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How the UAE Has Been Leading in Digital Transformation

The United Arab Emirates was forward thinking years ago by prioritising digital transformation. That is part of its wider national economic development and diversification transformation. 

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are undergoing economic diversification transformations. A huge component of that is digital transformation across many aspects of daily life. This was even before Co-VID 19 and social distancing suddenly became the norm globally.

UAE-wide the country, for instance, has its economic strategies of UAE Vision 2021 and UAE Centennial. Both strategies have strong themes around digitalisation and transformation. The former focuses on transitioning the UAE into one that is based on knowledge. This would promote innovation, investing in research and development (R&D) and embracing ground-breaking technologies.

Within each of the UAE’s seven Emirates there are visible implementations of those as well. In Dubai, they have Smart Dubai 2021.  According to its website, after announcing its roadmap, Dubai will aim to be a world-leading city by 2021. This, “In celebration of the nation’s golden jubilee, by promoting technological advances that benefit the city’s people; it’s economy; and its resources.” Many of Dubai’s services are already digital – from applying for residency visas across its various stages to even parking fines – where much can be done from the touch of one’s mobile device.

Abu Dhabi the capital of the United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (SOURCE: GETTY)

Across the other Emirates this has come into play as well. In Abu Dhabi, the government performed more than 1,000 government services via digital platforms and conducted more than 8 million completed transactions last year. As similar with neighbouring Dubai, Abu Dhabi residents also many of their services via digital platforms.

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have invested heavily such as within fintech. Dubai’s International Financial Centre (DIFC) is home to FinTech Hive, which according to its website is the first and largest financial technology accelerator in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. In Abu Dhabi, it was just announced that the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the capital’s international financial centre, will jointly host and organise the fourth annual FinTech Abu Dhabi Festival (FinTech Abu Dhabi), planning to be held from 24 to 26 November 2020.

With respect to digital infrastructure and know-how, it has been a challenge globally with Co-VID 19. For example, in the United States, where 20 million people lost their jobs just in April, there has been difficulty and delay for many people in applying for unemployment benefits because of the lack of capacity and out-of-date systems government systems.

In terms of digital competitiveness, the UAE is ranked first in the Arab region (12th globally). This is according to IMD’s World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2019 report. The same report ranks the UAE ranked 2nd in the technology factor, 9th in the future readiness factor and 35th in the knowledge factor. Not only the UAE but other countries with strong digital infrastructure such as South Korea have been able to utilise digital and place it in the forefront.

Even before Co-VID 19, the UAE was already a leading force and innovator amongst many aspects of digital. Fun fact – the UAE is the first nation in the world to have a State Ministry for Artificial Intelligence (AI) back in 2017, which was, and currently still is H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama.

These have been evident for those that live in the UAE through the deployment of sophisticated technology. Examples include speed cameras, drones and robots. Through the data, the UAE can monitor closely and help contain the virus. AI’s ability to turn raw data and create forecasts can help not only the UAE but the rest of the world in combating the pandemic. With the recent easing of restrictions such as in Dubai, digitalisation will play a huge role in further protecting residents.

Blockchain is used to help in logistics – for example. Recently, Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) collaborated with the Abu Dhabi Digital AuthorityDubai Future Foundation and Saudi Aramco, among others by launching a Blockchain toolkit helping meet challenges arising from supply chain failures.

Now more than ever, the global digital infrastructure’s ability to serve our daily lives has come into play. Having the right digital transformation strategy and implementation for any country is important. The current global pandemic situation has had to make much of business and personal interactions digital.


The article is an original op-ed written by Richie Santosdiaz


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

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