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Smart government requires partnership with private sector


July 1, 2013 9:42 by

Last May the UAE announced the launch of the Middle East’s first mGovernment (Mobile Government) service, joining select nations worldwide to offer public services to its citizens through their mobile devices. The new initiative is set to be fully operational in two years.

Electronic government, also known as smart government, has enabled citizens to form communications and interact with their perspective leaders; something that they had not done before. South Korea has been a leading example of smart government worldwide, where interacting with the government through mobile is a social norm.

Applications that bring public sector data to life have helped to usher in the era of Smart government. There are currently 2,000 UAE e-government services on the web, but in order for the model of m-government to be successful, the private sectors and entrepreneurs must take part in the developing process. In the UK, entrepreneurs created a lot of apps available to help interaction with the government. Therefore, the UK government has made their app store open to third party developers.

The UAE government has had the full support from many businesses, including Etisalat and du, which will implement a more user-friendly, high capacity e-mail system for fast and efficient transmission of bills. In addition, the UAE Central Bank will develop a common payment system that will link to the telecom providers’ systems. Moreover, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) released this month a plan to migrate from eGovernment to mGovernment. The number of services offered via smart phones will increase from the existing 17 to 72 by 2014.

Others like the agency of the Department of Economic Development in Dubai have also responded to the initiative. It is planning to develop the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector and to set up a sub-fund to support UAE nationals developing mobile applications focused on facilitating people’s access to government services. The SeedApp fund for mobile applications will provide 60 percent of the cost of developing the application to each entrepreneur to develop, test the applications, and create a company resident in the Dubai SME business incubator.

Furthermore, the Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has launched the “Best m-Government Service Award” to motivate government agencies to provide innovative solutions in the field of smart phone applications, mobile websites and SMS. The award is divided into five categories: the federal, local, global and Arab levels, as well as “Students from Universities”. The latter is worth AED1 million. Submissions will close on December 12, 2013.

Indeed, governments around the world have been trying to encourage innovation from entrepreneurs when it comes to the public services. In Estonia, the same country that created Voice-over-IP Skype, kids are being taught how to code at the age of six.

In the last edition of the UN survey released last year, the UAE went up from 49th rank to 28th, and went up 6th globally on e-participation. “We adopted heavily social media and other technologies to improve public service and reach the way the government interacts with the public,” says Ibrahim El Badawi, strategic planning specialist at the UAE Federal eGovernment.

However, there might be a few hiccups along the way. “Unless the UAE solves the human capital issue, this region is always going to lack behind,” says Rishi Saha, regional director of Hill & Knowlton, MEA, India and Turkey. Public data and information is incredibly vital for this government to be successful. “The GCC needs a state of open data.” There are three countries in the UAE who have official agencies to release government data, namely the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The task is for now to take this data further and allow for mGovernment to grow wit the help of the private sector. “To develop mobile apps that will help people commute easier around Dubai, it shouldn’t be an exclusive job of the RTA. Entrepreneurs can use the data released by RTA, such as street information, and develop many apps with many ideas for the public,” says El Badawi.

Still, the private sector might be reluctant to delve into ventures of mGovernment, due to uncertainty of generating profits. Yet, both Saha and El Badawi argue that the amount of data that the government can share with the private sector is an indispensable gain. Especially since a big chunk of data can only be accessible through the government, such as the weather, transport and schools. “There are currently 900 data sets shared publicly across the UAE federal government websites. However, according to our research, the potential number for data sets to be shared is 25,000. Therefore, the economic value of sharing data with entrepreneurs is AED1.5 billion in 2012,” says El Badawi. He further explains that this profit can be split into three ways; some going back to the government (15-20 percent), second for entrepreneurs and third for the public in terms of better services. In 2013, the federal government is predicting the revenue number to be AED1.6 billion and 1.7 billion in 2014.

As for the entire GCC region, El Badawi says the research predicted the revenues to be AED7 billion.

The government promised to release the aforementioned research on revenues and data in the near future.

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