OPN Dubai smart city-1582965951414
Dubai Chamber showcases its smart services at Smart Cities exhibition in Barcelona. Image Credit:

Dubai has a special quality — it not only helps us imagine, but also lets one experience the future. Apart from the gravity-defying architecture, state-of-the-art infrastructure and the ever-increasing means of amusement, Dubai is steadily getting closer to the smart city status. In Dubai, emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Blockchain and the widespread use of data analysis are finding ways into public service delivery in a way and at a speed, which many countries can only dream of.

Improving efficiency by digitising services, cutting the red tape, providing seamless experiences in accessing essential amenities and commodities are processes that have already started bearing fruit as people can experience qualitative improvements in service delivery. Whether it is renewing essential documents like Emirates ID, driver licence, paying bills and fines or applying for a visa and accessing financial services, the smart initiatives are creating numerous social and economic benefits for the people living in Dubai

Based on the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to make Dubai the happiest city on earth, Smart Dubai initiative is gaining momentum as more and more services are using new technologies and approaches to improve the experiences of all those who are proud citizens and residents of this megacity.

One of the critical initiatives that will make a major impact to save the environment is to make Dubai a completely paperless city by 2021.

- Dr Fazal Malik

While Expo 2020 remains a major milestone in this process, in the last few weeks we have witnessed several key milestones being achieved in this journey of innovation and enterprise. The ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) a Blockchain process, roped seven major banks to make opening a bank account a hassle-free process for investors, SMEs and entrepreneurs. This digital platform offers instant bank account and is the first major case where Blockchain technology is successfully applied. This application does not only provide ease of business but also prevents any financial misadventures like money laundering by unscrupulous elements.

A second major event has been the inauguration by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, Smart Salem Centre, medical fitness and occupational health screening facility, in City Walk, Dubai. This facility, first of its kind in the world, makes medial fitness test — an essential requirement for a visa — a speedy process. Equipped with new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things, this facility will dramatically reduce the time it takes to register, undergo medical exams and issue residency visas. It will bring down the time it takes to issue a residency visa from 28 hours to 30 minutes only.

Saving the environment

Though the shift from fossil fuels to more cleaner sources of energy like solar is taking a firm footing in Dubai, one of the critical initiatives that will make a major impact to save the environment is to make Dubai a completely paperless city by 2021. Many government departments and banks have already moved to digital transactions. It is heartening to see Dubai aiming to have all transactions 100 per cent digitised (which will eventually save a million trees).

While everyone is watching, in awe, how the Smart Dubai initiative is shaping up, and how they can benefit from the innovative initiatives, the million-dollar question is this: What role does the private sector play in making Dubai Smart? Is it fair to leave all the initiatives and implementation for the government and various public sector entities? This question is very pertinent when we look at number and operations of the private sector companies here, especially those operating within various Freezone areas.

Private sector role is absent

Dubai model has provided the freedom to operate, facilities to enjoy and facilitation to overcome hurdles for the private sector in order to have a competitive edge but we are yet to see any major innovations emerging from these companies that can expedite the Smart Dubai initiative. All of us are worried about environmental degradation and we talk about the impact of using paper in offices. We share a deep concern about the diminishing forest cover.

Is it not time for all private sector companies to pledge to meet the government’s target of making all operations and processes paperless? Technology is there. Let us have the will to achieve this.

— Dr Fazal Malik is dean of Humanities, Arts and Applied Sciences at Amity University Dubai