The Middle East is on the cusp of digital disruption, and leading this game is none other than the UAE. It is the only Middle East nation to have consistently ranked among the top countries in the world in the digital competitiveness index – in 2018 the UAE jumped up a spot (from 18th rank to the 17th) ahead of countries like Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Japan. The UAE globally ranked first in business agility, third in the regulatory framework, and fourth in talent.

According to the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2018, the UAE’s improved ranking is mainly due to the nation’s dedicated efforts to foster technological development and increase the adoption of digital strategies in both public and private projects/initiatives. However, another McKinsey report (2016) shed light on one of the primary drivers of the UAE’s digital transformation, that is, digitally savvy consumers. In the UAE, where smartphone penetration is over 100%, people are always eager to try out new technologies and innovations. 

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, Director General, TRA, stated

“Developing the UAE’s digital infrastructure is one of the government’s major drives. It is closely aligned with the leadership’s directives to provide a favorable environment for technological development that enables future solutions while contributing to the objectives of the national agenda and the UAE Vision 2021.” 

To accomplish this goal, numerous initiatives have been taken by both the UAE government and the regional governments. While the Smart Dubai Initiative aims to make Dubai “the happiest city on Earth,” in 2017, the UAE launched two landmark digital initiatives – the Dubai Internet of Things (IoT) Strategy and the Digital Wealth Initiative. These initiatives saw a massive adoption and implementation of IoT systems, blockchain tech, AI applications, and robotics, autonomous vehicles, and drones, hyperloop projects, to name a few.  

Then again, in 2017, the Ajman Digital Government (ADG) was established to fulfill the vision of Ajman as a “happy society” in sync with the UAE Vision 2021, National Agenda, and Spirit of the Union. Astonishingly enough, the ADG was able to complete almost 80% of the total digital transformation plan for 30 government services in the same year. 

A similar initiative has also been taken in Sharjah. A digital transformation initiative was launched in Sharjah a few years ago to better serve its citizens and businesses, while also progressing the socio-economic development of the region. Under the Digital Transformation of Sharjah initiative, the Sharjah government seeks to foster better policy-making through a data-driven approach. 

In 2018, the UAE Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) collaborated with Cisco to accelerate digital adoption for shaping the UAE’s digital future. According to this partnership, the TRA and Cisco will focus on specific key contributors to the UAE economy (smart government, tourism, healthcare, etc.) and will build digital projects to enhance the value of digital adoption in these areas.

With a strong drive towards digitization on the governmental level and with international partnerships, the UAE is indeed set on the path to becoming the pioneer of digital transformation. 

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