Article: Bottom-up approach for digitalization

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori

More than half of the world's population lives in cities. This figure will increase to 66 per cent by 2050, which renders the 21st century, the age of cities. The 21st century is also the age of the digital revolution, which changed many concepts and patterns relating to everyday functioning and led to the era of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is this convergence of the curves of urban expansion and digital transformation that leads to the development of a smart city. Smart cities use digital infrastructure and AI technologies and create an ecosystem that until yesterday seemed like science fiction.

The United Nations (UN) expected this evolution and integrated it into its agenda for 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs highlighted the role of cities or local governments, instead of federal or central governments in digital transformation.

This shift is based on several grounds other than urban expansion. The UN eGovernment survey pointed out that cities or local governments are closer to understanding the daily needs of people and provided them with services in the economy, transport, and municipal affairs.

It stated that the local departments could achieve the bottom-up approach and had more ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2018 edition of the UN eGovernment survey covered 40 cities across the world, including Dubai, for studying digital transformation at the local level. That was the first introductory signal towards changing the methodology of assessing digital transformation. The new approach highlights the role of cities in bringing digital transformation, while keeping legislation, executive, and judiciary roles with the central governments. In the latest edition, the UN eGovernment survey covered 100 cities. This number is expected to grow in the future versions of the study.

We, in the United Arab Emirates, have an excellent opportunity for digital transformation because of the promising programmes in this field at the local level. The local e-government programmes successfully developed digital infrastructure, digital presence, smart government services and other policies and practices. But, at the same time, they need to exert more efforts to maintain leadership through integration and connectedness conducing to the single digital government that provides its services to customers in a smooth and seamless manner.

The coming period requires in-depth work and close cooperation between the federal and other local governments, with a focus on the four pillars of the Local Online Service Index: technology, content, services, and participation. There is no doubt that we are ready for this.