First movers and early adopters
Dubai's 10X plan will push the government to the cutting edge of technology
In February, Dubai announced its new plan for government - the 10X initiative - which is intended to put Dubai government organisations '10 years ahead of the rest of the world'. March saw some more details of 10X announced, along with developments in Dubai's blockchain strategy, which aims to put all government documents on blockchain by 2020.
With initiatives like these, Dubai is increasing the pace of technology adoption, confirming the city's place as an early adopter, and setting its sights on becoming a government first mover.
The ‘bleeding edge' of technology is not normally a place occupied by government organisations. There are inherent risks with any new technology, and it will require changes for any government organisation that wants to operate in this space. To gain the full advantage of very new technologies will require new skills and new ways of working, to enable innovation, collaboration and learning.
To become a technical leader, unless the government in question is developing its own proprietary technologies, will require partnerships to access new ideas. Government needs to work with the best minds in each sector, the technical innovators, as well as the strategy, academic and legal experts, to develop communities and ecosystems, share the latest knowledge and bring the technology to maturity and deployment.
These communities tend to run on openness - transparent communications and sharing of ideas to gain the most benefit. In many areas of information technology, much of the pioneering work is being done by open source communities, focused around solutions such as Hadoop and Ethereum. These communities are committed to open discussion, sharing of solutions and so on. A ‘closed garden' won't work for these communities. Government needs to share the results of its work with global communities.
The cutting edge also brings more scrutiny - everyone is watching to see whether the technology and the ideas will work and to learn from the experience of first movers.
Munich's decision in 2003 to drop commercial software in favour of open source, is one example of a bold strategic IT decision that gained a huge amount of attention, positive and negative, and the city's government is still discussing the ramifications of the decision to this day.
Governments that want to be technology leaders will also have to prepare for failure. Failed technology projects are not uncommon - often it is project management issues, sometimes a change of strategy or direction, but equally the technology can fail, for many different reasons.
An early failure of the dotcom era was Boo.com, a fashion e-tailer which tried to introduce chatbot-style assistants, virtual 3D clothes displays, and other innovations. The company suffered from terrible management, but at the end of the day, the technology was too complex, wasn't ready for deployment, and the bandwidth available in 1999-2000 made it unviable. It was a nice idea, entirely possible today, which was just too far ahead of its time, but it shows that great ideas don't always work in execution.
Some might question whether a government should be deploying cutting edge technology, or whether it is better to take a wait-and-see approach, and let the industry standards, skills and ecosystems develop first.
But to achieve its ambitions, Dubai cannot wait, and important steps have already been taken to prepare government entities. Innovation Week has gone a long way to opening up government thinking, and 10X and other initiatives build on a legacy of nearly two decades of e-government development in the Emirate.
More importantly the city's Happiness Agenda promises to keep focus on the true aim of government, the wellbeing of the people, and ensure that projects do not just become ‘technology for technology's sake'. Even so, to become a first mover in technology is a tricky proposition, and government agencies will need thorough planning and complete focus to successfully take their place at the cutting edge of technology.