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Smart Dubai works with United Nations on smart cities index

Dubai is becoming a world leader in smart city developments and international organisations want to tap its experience

Following the launch of the Dubai Now platform, the Smart Dubai Office has revealed that it is working with the United Nations (UN) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to develop a global index for smart city initiatives.

Dubai is already pioneering smart city initiatives in the Middle East and is increasingly becoming a global leader.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Smart Dubai interactive workshop entitled Smarter Together, Aisha Bin Bishr, director general at the Smart Dubai Office, said the Dubai Now project had come a long way to reach the stage of unveiling an integrated platform for the city’s services.

“I remember in 2002 when we had a single website and back then we enthused that we had an e-government website,” she said. “It had links and if users wanted any service, they needed to click on any of the links and it would take them to the department’s website. They then needed to scroll down that site to find exactly where the service was located before performing any transaction.”

Bin Bishr said Smart Dubai launched the first version of the Dubai Now app in 2015, in which the department tried to put all the services into one location. The challenge then was the back-end, she said. “We knew this was not the right way because we wanted all the government departments to learn how to redesign their own services and make these services available seamlessly and efficiently to the general public and businesses in the city.”

That is why Smart Dubai has focused on developing a gateway where anyone, including government, private, semi-private and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), can download all the standards and tools that will allow them to redesign their services and upload them to the new Dubai Now portal, said Bin Bishr.

“Our approach to reaching out to developers is very simple and similar to the Apple and Android app stores, where you upload your application as per the standards and requirements they want, and go through the approval cycles,” she said.

“What has been key for Dubai’s success with the smart city initiatives has been the leadership as well as execution and having a collaborative team from the whole city. Without the efforts of all the Dubai government departments, we wouldn’t have seen the Dubai Now portal being launched and showcased to citizens and residents alike.”

Read more about Dubai’s smart city project

At the start of this month, the Smart Dubai Office attended the New York City Smart City Conference, where Bin Bishr was surprised to learn that many are still talking about creating strategies and plans for smart city initiatives. “We did this in Dubai three years ago,” she said. “We have made so much progress since 2002 and we now have a unified approach and direction for smart city strategies, rollout and progression in Dubai.”

Bin Bishr said building smart cities requires a consolidation of efforts by all relevant organisations and departments to offer best-in-class services to individuals and businesses.

She said Smart Dubai has now implemented technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and analytical tools. “With the developer portal on Dubai Now, our next step is to really measure the impact of the enablement we have created in our city,” she said. “Very soon, we will release a lot of policies to regulate these initiatives utilising the enablement infrastructure.”

Bin Bishr emphasised that Smart Dubai is working very closely with the UN and the ITU to develop an index for smart cities so people can start comparing “apples with apples”.

“We are interested in seeing where we are when it comes to the maturity level for smart cities globally,” she added. “Dubai was selected in 2015 to be the pilot city for the smart city index and right now we are progressing very well. We want to share and shape best practices in smart city initiatives, not just in the Middle East but on a global scale.”

Smartest city in the world

Bin Bishr said the aim of the project is to make Dubai the smartest city in the world. “We are also working very closely with the International Organisation for Standardisation to come up with smart city standards,” she said. “We have been showcasing Dubai’s smart city success story at all relevant platforms internationally.”

With the Dubai Now portal live and providing a comprehensive platform for more than 55 services from 24 government departments, as well as semi-governmental and private organisations in Dubai, Smart Dubai wants to extend its reach to the country’s developer community.

Bin Bishr said functionality available on the Dubai Now platform will be extended to all services listed on the site, whether government, private, semi-private or NGOs, for as long as those services have been approved and meet set standards and requirements.

This will ensure that the general public and businesses using the services on the portal know they are interacting or speaking to the right department or organisation, she said. “In fact, that is why, when we opened the developer part of the portal, our intention was not only for government departments to redesign their services, but the private sector as well.”

For the private sector, for example, Emirates Airlines, hotel chains, restaurants, cinemas and startup entrepreneurs including small shop owners or cake sellers in the city, can develop their own app with all the services on offer, said Bin Bishr. This can then be uploaded to the portal so those organisations’ services can be available to the whole city from a single platform, once they have undergone stringent approval processes.

According to the Smart Dubai Office, the platform is intended as a one-stop shop for all government services in the emirate of Dubai. The platform has 11 categories of services – security and justice, public transport, payments and bills, visas and residence, driving, health, business and employment, education, housing, Islam and miscellaneous.

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