The State of ICT in UAE: Three Key Advancements and How e-Government Can Leverage

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released its 10th anniversary edition of its well known report: Global Information Technology Report. As in the previous editions, this 2010/2011 version of the report has shed the light on the status of ICT infrastructure in more than 100 countries (138 in this report) including the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

What I would like to present here is the key advancements in UAE ICT sector as identified by the report, the opportunities they represent for the eGovernment program(s) in the country and how these programs can leverage these advancements.

Out of 138 countries, UAE is ranked 24th in the report’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) in a continuation of its impressive performance throughout the previous editions of the NRI. Following are three key advancements in UAE’s ICT sector and how they can be leveraged by the eGovernment:

Advancement #1: Extremely High Mobile Phone Subscription: UAE tops the world in this indicator with 232.1 mobile phone subsection per 100 inhabitants. To understand how high this number is, you should know that only two other countries (out of 138) has a subscription rate above 200 (Montenegro and Estonia). Hong Kong which falls fourth in this index has only 179.4 subscription rate.

Strategic Opportunity: This extremely high mobile phones penetration rate shows the high level of readiness of individuals in UAE. This rate when combined with the high usage of smart phone devices (personal observation) represents an opportunity for the eGovernment to boost the uptake of online services by providing more public services through mobile channels. Currently, some of the online services provided by the portals of Emirates e-Government, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are available in mobile version and Dubai has its own mobile payment gateway. Moreover, some government entities have developed dedicated smart phone apps for their services (e.g. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority iPhone  and Android apps). However, rather than relying on individual efforts of government entities, eGovernment programs should have comprehensive strategies to offer public services on the move.

Advancement #2: Deployment of Country-wide Fiber Network: the report puts UAE among nine countries that place building a national fiber networks as part of their national agenda. For UAE, the aim of having a fiber network is to “improve the country’s image, making it appear quicker to adopt new technologies than competing nations and so more attractive to foreign investors”. This is confirmed by Fiber To The Home (FTTH) Council which ranks the UAE “fourth among all economies in FTTH market penetration, positioned ahead of all European and Americas economies and behind only behind South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong”.

Strategic Opportunity: This advancement by itself can create a set of opportunities to the e-Government programs in UAE, but I would like to bring to attention one opportunity that hasn’t been discussed enough: shifting to cloud computing in the public sector.

Emirates e-Government has announced a plan to start providing a collection of its shared services over a “government-wide cloud”. By having access to low cost (and even free) on demand services (e.g. payment gateway), government entities can dramatically cut down their service cost and increase efficiency. More important, they can use these cloud services to boost the maturity of their online service and increase the overall value delivered to the public.

The main challenge would face Emirates e-Government in this matter is the ability to “sell” the concept and its service portfolio to government entities on both federal and local levels.

Advancement #3: High adoption of Online Social Networks: I know, this doesn’t sound like a traditional ICT indicator but I’m glad that authors of the report have considered it as a subcomponent of the NRI. (Please read my post on the GITR framework I wrote back in 2010).

UAE is ranked 22nd with a score of 5.9 out of 7, this is another evidence on how the UAE society is active on social media.

Strategic impact: I discussed this with more details in a previous post and my conclusion was that eGovernment programs in the country need to have a plan on how to leverage this opportunity to enrich their engagement with the public. Otherwise, we could witness“social media gab” between the government entities and the public. Such a plan should be part of wider strategy to shift towards adoption of Government 2.0 practices. The release of Social Media Guidelines document by Emirates e-Government was an important step in this direction.

To summarize, we can say that the three key advancements of high mobile phone subscription, high social media adoption, and the deployment of country-wide fiber network offer the eGovernment programs in the UAE the opportunity to remarkably increase the value delivered to the public and boost the government efficiency. To seize this opportunity, they need to collaborate on building and utilizing the  government cloud and offer more ”social” services on the move.

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