TBY talks to HE Wesam Lootah, CEO of Smart Dubai Government, on Dubai's unique smart city investments, the savings from these investments, and its magnetic pull for private-sector investment.

HE Wesam Lootah
HE Wesam Lootah has 18 years of experience in strategic leadership, leveraging IT to create smart government infrastructure, and has worked in both the government and private sectors. From 2009-2012, he led several initiatives as the Vice President of IT at the World Trade Center. As Director of IT at Emaar Properties, he led the global rollout of sales automation and enterprise resource planning (ERP) across Emaar subsidiaries in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. He also led the implementation of ERP across Dubai Government entities from 2002-2007. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Pennsylvania State University, US.

What makes Dubai stand out from other smart cities?

What makes Smart Dubai different from any other smart city initiative in the world is that we have made happiness our goal; the Smart Dubai vision is to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has stressed that this is the government's objective and this makes our vision fundamentally unique; it inspires everything we do. One of the other factors that differentiates us is the customer-centric design principle to enhance the experience of the citizens and residents. One of our design achievements has been DubaiNow, which has received a number of awards, including the prestigious m-Government Award for the best one-stop shop. Our DubaiNow app consolidates over 50 government services. When we design services like DubaiNow, we make sure it is developed from the perspective of the customer. For example, people can search using terminology they are more accustomed to rather than having to use technical terms that reflect the way government entities organize themselves. Whenever we create a service ,we make sure we are listening to the market needs and assessing what customers actually want, which is then implemented through design. We use scientific methodologies in our designs, as well as testing and prototyping, and make sure that users test any new service before we make it live. It is about ensuring the government entities' efforts, initiatives, and projects are aligned with this vision of creating happiness.

How are savings being made through smart city initiatives in Dubai?

We wanted to understand the cash savings that our policy and initiatives have had, and commissioned a study by a third party specialist to measure and quantify the benefits and savings the government had made through Smart Dubai. The study found savings of AED4.3 billion (USD1.2 billion), of which AED1.2 billion (USD327 million) was saved in the government shared services area. That is a 300% savings on a spend of AED384 million (USD105 million). When it comes to infrastructure we achieved a higher saving on investment of 500%, with savings of AED1.1 billion (USD299 million). In smart services, we also achieved a very commendable percentage of 270%, which was a saving of AED443 million (USD121 million). We looked at the savings in four areas: software, hardware procurement, implementation costs and ongoing operational support, and improvement costs including all the maintenance costs, power, and consulting and professional services. The study shows that we saved roughly AED4.6 per AED1 that we spent.

How does Smart Dubai Government's work make the Emirate a more attractive investment destination?

Improving the efficiency of government helps to make Dubai a thriving business hub, making it as attractive as possible for people who want to do business. For example, the Saad initiative supports businesses by utilizing cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) to answer investors' questions about the legal framework, business activities, and how to do business in Dubai. It is the first service that utilizes AI within government procedures. Saad replaces the need to wade through documents, forms, and contact call centers to find out this information. It can give data-based statements in real time, vastly improving the quality of service. This is just one example of what we are doing in this domain to encourage investment. With the My ID system, someone can set up a business here without physically coming to Dubai. As well as these specific smart initiatives, providing the overall right infrastructure and smart services in the city creates a smooth and seamless experience, which will only help to attract business to Dubai.