A strong economy is essential to any country, and creating a thriving economy, that will drive the nation and be fit for the future, is a strategic aim of all governments. In the UAE, the country has already made great strides in diversifying the economy away from reliance on oil, and in opening up new areas of activity and developing ties with other nations.
Like any sector, technology is now a vital part of the tool set for driving this economic diversity and for providing insight and information into the many different elements of a strong economy. From in-depth statistical and analytical resources, to platforms to promote trade, government agencies are deploying are growing set of ICT resources to take economies into the digital age.
The Ministry has a well-developed plan for growing the country's competitive and diversified economy, which is reflected in the plans for ICT programs and services. Among the key points of the Ministry's mission plan in developing an environment which supports businesses, and that will create balanced and sustainable development. Economic growth is supported through legislation and policy development, and support for foreign trade, national industries and exports, and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
Leading this technology transformation for the UAE Ministry of Economy is Esam AlFalasi, IT Director. AlFalasi is a well-established figure in government IT in the UAE, with a 26-year career in government ICT in the UAE, which has included a lead role with Dubai Municipality, then playing a part in the foundation of the Roads & Transport Authority, before joining the Ministry of Economy in 2010.
Since 2010, AlFalasi has overseen a number of core programs for the Ministry, including projects to create underlying infrastructure and shift services from manual to electronic processes. On the infrastructure side, the Ministry undertook a large-scale virtualisation program, enabling it to cut the number of servers required from seventy down to just three. Other projects have included networks and business applications for different functions.
One important aspect of the Ministry's ICT infrastructure and systems was creating the flexibility to be responsive to new requirements from strategic plans, AlFalasi explained. The IT team is responsible for multiple layers, including the business layer, information, infrastructure and services, so it requires an underlying architecture that can adapt to those needs and to new demands from all areas. To build in this level of flexibility, the enterprise architecture has been certified to The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) standards, which sets the framework to design, plan, implement and govern the architecture
Another strategic development by the IT department has been the establishing of a project management office (PMO), which is headed by AlFalasi, which is responsible for controlling the different projects and ensuring smooth integration between functions and ensuring that projects also maintain high levels of sustainability, customer happiness and so on.
The process of moving from manual services to e-services has taken place over multiple stages, AlFalasi noted, starting in 2010 with the shift of 77 services to make them one hundred percent online services. In 2013 to 2015 the Ministry launched its first mobile smart services, with 15 smart services becoming available. Since then the Ministry has continued to add new services and capabilities, to bring the total number to over 140 services, including business and industrial licensing, trade licences, certificate of origin, intellectual property services, consumer protection and many others.
AlFalasi said that when considering new services for launch, the Ministry takes into account a number of factors, including strategic direction, customer and business requests and requirements and revenue potential. Services are broadly divided into G2G, G2B, G2C and G2E (employee), and the potential impact is assessed. Feedback and consultation with customers helps to determine high priority services, which will bring the most benefits to customers and enhance their businesses.
With the Ministry's mandate to help to support businesses in the UAE and to attract businesses from abroad, the IT offerings have moved beyond just simple transaction and processing services, AlFalasi noted. With the aim of creating an open, transparent and attractive business environment, many of the Ministry's new services have focused on making data available to people and businesses, to give them all the data they require to grow and expand.
Among these new information services, which are available through the MoE website, are services such as the UAE Trade Information Gateway. This innovative gateway includes a wealth of information on foreign trade, regulation processes and procedures in the UAE. The information services include interactive maps, and user-defined search, to provide organisations with data on the state of business in the UAE, to enable them to identify the best opportunities for their own business. A Trade Relations Dashboard shows non-oil foreign trade, which is configurable by the user across a number of different variables, and a searchable map of international trade agreements is also available.
For both businesses and consumers, the website includes the electronic commodities monitoring system, which tracks the base prices of a wide range of commodity items, and where they can be purchased.
The Ministry is also developing a CSR portal, to support government objectives and to share CSR data among companies and enable private companies to participate in CSR programs.
Another important area of services which ties into national objectives, is in the area of SMEs. The UAE has outlined a number of plans to boost this vital segment of the economy, and alongside SME-focused initiatives with a number of foreign countries, the Ministry is also developing information resources and services to serve this segment, and to promote the UAE Vision 2021 goals of a diversified economy. The Ministry is developing a dedicated app, to provide services and information specifically to SMEs, and it is also looking at ways to support government aims of securing a percentage of procurement from SMEs.
A second sector which is now part of the Ministry's remit is tourism. As a major pillar of the economy, and a central part of many strategic plans for the Emirates, tourism is an inherent part of the economic activity, and the Ministry is looking to bring the full range of digital services to support this sector, AlFalasi said.
One of the services for tourists is the ‘Be Happy - Visit UAE' app. Launched by the Ministry at the end of last year, the app has been designed to provide tourism information and interactive services to visitors, as well as to gain their feedback and measure satisfaction. The app includes an avatar bot of an Emirati character, which will provide information to tourists. Alongside information on sites of interest, hotels, restaurants and so on, the app also includes feature for user's feedback, as well as live chats and interactive discussions.
The Ministry also intends to promote information services to provide a complete ‘digital economy' offering to tourists and visitors who may also be business people, to provide information on a range of different elements, such as information on rents, schools fees and so on to help them plan on establishing businesses and moving families and setting up in the UAE.
With the expansion of digital channels and online services, the IT function is now playing a central role, with customers approaching the Ministry through IT, AlFalasi said, and with the Ministry taking care of internal trade, commercial business, and foreign trade, and now tourism, IT is in the middle, supporting all of these functions.