RTA Digital Plan maps out future for Dubai

Abdulla Al Madani, explains the RTA’s new five year digital plan and how the authority is aligning its activities to get the most from new technologies

Tags: Roads and Transport AuthoritySmart carsTransportationUnited Arab Emirates
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RTA Digital Plan maps out future for Dubai Abdulla Al Madani, CEO of Corporate Technology Support Services, Dubai Roads & Transport Authority. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 4, 2017

Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority has played a leading role in the smart transformation of the emirate, developing programs and initiatives that form an important part of the smart city plan, and delivering many other projects to enhance transport systems in the city. The Authority is responsible for public and private transport services and infrastructure across Dubai, covering almost all of Smart Dubai’s transport initiatives, impacting on transportation, the environment, health and safety and the economy of Dubai.

In February this year, the RTA announced an extensive new five-year digital plan, which will build on its existing achievements in the digital sphere, and align the organisation to utilise the latest technologies which are changing the face of transportation, such as drones, robotics and autonomous vehicles. The digital plan is intended to further the RTA’s vision of safe and smart transport, and to closely align the RTA with other Dubai strategic initiatives and UAE national plans, such as the National Agenda and 10X, and to position it to meet development and smart city goals.

The new digital plan formalises the role of technology across the whole of the RTA, although technology has always been at the heart of the RTA’s operations, according to Abdulla Al Madani, CEO of Corporate Technical Support Services at the RTA: “The RTA has always, since its first day, had technology and innovation in its mission. It is one of the elements of the solutions that we give to the people of Dubai. Our services are not just about getting a bus or a metro, technology has been a big part since the RTA started back in 2005.”

“We believe that technology is a big player in what services we will provide to the customers, how we deliver our services to satisfy our customers, and we solve the issues related to our area of focus in the city.”

Technology and innovation is more important than ever to the RTA, Al Madani said, particularly to meet the directives from the Dubai Government, for innovation, smart transport and city happiness. Many of the most exciting developments in technology at the moment are also directly focused on transport, in areas such as autonomous vehicles, while other developments in other areas are impacting on services and customer interaction, which also adds to the importance of technology to the RTA.

Before the RTA had the idea for a digital plan, the Authority realised the need for more focus on technology, and decided to align a division to become the technology arm of the authority. The Corporate Technology Support Services Sector, headed by Al Madani, filled that need for a strong technology arm, which in turn helped to frame the need for an organisation-wide digital strategy, and an organisational structure which will enable the RTA to be more flexible and more responsive to new technology.

The RTA also examined global trends in disruptive technology, and what similar transport and municipal authorities around the world were developing, and how these could be incorporated into a a digital strategy that would help the RTA to become a world leader.

“We said ‘OK, with all these disruptive technologies, all the requirements from the government, we cannot just live on the basic IT strategy, we need to look at the much bigger picture, we need to go beyond IT, and look at technology as a whole’,” Al Madani said. “The digital world is playing a major role, and many of the disruptive businesses and technology are affecting us.

“We need to understand, and have a strategy that covers all these areas. The strategy should be flexible, because these new innovations are coming quickly, so we decided we needed to have a digital strategy to cover the entire requirements of the RTA, not just the IT department — it is not about systems or servers or data centres — it is about how you deliver services and how we make our customers happier.”

The Digital Strategy for 2017-2021 was announced by HE Mattar Al Tayer, Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), to continue the smart transformation of the transport sector in Dubai.

The new digital strategy will operate across three themes — innovation, sustainability and people — with six main pillars of people’s happiness, operational efficiency, asset sustainability, services delivery, information centricity and innovation pioneering.

The program will build on the RTA’s existing smart achievements and includes current projects that are underway such as automated vehicles; roadside smart screens for information and e-commerce; automation of new driver testing; HGV driver safety monitoring; extending the capabilities of the nol card and smart LED street lighting.
The RTA has identified around 12 projects and 9 initiatives, which will form the core of the work for the next five years, although the strategy is intended to be flexible, and will be reviewed on a yearly basis to see how it can be changed according to the needs of the time.

The digital plan is an organisation-wide initiative for the RTA, but many elements will come under the technology division, Al Madani said. To deliver on the strategy, the CTSS has arranged around four departments: Technology Strategy & Governance, to handle information security, data management, quality assurance; strategy and governance; Smart Services, to handle services across multiple channels; the traditional Information Technology Department, which handles infrastructure and enterprise systems; and Automated Fare Collection, which looks after the nol card.

The different functions will all contribute to the pillars of the digital plan, for example, asset management to improve the lifespan of the RTA’s assets, one of its main areas of investment, or enhanced customer interaction for better service and to improve customer happiness. Customer services and faster and easier to use services delivery is particularly important, Al Madani noted, to meet the targets set by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed for 80% of services to be delivered outside of physical service centres.

In addition to the four departments, as part of the wider organisation, the RTA also has two specialist teams, one handling robotics and drones, and one handling autonomous vehicles, which will guide development in these areas, and it has also established its 10X Team, to drive future innovations for the 10X program.

A vital part of the new digital plan will be data, and how the RTA uses the data that it has Al Madani commented: “We need to be information centric and be strong in using the data, to better plan and communicate with our customers; to understand how we can use the technology to improve our services and reduce our costs, and to innovate and come up with new ways of doing things.”

The RTA is already aligning with data programs for Dubai and has deployed its own solutions to better utilise data, he added. The Authority is already hosting some open data sources for the public on its own website, and it is working closely with Dubai Data Establishment, to identify more data sources that can be shared through the Dubai Data Platform.

The RTA already has its own data analysis tools, including business intelligence and dashboards, and produces over 70 different reports for decision makers. With master data management and identity management programs in place to manage access and rights for data, the analytics technology has become a powerful tool for planning.

Al Madani gives the example of a recent analytics study to decide on the locations where new taxi stands were most needed in the city. Through the use of the analytics technology, including heat mapping and GIS, the RTA was able to identify the right areas in a matter of hours, instead of the months such a project would have normally taken.

The project demonstrates the power of data and analytics to support the mission of the RTA, Al Madani said: “When you look at the data, you analyse it, it is like the city is actually talking to you — it is the power of how you use the data to understand where things need to happen, and what the city actually requires. The city is made up of people, events, businesses — once you start putting those together, the city will talk back to you. Data makes that happen.”

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