Dubai: Empowering Expats with Mobile eGovernment

Dubai is pushing online government services to improve access for its dominantly foreign residents

On the face of it, the emirate of Dubai appears to be a wasteful spender. The hotbed for technological experimentation has seen huge investments in development projects that never led to fruition. Refrigerated beaches, a seawater vertical farm, a Dynamic Tower with independently rotating floors and other projects planned as part of the perhaps over-ambitious Dubailand project led to sceptics calling the city Dubious Dubai. But the visionary leadership of Dubai is determined to change what it sees as the false impression that a city relying on cheap foreign labour to build mind-boggling megastructures does little to improve the lives of the public.

“Dubai has developed the cutting-edge infrastructure it needs to emerge as an international economic platform,” says Ahmed, an expat who has lived in Dubai for over a decade. “The city is already playing a vibrant role in connecting global markets and creating new business opportunities for individuals fleeing from troubled neighbouring states. But most of the low- to middle-income classes seem isolated from the apparently infinite resources offered to businesses and individuals promising high revenue generation with their presence in the city.”

Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Makhtoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, believes this sentiment can be corrected by focusing on social inclusion of the broad expat community, which makes up 85% of Dubai’s total population. Dubai’s leaders have announced transformation to smart government as an extension to their Smart City ambitions intended to raise Dubai’s competitiveness in global trade and tourism.

The government has the advantage of delivering services to most citizens via mobile devices since Dubai enjoys some of the highest smartphone and internet penetration rates in the world. The UAE is a global leader in terms of smartphone penetration (74%) according to Google’s Our Mobile Planet survey and internet penetration rate of 75%, according to the research firm Ispos.

The Dubai eGovernment Department (DeG) has developed an integrated system for services accessible via smartphone apps launched at the 2013 Gitex event. The services include mobile payment of utility bills and traffic fines, real-time communication with various government departments and electronic identification among others.

Ahmad bin Humaidan, Director-General of Dubai eGovernment, has said these initiatives are will deliver “round-the-clock government services” using “one of the most widespread devices in the world” — the mobile phone.

The leaders’ interest in smart government doesn’t end there. eTransformation is a long-term process for Dubai’s government that will evolve based on public usage and feedback. The DeG is using a government resource planning (GRP) gateway, built on business intelligence technologies that will let firms submit applications for support services.

The BI tools will collect usage information on various smart government systems and transform that into insights the government can act on. These systems include HR and payroll, asset and supply chain management. Sheikh Muhammad hopes this strategy will deliver continued improvements and bridge the gap between Dubai’s elite and its expat community.

Sheikh Muhammad says the public needs to be “at the centre of … a transformation … to efficiently and actively contribute to the process of building a better future.”


Ali Raza is a business and technology consultant who covers consumer and enterprise technology issues for US and international publications. As a racing driver and a stunt master, only cars eclipse his love for technology.