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Dubai will be world's smartest city next year: Here's how it can stay on top

By Staff

The visionary strategy to transform Dubai into a ‘Smart City’ was launched less than 2 years ago, on March 5, 2014.

That the ambitious city has taken rapid and giant strides towards achieving that goal says volumes about not just its vision and ambition, but also its executive machinery that enables it to transform such dreams into realities.

Come 2017, and Dubai will proudly wear the crown of being the smartest city in the world.

But with so many cities vying for that coveted crown, what will it take for Dubai to retain the lead in the years to come?

“While we are confident about achieving our goal, through increased cross-government collaboration and solid public-private partnership, the challenge going forward will be to continue to remain at the forefront of cutting-edge innovation,” acknowledges Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, Director-General of Smart Dubai Office.

“It will require Dubai to constantly re-invent itself by aligning its governance system with public needs in an era when every aspect of our lives will be defined by the digital landscape. We hope that our experience will help influence similar digital transformations to enhance quality of life across the region,” she said.

Today, after almost three years since the first step of Dubai’s journey towards building the smart city, a recently established Smart Dubai Office is now leading the way towards building the “smartest” city in the world.

Its strategic pillars include six dimensions: economy, governance, environment, living, mobility and people. Underlying all of it was its mission to accomplish a model of sustainable development that would create public value.

In addition, a new study by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) explores further on what the city needs to do to ensure it remains one of the ‘smartest’ cities in the world to live and work in, while raising the quality of life of its people and ensuring public happiness.

The report, titled ‘A Smart City for Public Value: Digital Transformation through Agile Governance – The Case of Smart Dubai’, outlining the city’s progress and what lies ahead was launched at the just concluded World Government Summit.

Analysing the enablers and challenges in Dubai’s digital transformation, the report states: “By the beginning of 2016, Dubai’s smart city project, which started almost three years ago, had a complete set of legal infrastructure and organizational structures in place to help it in the remainder of its challenging journey.”

The study analyses the policy challenges, enablers, milestones and development path of the first phase of ‘Smart Dubai’.

Dubai’s transformation has been made easier by the city’s advanced digital governance implementations over the past 15 years, and more so by the high levels of acceptance of technology in daily life across the UAE. The report highlights crucial numbers that country has achieved towards digital transformation:

• The country is ranked 32nd in the UN’s ICT Development Index and 23rd in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Networked Readiness Index

• Internet penetration in the UAE stands at above 90 percent, while penetration of mobile subscriptions is nearly 117 percent

• Close to 70 percent of the population is active on social media across all walks of life

• Mobile penetration in Dubai stands at 260 per cent, with 3.4 million social media users active in the city

“With its advanced technological infrastructures, proactive government promotion of digital and ‘smart’ approaches, the society in the UAE has truly adopted a digital lifestyle,” the report states.

“Public value is already being generated throughout Dubai’s smart city journey. In addition to improving the quality of government and quality of life through digital transformation, Smart Dubai’s efforts so far have created cultural shifts across the city,” said Fadi Salem, Research Fellow at the MBRSG and author of the report.

“Through increased collaboration, the city’s stakeholders have already shifted operating culture from ‘my department’ to ‘my city’. Additionally, the focus on public happiness has also shifted views about the public from ‘customers’ to ‘people’ whom government entities need to ensure happiness,” he said.

The report further points out that issues arising out of collaboration, public concerns of privacy and security, and the urgent need to step-up skills and capacity are among the key challenges that have emerged in the first phase of implementing the Smart City strategy.

“This study is a policy document that not only details the journey so far, but also lays out the subsequent measures to be adopted for Dubai to emerge as the ‘smartest’ city by 2017. Agility of governance and collaboration will continue to be critical factors moving forward in the next phases of Dubai’s digital transformation,” said Dr. Ali Bin Sebaa Al Marri, Executive President, MBRSG.

Further, the report explores the potential impact of Smart Dubai on the city and the region. Once fully realised, it is expected “to enhance the lives of around 25 million people who live in the city or interact with it each year.

Moreover, by 2020, the city expects to welcome 50 million visitors as it prepares to host Expo 2020. This is a massive increase of more than 240 per cent of visitors in the next four years.” According to the study, on a wider regional level, sharing Dubai’s experiences in Smart City transformation can influence incremental changes across the region where 223 million people live in 122 cities.

Also, in the context of Dubai, it is estimated that the value of Internet of Things (IoT) applications alone will contribute around $1.17 billion to the public sector by 2019, according to a study by Cisco.

For the private sector in Dubai, meanwhile, the estimated value of IoT has been projected at around $3.7bn by 2019. Such numbers are likely to have a substantial impact on the region’s digital economy.

Commending Dubai’s tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness, the report points out: “Currently, more than 180 nationalities already live and work in Dubai with the overwhelming majority of the population being expatriates, making the city multicultural par excellence. This philosophy of inclusiveness and equality was engendered in Smart Dubai’s norms and operational culture from the very top.”