information.

What smart applications has National Archives developed?

The National Archives has a number of successful projects in this area. At GITEX 2013, the National Archives presented its first application in this area which allows browsing of the volumes of the Sheikhs’ Diaries electronically on iPhone and iPad. The Sheikhs’ Diaries consist of 18 volumes issued by the National Archives. They monitor the Diaries of HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan the President of the UAE; HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; and HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of the Executive Council of the Emirate of Dubai.

These publications cover all the daily activities and events of Their Highnesses the Sheikhs, and are documented by topic and by time of social, economic, and political activities.

The interactive modern technology of these volumes allows users to quickly search for a specific word or phrase with high precision. At GITEX 2014, the National Archives offered visitors the opportunity to download these applications for free.

We were able to offer researchers the possibility of cognitive counselling through the smart applications in the portal after we had updated and developed the National Archives’ website and made it an excellent interactive site.

We have made the Audio Library of the founding leader Sheikh Zayed accessible to all users, including hundreds of quotes reflecting his farsighted views in various local, Arab, and international issues. Due to the importance of the content of this app, the National Archives, on various national occasions gives its visitors the opportunity to download it for free.

In celebrating the UAE’s 43rd National Day, the National Archives launched a digital exhibition on the platform of Google Cultural Institute on the Internet. The exhibition included documents, photographs, films and documentaries, which show the journey of the Union, which presents the story of Union of the Emirates and its evolution.

What are the National Archives’ future projects in terms of providing services through smart applications and devices?

The next phase of smart applications will soon enable researchers to conduct search and discussions with the National Archives. This comes in line with the description given by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, regarding the government of the future that responds quickly to changes, innovates solutions and facilitates the lives of the people.

The National Archives directs its interest towards taking advantage of all the modern technologies and aims to utilize them to achieve its national goals. The NA benefited previously from Google Glass and Apple Watch to download applications. However, updating is a necessity in the era of the rapidly evolving technologies; but as Google Glass is suspended, so the National Archives always looks for alternatives.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said: “I want the citizens to be able to process all their government transactions in one place through the mobile phone”.

At the National Archives, we try to meet this high decree and translate it into an action plan. Many smart applications are included in our plans. The National Archives will provide in the near future through a new smart application a virtual box where citizens will be able to save and document their personal records. This is the electronic aspect of the Watheq campaign launched by the National Archives and was met with a unique turnout from UAE nationals from various parts of the UAE.

The National Archives is also working on the ‘Family Tree’ app, which is a smart application that simply creates a family tree using a new smart application connecting all the people who belong to the same family.

There is also the application ‘A Journey in the Nation’s History’, which is intended to find old places, and see how they look now. For example, those who want to see what the location of Burj Khalifa in Dubai was like before, can use this app.

The National Archives is also expected to create a new application that activates the collection and documentation of oral history through immediate recording of the narrators’ account and filming by smartphone techniques.

Another important smart applications project in the National Archives is ‘A Glossary of UAE Words’, which enables users to search for local terminology to identify vocabulary exclusive to the Emirati dialect and access their meanings, even if they are rarely used nowadays. In addition to the translation of the terms, it allows users to hear the correct pronunciation of each term or word.

At the Sharjah International Book Fair in November, the National Archives launched an electronic educational booklet ‘UAE, My Homeland’, with the Arabic version now available in the Apple store. The booklet aims to educate children about UAE history through interactive games that enrich their skills and knowledge of the history of their homeland. It deals with various topics such as genealogy, forms of documenting the past, some of the UAE’s forts, the biographies of the Founding Fathers, the story of the Union flag, and other national topics.

How did you become interested in smart applications?

My interest in smart applications is not a personal matter, but it is our strategy at the National Archives in order to build a sustainable future. However, my interest in the technical aspects may be attributed to the fact that I studied technical sciences and information systems; I have always had an inclination to IT, which I consider a major cause of nations’ development. When I joined the National Archives, I was the head of the IT Section, then the Director of the Support Services Department.

My attention focused on the development of the technical side of the National Archives’ Services; I eagerly pursued electronic archiving of the historical documents, so that we can save them for the longest possible periods of time and to have access to them in a record time.

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