Building smart platforms for success

Smart Dubai Government Establishment is responsible for developing the technology services and platforms to support government organisations and to enable the smart city initiative for public and private sector

Tags: Dubai Smart Government ( Dubai Office ( citiesSmart governmentUnited Arab Emirates
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Building smart platforms for success Wesam Lootah, Chief Executive Officer, Smart Dubai Government Establishment. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  December 6, 2016

There is a great deal of diversity in smart city projects around the world, but no smart initiative is possible without the underpinning technology — from supporting infrastructure and networks to complex applications and highly scalable systems to serve tens of thousands of users — every smart city needs stable and secure technology. Leading the technology efforts for Dubai’s smart initiative is the Smart Dubai Government Establishment.

SDGE was formed following the reorganisation that took place in 2015, to align efforts towards making Dubai the happiest and smartest city in the world. SDGE was created, as part of Smart Dubai, to build on the experience and expertise that had been gained from Dubai’s previous e-government and smart government programs, and to expand its remit to bring smart transformation not just to the government, but to the private sector.

Wesam Lootah, Chief Executive Officer of SDGE, described the organisation: “We consider ourselves to be the technology arm of Smart Dubai — our stated mission is to deliver world-class smart services and infrastructure to create happiness.”

Under the new mandate, SDGE is responsible for designing, building and managing services and supporting technology in four main areas, Lootah explained. The first area is focused on the digital transformation of government, and redesigning government services to meet the needs of the customer. SDGE is a pioneer in this area, he said, building on its long experience with e-government, and adding capabilities such as the first ever government customer experience (CX) labs, to shape services into seamless and impactful services for the end user.

The second area also continues the achievements of Dubai Smart Government, in developing shared services and applications for government entities. To date, SDGE offers 53 shared services, which it estimates can provide around 70% of a government department’s typical IT requirements, , allowing agencies to save time and resources by using central services, and bringing economies of scale and better standards to all departments.

In the final two focus areas, SDGE is creating offerings both for government and for wider smart city initiatives. In the field of ICT infrastructure, the third focus area, this includes building on projects for the government and expanding them to the city at large, particularly the Smart Dubai Platform, which will become the digital backbone of the city, Lootah said.

The fourth area of focus is service enablement, including services such as digital identity and digital payments, which are an essential part of developing smart services, and which are also increasingly being opened up to the private sector to create seamless experiences across Dubai.

The Smart Dubai Platform is one of the key initiatives for SDGE. The platform, which was announced in March and is being developed in partnership with du, will become the central operating system for smart city applications deployed by the government, and will also support the platform to manage data generated by public and private smart city projects.

The design phase for the platform has been completed, Lootah said, and SDGE is now finalising components of the system, across all layers including infrastructure, data, service enablement, and application, with work underway to complete the build, test it and validate the security before it goes live in the first quarter of 2017.

“We consider this as a major milestone for the Smart Dubai Initiative, because this is really the necessary infrastructure to enable data sharing and to open up the whole data driven transformation of the city,” he said.

While the initial roll out of the platform will be confined to government, the intention is to open it up to the private sector, to both access the platform and its data, and also to run their own businesses and applications on the platform and contribute their data to the system. The mechanisms for including the private sector are still being developed, but the platform is being built to scale to these requirements.

“From day one, we have imagined this platform as the digital backbone of the city,” Lootah said. “It has always been designed with the idea of massive scalability, that it will scale to the size that is needed for a city of almost four million residents.”

Another milestone project for SDGE, which also has ambitions to scale, is the Dubai Now app. The award-winning app was conceived to become a single point of delivery for all government services, and as such has been designed to provide a hub where users can easily find and use the most popular and most important services. At present the app includes 55 services from 22 entities, but potentially this will scale to hundreds or thousands of services in future. Integrating so many different services, required best practice in app design, with the DSG Customer Experience (CX) Lab leading the design efforts.

Lootah explained: “From a design point of view, it has initially been a significant challenge in how to design something that is easy to use, that is accessible, where people can reach the services that they want very quickly, but at the same time cater for all the services that are available from the government, to design it in a way that will scale to that level.”

To create a seamless experience with the app, SDGE and the CX lab focused on organising services and the interface so that services could be found quickly. The app was also designed to include a high level of personalisation, so that users can configure the dashboard with the services they use most or prefer. Dubai Now has had over 180,000 downloads, with positive user feedback and good user retention.

The next stage for the app, Lootah said, is to launch the Dubai Now platform, so that the same services can be accessed across multiple platforms, and to include new technologies and a new look-and-feel into the service.

The experience gained by DSG in working with different government entities over the past 13 years was invaluable in effectively co-ordinating all the different stakeholders for Dubai Now, Lootah added.

Another future development for the platform which will also draw on that collaborative experience, is the addition of micro-applications, with government and the private sector able to develop their own services to plug in to Dubai Now. The plan is for third parties to be able to develop apps, which will then undergo quality assurance before being published, to further enhance the usability of the platform as a one-stop-shop. SDGE has conducted workshops with government partners on expanding the app, and has received positive feedback from organisations who want to participate.

Enabling the participation of private sector, academia and others in Smart Dubai projects is an important part of the city’s transformation, Lootah commented. One example is the Happiness Meter, which was launched in 2014, and through an agreement with the Dubai Department of Economic Development, will soon be extended to include major retailers and other companies, to give them a platform to get feedback from their customers.

To further increase the involvement of the private sector, SDGE is making human and technology resources available, and is developing more services for partner organisations in areas such as identity services and open data.

Wider participation will increase innovation, Lootah said: “By opening the data we can tap into the power of the crowd, so to speak — we can have entrepreneurs, and academia, all participating in providing shared services, smart services and solving some of the city issues. By opening the data we not only increase the transparency of government, but we allow for innovation as well.”

SDGE is working to enable private sector collaboration, for all sizes and types of companies, he added, taking into account the different levels of technology maturity of each organisation, and developing means of collaboration for all, and making participation into a reality.

“2017 is going to be focused on the Smart Dubai Platform, more participation from the private sector, and opening up to the private sector — enabling and rolling out services such as digital identity and others across the city, and moving from strategy to enablement,” Lootah concluded.

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