Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr is director general at Smart Dubai Office, a city-wide initiative to transform Dubai into the world's smartest and happiest city.
The following article is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk's 2017 in Review.
Having been part of the U.A.E. government's rapid transformation over the last two decades, I find myself, for the first time, at an unusual junction: Business as usual or complete disruption and reassessment of the role of government and its relationship to its constituents.
The culprit for the disruption in this scenario is blockchain, the technology that has rattled the world in 2017 and brought back reminisces of the dot-com days – namely "adapt or perish."
The U.A.E. and Dubai, in particular, have chosen to adapt at every turn-point, and for 40-plus years this choice has served us well.
Here we are now, yet again, choosing not only to adapt but to embrace a technology that we believe has the features to not only change the way people interact with their government, but transform public sector service transactions and delivery.
To understand why, I'll first state that governments have long existed to manage societal growth through the provision of trusted public services.
Historically, the delivery of these services involved frequent and time-consuming interactions between public sector agencies and constituents. If you wished to buy a property, the government's role would be to authenticate the transaction and record it for future reference.
The purchaser in this scenario woul, therefore, be required to fill-out and present several documentations to ensure the government can do its "authentication and recording" role properly. The relationship between the two – government and individual – is purely
transactional: Give and take.
Governments around the world have believed for centuries that they are achieving their objective by fulfilling these traditional transactional roles – albeit through heavy reliance on manual processes and unnecessary labor work.
The happiness objective
The Dubai government differs from others around the world in that it aims to make Dubai the "happiest city on Earth." We aspire to touch the life of every individual to ensure that their everyday city experiences and interactions are efficient, seamless, safe and personalized.
In short, we want to give people back time they would have otherwise spent on filling paperwork and visiting government service centers.
More importantly, at the core of this vision is a belief in the profound power of emerging technologies to dramatically improve city experiences. A belief, we have put into motion with the release of the Dubai Blockchain Strategy in October 2016.
But, you might ask, why blockchain?
Dubai's rapid development in various economic sectors means that traditional processes need to be continuously updated to ensure efficiency and speed. Government effectiveness became increasingly imperative especially in government-to-consumer (G2C) and government-to-government (G2G) services.
In particular, the growth of the business, construction and tourism sectors saw the government needing tighter controls over activities such as permissions (e.g. permits and no objection certificates) and transaction verification and tracking.
Simple processes were getting ever more complicated with the addition of activities that were now in demand by the city's new businesses and residents. It was becoming clear that Dubai needed an agile solution to streamlining its growing government processes.
Transformation in practice
In response, Dubai launched a citywide "Dubai Blockchain Strategy" in October 2016, with the objective of executing all applicable transactions using blockchain by 2020.
The most applicable services are those that would benefit the most from the implementation of blockchain technology due to their need for third-party elimination, transaction ledgers, smart controls and automation.
The strategy establishes a roadmap for the introduction of blockchain technology to Dubai and the creation of an open platform to share the technology with cities across the globe.
We designed it essentially around three pillars that connect government, private sector and the global community because of our strong belief in the power of collaboration:
- Government efficiency – implement blockchain technology in applicable government services.
- Industry creation – support the creation of a blockchain industry through providing an
enabling ecosystem that empowers start-ups and businesses.
- Global leadership – lead the global thinking on blockchain technology and become the hub for blockchain knowledge, networks and skill development.
The first pillar of the Dubai Blockchain strategy is government efficiency.
Dubai aims to use blockchain to enable a paperless digital layer for all city transactions, converting millions of documents – covering everything from visa applications to bill payments to license renewals – into digital, blockchain-secured form.
In 2017, over 20 government use cases have been identified and designed, with many progressing into proof-of-concept phase. These cases include daily life experiences such as purchasing or renting a property, registering a student in school, obtaining medical treatment, and more. Dubai intends to first pilot these use cases on blockchain before it proceeds to full implementation in 2018 and beyond.
The second pillar of the strategy is industry creation. Smart Dubai aims to create an enabling ecosystem for citizens and startups to create new businesses using blockchain. In May 2017, the Smart Dubai Global Blockchain Challenge saw 21 startups fly into Dubai from 19 cities to pitch their best and brightest blockchain ideas, several of which are now being piloted around the city.
The third pillar of the Dubai Blockchain Strategy is international leadership. The strategy aims to position Dubai as a global thought leader in blockchain, through both formal and informal cross-border collaboration.
Dubai's adoption of blockchain technology at a city-wide scale is a testament to its commitment to positively transform government from service provider to service enabler.
While major cities across the world reluctantly approach blockchain technology, Dubai has sought to be the success story that the world could emulate – in both the use of the technology itself and in achieving our happiness objective.
We believe blockchain technology, with its built-in efficiency, accountability and security, holds a key to achieving our vision.
Don't see a role for government where we're going? CoinDesk is looking for submissions to its 2017 in Review series. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your view heard.
Dubai skyscrapers via Shutterstock