Ms. Rehab Lootah, Acting Director e-services, Dubai e-Government
Dubai e-Government initiative was launched in 2003. After putting more than 2600 services online , Dubai e-Government department has taken a lead with launching mobile government services through mDubai initiative. During a recent visit to Dubai, Vikas Kanungo of m-GovWorld has an exclusive interview with Ms. Rehab Lootah, the acting director of e-Services with Dubai e-Government department.
"Dubai started the mobile government initiative towards the end of 2005. This was the first project from the governmentr that was started after detailed consultations with all the stajkeholders including citizens. Today , the e-Government and mobile government programs of government of Dubai are very successful and we are clearly the leading service providers of electronic and mobile public services in entire Middle East. "
Rehab Lootah, Acting Director e-Services
m-GovWorld : Dubai government has shown tremendous progress in e-Government with more than 1700 services online. It has also been noticed that Dubai is one of the very few pioneering countries in the entire world to have launched mobile governance services through a dedicated mobile government portal. Would you like to share with us how the mobile government initiative was started and what is the current status on the initiative?
Rehab Lootah: Our experience in the mobile governance started with the initiative m-Dubai. The initiative started with the SMS services to various departments of Dubai government. We have two kinds of services – the push and pull services. Our customers are all the government departments. We are the service providers and we don’t charge the government departments for the service as our budget is integrated with the budget of Dubai government. We have just started providing the services to some of the private organizations, Non government organizations and schools on non profit basis. We have around 80 accounts and the million of SMSes have been pushed. In the push services, either through internet, this is the easiest way of using the services. This is the service that was started when I joined. Under this service, the client is allocated a user name and a password on our portal. We then create an account at the admin level. The account is used by the customer to upload their distribution list , write the message in any language they want and push it. We call the service as SMS campaign service or SMS push service through internet. We have another SMS push service that is integrated with the application of the customer. For example, if a customer wants to send the SMS to all the clients whose business license is about to expire, we can write the code and integrate it with the client application. The setup of such a service takes only three days approximately. We have defined the XML for this service. Its just like a query. This is one of the service. The second type , that needs more of coding is the pull service. For this service, we act more that just the service provider. We also provide consulting service to the government departments for this type of services. We study the services of the government departments and recommend which pull service will be useful from the customer point of view. The examples of this kind of service are the traffic fine enquires, or business license fines or flight information etc. What we have done is that we have unified all the government services to the number 4488. The end user can write the code of the service and send it to 4488. All pull services are through 4488.
m-GovWorld : How many requests you get on a monthly basis for the pull services?
Rehab Lootah: We receive around 16,000 requests. I feel this requires lots of marketing.
m-GovWorld: When a citizen requests a service through the unified number 4488, how do you authenticate the citizen? I mean how do you ensure that the citizen or the business entity is the same person that he is claiming to be?
Rehab Lootah: Usually the businesses and the citizens have to register for a service with the respective department. They register their mobile number while registering for the services. We identify the requesting party through the mobile number that is registered with the department. However, there are many services in the pull category that do not require an authentication and they are informational services only. The business licence services are one of the categories that require authentication. Now the Rail and Road Authority has started a service where citizens can register their complaints and suggestions through the mobile phone. The mobile number in this case becomes a unique identifier to identify the citizen. However I would like to specify again that for public enquiries, the identification is not required.
m-GovWorld: Are the service only informational or can the people also carry out transactions with the government for example can the citizen pay the fines online?
Rehab Lootah: No , the transactions have not yet been started through the mobile phones. Such services may be availed through the m-Dubai portal on internet. Paying through thye mobiles is a suggestion that we are studying.
m-GovWorld: Does the government have in house expertise for providing the services?
Rehab Lootah: We have partnered with the private sector on a PPP basis for provisioning of the services. We also have some staff in house. Our private partner for the m-Dubai initiative is Ducont. They are one of the best organizing here and have supported us a lot. We have a revenue sharing arrangement with them where they develop the applications using their infrastructure and we pay them based upon number of transactions carried out through the system. In case we request any modifications to the applications developed by them, we pay for the cost of modification. We buy the SMS in bulk from the telecom service provider and use the Ducont infrastructure for application development. The revenue sharing is 50-50 with Ducont for the services used.
m-GovWorld: Are you saying that the government did not incur any expenses on application development?
Rehab Lootah: No, we did not pay anything for the applications developed by them. However, we pay them for any enhancements in the system requested by us. For integrating the services with the applications of the individual departments, we share the expense with them. They do not however market the services to the individual departments directly. The e-Government division markets the services and once the order is procured, we get it developed through Ducont. What I mean is that the capital expenditure for developing the services is shared equally and the cost per transaction is also shared equally between us and the private partner. But they also pay an important role in educating the people and help us in educating the government departments on how to integrate the mobile service components in their applications. We have signed the NDA and the SLA with them and they are providing 24/7 support to us.
m-GovWorld: What are the implications of this in terms of copyright of the applications that are developed jointly. Are the rights with Dubai e-Government or Ducont?
Rehab Lootah: This is something that I wanted to clarify. The code is owned by the company and the database is with Dubai e-Government. They can’t disclose the database to anybody. We have signed the security and privacy agreement with them. However, the application is owned by them.
m-GovWorld: Doest that mean they can sell the applications to any other client in any other country as well?
Rehab Lootah: Yes, they are free to sell the application to anyone as this is developed by them. We have worked with them to enhance the applications though based upon our experience of governance. For example the MMS based service is being introduced shortly which has been developed jointly
m-GovWorld: Are you planning to enable the mobile based transactions as well for the government services?
Rehab Lootah: Yes, we are planning that in very near future. We already have a prepaid e-government card that also works for making payments to any business establishments in addition to paying for the government services. We are planning to have the card recharged through the SMS for the citizens who register they credit card of bank account information with them. They will be able to recharge the e-Government card through their mobile phone. We will start with this first and they go for higher level of services as most of the citizens do not have high end phones and we want to keep it simple to our citizens.
m-GovWorld : Is the mobile number enough for authenticating transaction?
Rehab Lootah: The customer can choose to select a pin along with the number mentioned earlier, we don’t want to make it very complicated. We also have a provision for delivery report and as soon as the customer opens the message, we know that he has read it. In addition we also have a call center whose number is 700040000 and the customers can call there to verify the transactions they have done. We provide great importance to the privacy of people even though there is no such law that stops the government from sending messages to the citizens and businesses in UAE.
m-GovWorld: Is there any law that makes digital signatures and online transactions legal?
Rehab Lootah: Yes, both and the Dubai level and UAE level. Its called UAE e-Law and was introduced in 2006.
I would also like to provide more information on the mobile portal. The way the mobile portal was started is very interesting. For the first time we consulted the citizens before starting the portal. Ewe suggested a list of services and received the feedback from the customers. The services were introduced based upon the feedback. The services were selected from the e-Government services basket. No changes are made to the e-Government services. Just a mobile interface is provided for the services that were selected by the customers. The mobile portal is integrated with the e-Government portal. The moment the e-Government portal is updated, the mobile government portal is updated automatically. We have partnered with Ducont and Sybase for the mobile government services. We were ahead of the telecom player when we started m-Government services as the telecom operator had no idea of offering such services when the m-Dubai initiative was started.
There is a very good market for the mobile public services but there is a great need of proper marketing and awareness generation efforts. We are gearing up for that. Dubai e-Government department started providing services to various government agencies in Dubai and now we will be providing the services to the government entities in rest of UAE. Our portal is at the URL http://www.egov.dubai.ae and all the progress reports are available on the website. Dubai is today the most advanced countries in Middle East in terms of e-Government with around 2600 services online.