Passengers use 3rd generation Smart E-Gate at Dubai International Airport, Terminal 3. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

The concept of e-government has quickly evolved since its emergence back in 2001, expanding to new horizons. Over time it complemented the global approach for achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, while also retaining the fundamental goals of digital and smart transformation.

So, what are those new horizons that will help accomplish the decisive and urgent objectives for sustainable development?

In 2015, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, stated: “We must be ready to bid farewell to the last barrel of oil, and we must be ready for a new phase of sustainability.”

What is the UAE betting on during that phase?

The answer lies in a host of strategies and approaches that were announced in the past two years. At the forefront are three strategies: The UAE’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, UAE’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy and UAE Innovation Strategy. There are also other related plans and strategies, such as those for sustainable transport, unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous cars and 3D Printing.

While these strategies are going ahead in parallel with interconnected executive plans, transforming government services into smart electronic ones across all available technological channels remains the key pillar due to their economic, social and environmental advantages.

This also complements the UAE’s approach of consolidating the foundations for a digital knowledge-based economy. Either way, the goal of the UAE leadership is clear: To make Emiratis and UAE residents happy.

E-transformation of priority services

A brief history on the subject of e-government; earlier on May 21, 2013, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Smart Government initiative that aimed to provide services that are available 24/7 to the public. In just two years, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid declared a 96.3 per cent completion rate for the smart e-transformation of priority services.

The UAE’s federal bodies exerted immense efforts on the smart and electronic transformation of their services, as well as encouraging the public to use them. There was a study conducted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) that covered around 35 federal bodies, and 319 priority services in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The study states that the number of online transactions conducted during those three years surpassed 30 million. Investments in smart transformation has had a clear impact on sustainability development goals during those three years.

On a social level, customers that used e-government services saved Dh7 billion, while on an economic level, the federal government saved more than Dh1 billion. An environmental impact was also observed, with a notable decrease of 377,000 tonnes in carbon emissions.

The UN sustainable development plan for 2030 and its goals aim to create a better future for the people and planet Earth. Achieving this form of development requires compatibility between three key components, and they are economic development, social integration and environment protection. Those three components are decisive for the welfare of the people and communities. Based on that, the impact of the UAE federal government’s investments in smart transformation were spread out across these components.

For example, the 11th goal listed on the UN’s Sustainability Development goals revolves around making cities capable of being sustainable and prosperous. Smart cities offer massive opportunities, such as the sustainability of infrastructure, speed of completing transactions or acquiring services and reducing pollution due to people relying more on digital methods to access services. Therefore, smart governments make an effective contribution to the happiness of a city’s residents. 576

The horizons that were earlier listed in this article are not stagnant; they are always changing and leading to other new horizons, particularly during this age of constant innovations.

It is common knowledge that today the telecommunication and information sector is a key component in the development process of different vital sectors, like health, education, security and transportation, among others. When the path towards a smart government required developing the infrastructure of telecommunication and information systems, then this is further proof that a smart government contributes to the sustainability of life in cities.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.