Digital culture: Challenge of going paperless in Dubai

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Digital culture: Challenge of going paperless in Dubai

Dubai is preparing to celebrate its last paper transaction on Dec 12, 2021


Sherouk Zakaria

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Published: Sat 26 Jan 2019, 8:58 PM

Any change brings about uncertainty, and certainly so did the start of Dubai's digital transformation of government services to meet Dubai Paperless Strategy. 
With the city preparing to celebrate its last paper transaction on December 12, 2021, six government entities have already cut their paper use in their internal transactions and public services by 57 per cent in the strategy's first phase. Aware of the challenges and time it will take to overcome the tech culture shock, Dubai Smart Office is implementing the strategy gradually in three phases to address gaps and improve weaknesses that may rise. The authority started with six government entities that represent different sectors, sizes and complexities with 10 more entities to be added in the next phase before moving to a full-digital smart government. Dr Aisha bint Butti bin Bishr, director-general of the Smart Dubai Office, told Khaleej Times that changing old habits is a journey that will not happen overnight.
"Government employees and the public have been interacting manually for years. Imagine introducing a new lifestyle they are not used to. The biggest challenge isn't the technology, but the awareness of people," said Bin Bishr, adding that learning the new technologies is a process. 
Other than its environmental benefits, the efficiency and flexibility the new lifestyle is bringing to the government and public is making people embrace the change.
Now, customers can get up to 55 smart services at the comfort of their own homes on one app, like Dubai Now, which allows them to pay their traffic fines, water and electricity bills, Etisalat and du fees and to top up Salik and Nol cards along with availing of other services. 
The automation didn't only save time and effort for customers, but also enabled government employees to invest their time more efficiently in more complex transactions. The first phase of Dubai Paperless Strategy saved about 37 million papers used in government offices. With Dubai's paperless government in 2021, each resident will save approximately 40 hours a year spent travelling between service centres (125 million hours combined) and the government will save Dh900 million annually.
By eliminating the one billion pieces of paper used by the government each year, the government will save enough money to feed four million children and prevent 130,000 trees from being cut down.
Bin Bishr said the government's shift to digital brings in an automatic change to other companies and the public. The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), for example, shifted all their services to online platforms through cutting their paper use by 60 per cent, which enabled tourism businesses, such as the Safari Tour operators, to offer all their services digitally. Bin Bishr said: "The change within the department will inevitably change the tourism industry as a whole. Hotel bookings, safari trips and all tourism services are gradually being digital." 
She added that the electronic integration among all government services will force clients and vendors to stop asking for manual transactions.
Easy-to-use unified platforms
To introduce the public to new technologies, while meeting the city's goals in becoming a full-fledged smart city, the online system needs to be efficient, unified and easy to use. Wesam Lootah, CEO of the Smart Dubai Government Establishment (SDG), said there's no point having an entity going smart without the rest or having part of the city's transactions to be processed digitally, while paper is still being wasted in other transactions inside departments. "The entire experience must be fully digital and presented to the user as an integrated experience," he said. 
DubaiNow was the first unified Dubai government services smart app that offer over 55 smart services from 22 government entities. Internally, managers and employees can use the Smart Employee Mobile App to access, categorise and filter the worklist, review the request details, and take action immediately. Oftentimes, the non-human interaction could cause security concerns and anxiety of having slow response to problems, and that's where gradual introduction of "smart services" and continuous guidance come in. 
Last year, the Dubai Smart Office launched the UAE Pass, a national digital identity platform that integrates data and information of different government departments and allow the public to apply for services using their Emirates ID. 
Lootah said the Dubai Paperless Strategy was built on three pillars to make the digital transformation a comprehensive experience. Technology is launched whereby digital platforms and solutions will be utilised to ensure paper-free government transactionss; legislation, where the necessary legislative changes are made to regulate paperless transactions across all entities; and giving birth to a Paper-Free Culture, which seeks to overcome cultural barriers of individuals and institutions to promote paperless transactions and procedures.

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