MENAFN - Khaleej Times
Smart buzz across the UAE
(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Electricity bills, traffic fines, toll recharges, parking payments, customs fees and municipality dues are no more a hassle for those on the move. Its all online now, and on your phone, sparing you the drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic, or hopping on to public transport to present yourself at the counter after snaking your way through a queue.
Awareness is spreading rapidly for the UAEs mobile and electronic government initiatives with Dubai showing the way. More residents are opting for a range of these services, and satisfaction levels are rising. In a recent survey, 90 per cent of the users have given the thumbs up for Dubai Governments online services.
The emirate went a step further when His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in May launched the Middle Easts first mobile government (mGovernment) service as the UAE joined a select group of countries offering the facility. The larger plan is to roll out these services across all government departments within two years and the Information and Communication Technology Fund (ICT) has allocated Dh200 million for this purpose.
Suhas Chauhan is a 29-year-old IT professional who juggles his monthly payments with ease and claims hes an early mover to the mobile mode. "I dont worry about parking meters in Dubai as a simple SMS to the RTA does the job and its worth the money," he says.
Others like Laila Hashim says she prefers to track and click her electricity bills online rather than pay a visit to the Dewa (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) counter.
Dubai Customs last week brought its entire range of services under the smartphone banner, a first by a government department. Dubai government statistics show the number of electronic transactions rose from 1.89 million in 2010 to 3.32 million last year and the number of mobile transactions grew from 19,433 in 2010 to 36,325.
"When users are confronted with multiple service channels for interaction, such as Dewa, a subset will invariably change their existing usage patterns to gravitate towards those that are quicker, more intuitive, or more convenient to use," says Mukesh Chulani, Research Manager, IDC Government Insights, Middle East, Turkey, and Africa
"Electronic government (eGovernment) allows the delivery of services in a much more efficient way than traditional government offices and government service counters. It has been in the forefront of every government agenda in the GCC, and the UAE in particular over the last decade," says Fady Kassatly, a technology specialist with consulting firm Booz & Co.
Smartphone users are rising rapidly in the country with a penetration of 62 per cent, one of the highest in the world, which is expected to rise to 71 per cent. Mobile penetration in the country is reported to exceed 230 per cent. The GCC figure is 180 per cent, which is higher than Russia (160 per cent), the US (108 per cent) and China (78 per cent).
"There are many benefits for residents using e-services - the Dubai Government Online Services Public Survey shows 96 per cent of the residents use them to save time and money, and 95 per cent use them for trust and confidence," says Chulani.
E-services may not always visible to the end user, but they help in reducing pollution levels as they involve less travel and waiting at counters for your turn to pay for government services.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi ahead
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are taking the lead, but is this programme evenly spread across other emirates?
"Theres certainly the opportunity for the smaller emirates to leapfrog and learn from the efforts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in developing successful e-services. But I believe there may also be the opportunity to take a shared services approach, such that the efforts of deployment and management of these services become a commonly-held effort," says Chulani.
He says governments in the Mena region need to take into account processes, people and policies to form a connection with citizens. "A major focus is on building awareness, and mobile is the best way for citizens to interact with governments. Mobile is not a passing trend."
The UAE federal governments portal and Dubais Smart Government, Saudi Arabias Yesser, Qatars Hukoomi, Omans Omanuna, Kuwaits Kuwait Government Portal, and Bahrains eGovernment Portal are proving how government services can be successfully offered online for the benefit of citizens.
A UN survey says the UAE saw the highest jump in the world e-government development ranking - from 49 two years ago to 28 in 2012.
"Since Dubais mGovernment announcement, there has been an unprecedented momentum created across all government levels in the UAE to support this vision. This has not only affected the UAE government, but other governments in the region are also very seriously evaluating the mobile channel to offer their services," explains Kassatly.
Chulani dismisses concerns about security and says every effort is being made to ensure transactions are safe. "Given that mGovernment is a leading strategic priority for the Dubai Government, the Emirates Information Security Committee has placed great priority on ensuring that any transactions between citizens and government departments are secure."
They have been active in the formulation of an integrated strategy and a unified policy for information security and Dubai Government information systems, he says.
Dr Ali Mohamed Al Khouri, Director-General of the Emirates Identity Authority, notes in a paper, Supporting e-government progress, that the country has adopted a mixed approach for its eGovernance initiatives which benefit both residents and government departments with greater efficiency and lower costs. "This has resulted in reformation of traditional public sector governance models, and not merely the computerisation of government operations," he says.
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