Dubai sets the standard for smart cities

Dr Aisha Bin Bishr discusses how Smart Dubai has laid the foundations for the next phase of smart city development

Tags: Smart Dubai (www.smartdubai.ae)Smart cities
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Dubai sets the standard for smart cities Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 10, 2018

Even by Dubai’s fast-pace of change, 2017 was a landmark year for Smart Dubai. Last year saw the launch of a number of new strategic initiatives and many existing projects reached important milestones, pushing the emirate’s smart city initiative into a new phase of growth, and bringing solid benefits to government and to service users alike.

Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai, said that 2017 was a year of great achievements, with many new programs and existing programs being delivered on schedule and in line with their KPIs and other benchmarks. The Dubai AI roadmap was launched in March, and after development with the relevant entities, a number of use cases are under pilot in the UAE across different sectors including hospitality and tourism, industry and energy.

AI is also being utilised to support government systems and backend operations, she explained, with a project, titled ‘Fajwa’  conducted on behalf of Dubai Police to implement an artificial intelligence layer on top of the government resource planning (GRP) solution. The GRP is providing key support services for government entities in Dubai, and this latest AI project will look at how machine learning can be used to analyse and enhance the HR function for the police force, to maximise its resources.

The project is intended to demonstrate the real world value of machine learning and AI, Dr Aisha said: “Fajwa gives a flavour to government entities how AI can be beneficial to them — there is a huge hype when it comes to AI, but there is not necessarily equal understanding of how it can add value to them.”

Other projects to support government which were launched in 2017 include the smart employee application, which allows Dubai government personnel to conduct almost all of their HR tasks such as leave requests, through a mobile app – the app has created a huge improvement in procedures for 78,000 employees. Another project, the Dubai Careers Platform, has digitised job seeking and posting of recruitment opportunities for government entities across the city.

The digital backbone project for Dubai which was initiated in 2014, reached operational status in 2017, and was launched on schedule, and today is providing 300 open and shared data sets which can be used by anyone to develop insights into Dubai and to create city applications.

Other major projects include the Digital Wealth Initiative and the Dubai IoT strategy, which were launched simultaneously in October. The Digital Wealth Initiative aims to secure Dubai’s ‘digital wealth’ and to quantify the results of seventeen years of city digitisation projects in Dubai. The project will manage various aspects of the digital ecosystem, across 121 smart initiatives, including data, data-storing and processing technologies, smart-tech transformation, paperless transaction policies and systems, including Blockchain, digital signature and ID, smart living and clean energy, among other elements.

The Dubai Internet of Things Strategy, which will create the world’s most advanced Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem also went live, including the first project, Dubai Crowd, which used real-time data from IoT sensors to analyse and manage large crowds of people during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Another major project was initiated by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, was the the Dubai Paperless Strategy. Smart Dubai developed the strategy for the program, and it was officially launched in February 2018.

The Dubai Paperless strategy, which aims to eliminate paper from government transactions by 2021, is a key focus for Smart Dubai this year, Dr Aisha said. The project illustrates how many of the initiatives build on previous digitisation projects across different entities, as well as leverage different emerging technologies to provide a more complete vision with large-scale impacts.

The paperless project will cut across customer-facing services, core business for government entities and support services. Smart Dubai has put separate tracks in place to cover these, and to ensure the legislative framework is in place and to raise awareness. The benefits of ditching paper could be huge.

“We did a small study and found out that just three government entities produce almost one billion pieces of paper per year,” Dr Aisha said. “One billion pieces of paper is equal to 130,000 trees, or five times Central Park in New York; we can save forty hours per individual for processing government services, and this is only three entities, so imagine if we can cut paper and provide all these services through digital means for the whole of government.”

One of the projects which will contribute to the paperless goals, and which is already benefiting a number of different entities, is the GRP program. Smart Dubai already provides GRP as a shared service to government departments, including HR, procurement, finance and inventory modules, enable the government entities to go digital for these processes. Smart Dubai is now filling in the gaps, and piloting the remaining services that are required itself, which should enable the roll to the rest of the government to begin this summer, and be complete by the end of the year.

With so many initiatives underway, it is not surprising that Smart Dubai has developed frameworks and structures for understanding and introducing new technology.

“Whenever we have any emerging technology, don’t go and implement it immediately,” Dr Aisha said. “We take it in phases, first identifying use cases, then proof of concepts and pilots, and then we scale it city-wide, once we have the applicable measures to take care of security, privacy and governance processes.

This cycle is underway for AI, she noted, where Smart Dubai is working closely with HE Omar Al Olama, the UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and the UAE AI Council, to define AI,, develop policies and standards, and promote the capabilities through whitepapers, briefings and so on. Smart Dubai has its own AI lab, the first such government lab in the region, and over 20 workshops have been conducted training government employees in coding aspects of the technology. Development of use cases is also well underway for the key sectors.

Smart Dubai also ensures that it works with a broad base for new technologies, for example ensuring that it was working with both Hyperledger and Ethereum for Blockchain projects, to fully understand the technology and get the benefits of both protocols, rather than favour one over another. Understanding the potential, and discovering the value of a technology at the early stages is also important, so Smart Dubai helps government entities through testing and sandboxes before going with a full deployment.

Dubai has certain benefits in terms of openness to all this new technology, Dr Aisha added. The city has high levels of digital literacy and a mostly young audience, and mobile penetration being well in excess of 100% means that residents are able to access online systems. There is also a high level of trust in the government, and the benefits of solutions like the government ID card.

The public is embracing many of the apps and services that have come out of the government’s digitisation efforts, which bring the same levels of convenience as consumer disruptors like online food delivery to government services, she noted, and Smart Dubai aims to add more convenience and efficiency in future.

As the digital services come to maturity, one of the next steps is tying together services and augmenting them with new technology to create ‘customer journeys’, which automate a particular process. Smart Dubai has launched a City Experience Unit, which is working with emerging technologies and happiness teams to create more seamless experiences.

“Our main focus today is to redesign all these experiences in the city. We draw the baseline experience as it is today, and then decide how does this experience look like when we fully implement emerging technologies, from big data to AI. These experiences are already digital, but using existing digital technologies, so how will emerging technologies reshape these experiences in Dubai,” Dr Aisha said.

One aspect of the progress made by Dubai and Smart Dubai which Dr Aisha is most proud of is the international recognition which of the achievements. In 2017 alone, Dubai won 17 global and regional awards, including from the Smart City Expo in Barcelona, the Sheikh Salem Al-Ali Informatics Awards in Kuwait and two awards from Excellence Awards Academy in Cairo.

Smart Dubai has also been appointed to a number of roles with distinguished global bodies such as the International Telecommunications Union and the World Economic Forum, in reflection of its growing status as a forward-thinking smart city.

“We have started to be known globally for our thought leader perspective in smart cities. 2017 marked a very successful journey in the three years since we started Smart Dubai, and I am so happy that we have attracted the international audience to see what is happening in Dubai. These awards are recognition for all the knowledge and experience we have gained here in Dubai in the last 17 years of digitising the whole city,” said Dr Aisha. “I am so pleased to have this kind of recognition, it shows there is big confidence in our platform.”

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