Smart dubai shaping the city’s future

Smart Dubai Office is leading Dubai’s plans to become the smartest city in the world, through collaboration and agility, and a focus on bringing happiness to all

Tags: Dubai Smart Government ( private partnershipSmart Dubai ( citiesUnited Arab Emirates
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Smart dubai shaping the city’s future Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General, Smart Dubai Office. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 25, 2016

In the past decade and a half, Dubai has become one of the leaders in the field of the use of technology in the public sector, going from a standing start some 16 years ago, to become a pioneer today in smart governance, and particularly in smart cities. And while the vision for technological leadership for the Emirate has been consistently laid out by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the strategies and plans have grown and evolved along with the technologies themselves.

The latest development in Dubai’s smart journey was the establishment in December last year of the Smart Dubai Office (SDO), to lead the emirate’s drive to become a smart city. Along with the creation of the Dubai Smart City Establishment, which replaces Dubai Smart Government as the technology arm of the Smart Dubai initiative, under the umbrella of the SDO, the new direction reflects the new ambitions of Dubai and the latest plans to make Dubai the smartest and happiest city in the world.

Leading the Smart Dubai Office is Director General Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, previously Assistant Director General of the Executive Office, and a leading figure in Dubai’s various smart government programs. Speaking to .GOV magazine, Dr Bin Bishr said that the Smart Dubai Initiative has its roots in the ICT Report, presented to HH Sheikh Mohammed in 1999, which then led to the establishment of Dubai Internet City, the adoption of e-government and other initiatives that laid the foundations for growth.

“We kept going, with the transformation of the technology from e-government to m-government to smart government, but this wasn’t enough for His Highness, so that was why in 2014 he launched the Smart Dubai Initiative, which drew the holistic view of the whole city, the digital transformation agenda,” she said.

In tandem with the development of e-government, the Executive Council had also carried out an early stage study in 2007-2008, which Dr Bin Bishr was involved with, to create ‘Digital Dubai’, but it was not until 2014 and the emergence of big data analytics and IoT technologies that these ideas could be taken forward as the Smart Dubai Initiative. Smart Dubai Office has been formed to provide the centre of this project, in particular to bring together the different elements required for a true smart city, including public and private sector organisations, and aligning these elements in a city-wide project.

“One of the challenges that we have seen in other cities is that there isn’t any proper governance body for such initiatives,” Dr Bin Bishr said. “For example, in Singapore, the smart nation used to be run by their IT agency, but this is not an IT project, it is beyond an IT project. That is why we decided to initiate this office that will govern the whole initiative of transforming the city.

“Also, Dubai was always known for agility and the collaborative way of executing the visions of the leaders of the city and the country. These are the principles in driving the smart initiative. We are working to take agility and collaboration, and uplift these characteristics of ICT projects to become a city management characteristic.”

Alongside the Dubai Smart City Establishment, the Dubai Data Establishment has also been created, to govern and manage the data generated by the smart city.

The core mandate for the initiative is happiness, Dr Bin Bishr said, which sets Dubai apart from other smart city programs that tend to be focused on physical activities such as transport or energy, or themes such as entrepreneurship. Dubai’s approach is to bring all these elements together under the single unifying principle of ‘happiness’.

“Smart Dubai is all about happiness, and how to make our people’s lives much happier; and how we can fuel the happiness of the city through technology,” she said.

One of the main challenges of the initiative is in actually making ‘happiness’ a meaningful concept, and one of the first parts of the agenda for Smart Dubai is how to measure happiness, educate people about happiness and how to make changes in policies, mindsets or systems to make sure that everyone works towards happiness, Dr Bin Bishr said.

“We need to define happiness, we need to know the different demographic backgrounds of people, segment them, make sure that the message that is going to each one is different for them, and also to make it sustainable. It is nice to give the ‘wow’ factor, and make you happy in this moment, but how to make sure this is sustained is one of the really big challenges for us. When we talk about happiness, we want it to be something impactful and tangible, it is not only a marketing phrase.”

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