Time is of the essence in Dubai’s smart city strategy

Heba Hashem

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Dubai’s smart city strategy is centred on people and how to better serve them – an intelligent approach that is saving the UAE’s most populous city billions of dollars through digital transformation.

There’s little that can’t be done online in Dubai. From renewing a driver’s licence to reserving a trade name, services that used to take hours and required a physical presence are now completed digitally in minutes.

With nearly 1130 services digitised over the last three years, the government is well on its way to going paperless by 2021. The plan is to make intelligent use of information communication technology to eliminate visits to customer service centres and save people time and effort.

“We are working to put all of Dubai’s potential at the disposal of the people, which they can access through their smart devices,” Wesam Lootah, CEO of Smart Dubai Government said in April. “This is not restricted to transactions or access to data, it goes beyond that to improve the quality of life, healthcare, and education.”

And it’s not just customers who are benefiting. Smart services have enabled Dubai to save AED4.3 billion (about $1.1 billion) between 2003 and 2015, with annual growth in savings of about 6 per cent, according to a study commissioned by Smart Dubai Government.

Indeed, a new World Economic Forum report claims the UAE is in a prime position to capitalise on the opportunities presented by digital transformation.

Partners at work

RTA starts the installation of smart taximeters. Credit: RTA

RTA starts the installation of smart taximeters. Credit: RTA

The driving force behind this success is teamwork. Twelve strategic government entities have been chosen to collaborate with Smart Dubai on the city’s transformation, including Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Roads & Transport Authority (RTA), Dubai Tourism, and Dubai Police.

DEWA alone has managed to double the usage rate of its smart services – from 40 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2017. One of its latest initiatives is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to answer customer enquiries, and which has responded to over 270,000 questions since its launch in January.

Dubai taxis are also receiving faster roadside assistance following the launch of a smart vehicle recovery system. Operated via the Smart Tow app, the device sends coordinates of the driver’s location to the nearest available recovery vehicle, helping ease traffic congestion in Dubai.

Another move to make Dubai’s roads safer saw the RTA introduce a new rule obliging all transportation firms to install remote-monitoring devices in heavy trucks older than 20 years. The telematics device will be linked with a smart monitoring centre to keep an eye on the number of driving hours and attitudes of heavy vehicle drivers, detecting violations like reckless driving, sudden braking, speeding, and driving in prohibited places or timing.

RTA linking 20-year old trucks with Smart Monitoring Centre. Credit-RTA.

RTA linking 20-year old trucks with Smart Monitoring Centre. Credit: RTA

The authority is also looking to deploy a fleet of driverless cars in key areas in Dubai, including metro stations, shopping malls and tourist spots as part of strategy that seeks to make 25 per cent of all trips in Dubai driverless by 2030.

“As a key player of the Smart Dubai initiative, RTA has always been committed to leveraging public transport technologies and has spared no effort in enhancing its smart service offerings and boosting customer happiness,” Ahmed Bahrozyan, chair of the Smart Vehicle Committee at RTA, said in a statement.

Results matter

Dubai has taken a revolutionary approach to its smart transformation, placing happiness at the core of its strategy. One of the city’s first initiatives was to create a ‘happiness meter’ to measure consumer sentiment at various transaction points.

By clicking on a smiley, frowny or neutral face, residents and tourists can easily provide feedback after receiving a service to help authorities understand what needs improvement.

“We have a unique happiness meter, an open platform for all customers of the Dubai Government and private-sector entities, to measure the level of their happiness,” Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, director-general at the Smart Dubai Office, said at the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. “This will enable us to introduce new programmes and develop our smart services in line with the people’s needs which will lead to increased citywide happiness.”

Dubai is currently home to 2.8 million residents, 91 per cent of whom are expats, and welcomes nearly five times its population in visitors (14.9 million in 2016).

Dubai skyline (1) - Royalty free

Dubai skyline

With its infrastructure rapidly developing to cater to an estimated 30 million visitors by 2020, the city is making considerable efforts to streamline travel movement and expedite clearance procedures.

A milestone was made in this area with the launch of the UAE Wallet. The mobile app enables travelling residents to use their smartphones instead of their passport to enter and exit the country.

With information such as personal ID and passport details saved on the app, passengers only need to scan the barcode on their phones at the smart gates and scan a fingerprint to complete the process. Airport authorities expect the app to reduce departure clearance time to 9–12 seconds per passenger.

“We have realised that technology can create a positive impact on everybody’s happiness and remain committed to harnessing the latest innovations to improve city experiences to make everyone happy,” Bin Bishr said. “The next few years will witness great achievements in terms of economy, environment, individuals, mobility and governance, which will provide a high-quality life in Dubai.”