Driving the Smart Economy

Dubai Department of Economic Development is deploying new services and platforms to support plans for a smart economy

Tags: Department of Economic DevelopmentEntrepreneurSmart governmentUnited Arab Emirates
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Driving the Smart Economy Mohammed Shael AlSaadi, CEO Business Development & Strategy, Department of Economic Development, Government of Dubai. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  July 24, 2016

There are many different areas of focus for smart government and smart city projects, but one of the most important in terms of creating self-sustaining, productive projects is economic development and the role of governments in creating the right conditions for business and economic growth. In Dubai, the Department of Economic Development (DED) plays a leading role in setting the economic agenda, and with the Emirate’s smart city project underway, DED is taking an important position in supporting the smart economy pillar of the project, with many activities across planning, policy, strategy and support.

The DED has always had a strong focus on technology to support its mission of driving the economy, but the new era of smart development has refined this focus and highlighted the many different smart services, data programs, platforms and initiatives that are part of the smart city project.

Mohammed Shael AlSaadi, CEO Business Development & Strategy, Department of Economic Development, Government of Dubai, explained how the smart economy is touching all aspects of the DED’s activities: “Smart economy is looking at any economic activity that happens within Dubai, that is including traditional markets and virtual markets. When businesses look at the smart economy, they look at the efficiency and effectiveness of their businesses. Through business administration and licensing DED is looking at new business activities, and trying to classify new categories of business and economic activity which will be part of the smart economy.”

The diverse economic activity in Dubai is reflected in the number of different initiatives which DED is responsible for across the spectrum of business. In terms of efficiency and improving operations for existing businesses, DED has already developed a number of smart services for businesses in Dubai to make life easier for them.

DED has integrated its systems with 45 local and federal government entities, to create various smart services which eliminate paperwork and physical approval and issuance of documents, and streamline the processes of business administration. Online payment and other functions further increase the efficiency of such smart services.

A good example of this is the automatic renewal of business licences, a service which was set up through integrating DED’s business licence service with the Ejari real estate registration platform and electronic payment, AlSaadi said. Through integration of services, once an organisation renews its real estate tenancy agreement, its business licence is also automatically renewed, provided the business pays the renewal fees, which can be done either online, through a mobile device, or through any bank, without the need to visit DED premises.

Many of the processes of starting a business have also been integrated into smart services, AlSaadi added, to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses and to get all of the services they need as part of the process of getting a business licence.

“Everything you require as a businessman is based on your licence — the business licence is the birth certificate for your business, and without it you cannot do any interactions with the market,” he said. “If you are a businessman and you want to start a business, from the time you get your licence to being fully operational, you need three to four months, to get premises, a place for the staff to stay, a bank account, telecoms services. If all of those are integrated together, and when you receive your licence, all of those services are given to you by default, that [time] will shrink the time to ten days or one week. That is why people will benefit from integration and the smart economy.”

With entrepreneurship identified as a major driver for smart cities, it is not surprising that DED has special focus on startups and new business, and helping Dubai’s small businesses to grow. Dubai SME is a dedicated agency of DED that is set up to cater to small businesses, and it is offering a number of smart services to the SME sector. One of these is the Tejuri online marketplace, which is intended to provide a virtual marketplace for businesses to begin trading. This e-Shopping Mall builds on the success of Tejari, the B2B online portal that pioneered supply management technologies and professional services for Dubai government. As a virtual marketplace, Tejuri offers much lower startup costs for new businesses, and new entrants are supported through facilities such as integrated social media to help promote their businesses to new customers and partners. The platform is fully integrated, including payment gateway, logistics and shipping providers, marketing solutions — everything needed to get a business up and running online.

Another initiative for startup businesses is being developed by DED and the Smart Dubai Government Establishment with IBM, using IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence engine. This first project with Watson, which is due for launch soon, will provide an interactive source of information on all procedures, processes and requirements for starting up a business in Dubai, so that entrepreneurs can get everything they need from a single source. Other services for SMEs and startups include business registration mobile apps and education and training.

Other DED agencies, including Dubai Export Agency and Dubai FDI are also playing an important role in both growing Dubai’s presence as a smart city provider, and promoting the smart city solutions developed in Dubai to global marketplaces; and in attracting international smart solutions providers to the Emirate to participate in the smart economy.

Developing these solutions for companies has involved building close links to the business community in Dubai, AlSaadi explained. The DED has developed one-to-one engagement with 60 of the most active business groups in the Emirate, including creation of a customer engagement platform initiative, and DED has now established 42 different projects to engage the business community, with activities such as direct participation from DED at business group board meetings and regular updates on legislation and new rules for businesses. DED is also connecting directly to businesses with social media platforms, apps and its contact centre to further develop ideas.

Technology is also an important enabler for DED’s internal operations, AlSaadi added. DED has deployed its own business intelligence solutions, DED Analytics, which was initially developed to assist senior management at DED in making effective decisions at the organisational level. The analytics solution has been utilised in highlighting areas of cost savings and identifying new business opportunities, and now provides different user groups with the ability to create their own reports and dashboard for personalised analysis, which can be shared across the organisation. The BI is also available as mAnalytics, a mobile version which gives insight into core business activities for DED so that top level management can access reports on the go.

Mobile solutions are also being combined with geographical information systems (GIS) by DED to improve the efficiency of field workers such as inspectors, or to plot economic activity through systems such as business heat maps.

DED inspectors are now equipped with the Maydani mobile app, which allows them to co-ordinate their inspections in the field, using mapping and location services, and to access data and file reports and evidence from the mobile device.

The Department is even exploring new technologies that may have a benefit in future, such as blockchain and how it can be used as a tool for allowing trusted transactions and linked to the Smart Dubai platform.

“Blockchain is no stranger than any new technology,” said AlSaadi. “It is starting very small at the moment, but when it gets momentum, then it will be bigger and bigger, so we are trying to understand and test that new technology, should we want to open it up for the market in future.”

As a member of the Open Data Committee, which helped to develop Dubai’s new policies for data sharing, AlSaadi also sees great economic potential for the Dubai Data Law and open data, for both new businesses and existing organisations.

“The essence of this century is data. If you have data you can either create something new, or enhance what you do. With the Dubai Data Law, that law did two things. One is taking the ownership of the data from an entity and granting it to the city. Two is classifying this data — each organisation that produces data, be it government, semi-government or private, can classify their data, share the data then they will see the value of the data, they can monetise the data. The Dubai Data Law has opened a huge horizon for economic, social and individual development.”

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