Staff at the Al Kifaf Centre of Dubai Municipality assisting customers yesterday at the Smart Services Hall where RTA kiosks and other online services are being provided Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Customer service counters at Dubai government departments were empty as most transactions moved exclusively online on Sunday, the first day of the ‘Week without Service Centres’ initiative.

Some customers who were not aware of the initiative, which runs till Thursday, had showed up at the centres. However, some staff were on duty to guide customers on how to access the services online.

Customers said they were generally happy with the ease of completing their transactions through smart channels such as websites, apps and electronic kiosks. There were a few teething problems for customers who were used to visiting centres instead of using digital platforms.

The initiative, led by the Department of Finance, is seeing the participation of almost 40 government departments. Around 1,100 services, such as seeking permits or paying bills, will only be accessible electronically during the initiative.

The move comes in line with government efforts towards completing the smart transformation of Dubai services by 2021. The initiative is approved by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Empty counters

On Sunday, at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) Customer Happiness Centre headquarters, counters were empty but staff were on hand to greet and assist customers who did not know about the initiative.

Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, managing director and CEO of Dewa, said Dewa is working in line with the Dubai leadership’s vision to have a smart government “that goes to the people and does not wait for them to come to it.”

One of the customers who was able to complete his transactions online using the laptops and apps available at the premises was Mark Shone. He visited Dewa to close his account as he was leaving the country.

“It’s challenging to do it on your own. But after asking several questions, I was referred to the right people to guide me and I finally got a solution. All in all, the staff were helpful and the service was satisfactory,” Shone told Gulf News.

‘Smart tables’

At the Kifaf Centre of Dubai Municipality, top officials from a number of government departments inaugurated the initiative together. Dawood Al Hajiri, director-general of Dubai Municipality; Abdullah Al Basti, secretary-general of Dubai Executive Council; Abdul Rahman Al Saleh, director-general of the Department of Finance, and a number of other officials were present.

Employees of various Dubai departments closed their counters and moved to “smart tables” where customer service executives used iPads and smart phones to assist customers complete online transactions.

The municipality said it had trained customers to use smart channels to complete the transactions over a period of one week before the start of the event.

Abid Ali, a 50-year-old Pakistani expat, said he came to Al Kifaf Centre to take permission for a promotional campaign. “Earlier I used to give all the documents to the official at the counter. Today, I was asked to fill in the details on an iPad. I’m not familiar with using these gadgets. I found it a bit difficult and it took a longer time for me to finish it, though the staff helped me.”

‘Transformational goals’

Meanwhile, customers of Dubai Health Authority (DHA) will be able to complete the process for obtaining and renewing medical licenses for facilities and professionals online, among other services.

Amani Al Jasmi, director of DHA’s IT department, said: “This initiative promotes the culture of smart transformation as it encourages facilities to deliver government services online and helps customers get used to completing transactions, which will help meet the smart transformation goals by 2021.”

Adopting technology

The headquarters of General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai (GDRFA Dubai) also looked deserted on Sunday. Customers who visit GDRFA Dubai headquarters and branches will be guided to smart tablets to complete their transaction without the need to wait in queues.

“GDRFA Dubai backed up the idea of having less customers in their offices and branches. We worked closely to adopt latest technologies to make provide our services the smart way,” said Major General Mohammad Al Merri, director-general of GDRFA Dubai.

New station

Meanwhile, Dubai Police provided its services using the smart police station, which operates 24 hours a day and offers 27 key services, including reporting of crimes, traffic accidents and community services. Dubai Police launched the smart police station at City Walk last year and at La Mer earlier this month. All police stations will provide tablets and computers and guide customers to use the services online.

— With inputs from Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporters, and Ali Al Shouk, Janice Ponce de Leon and Mary Achkhanian, Staff Reporters