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Sun 11 Feb 2018 03:12 PM

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Opinion: Technology has the power to improve most - but not all - aspects of our lives

Dubai's smart city vision aims to utilise the 'Internet of Everything' so that it becomes one of the world's most connected hubs

Opinion: Technology has the power to improve most - but not all - aspects of our lives
Innovation Cisco’s facility presents futuristic digitisation experiences

Arguably one of the biggest factors in the success of the UAE’s development has been the synchronicity between the public and private sectors in working toward ambitious goals.

Across sectors as diverse as tourism, aviation, logistics and real estate, there are countless examples where a transformative initiative is announced by the government and is then matched by the energy and investment of private companies in working toward a successful outcome.

Digital partners

The technology sector is no different. Dubai’s smart city vision aims to utilise the ‘Internet of Everything’ so that it becomes one of the world’s most connected hubs, with all government paper transactions abolished by 2021. While that might seem like a nice-to-have rather than a must-have ambition, it is anything but.

The technology network upon which those services sit will be the vital bedrock for growth across all sectors. It’s practically impossible to think of an industry that won’t require better-connected solutions in the near future, and none of those innovations will work properly unless the right architecture is in place.

Car companies can plan all they want for driverless vehicles, but authorities still need to provide a framework of legislation, networks and physical infrastructure”

That’s where the private sector comes into play. There is no way a government can provide that platform by itself. It just isn’t in its skill set. Hence the influx of big tech companies who are working with nation states, including the UAE, to fill in those details.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins talks about one such partnership on page 36 of this issue. His aim is to provide an integrated cloud platform upon which companies can build new services.

Cisco is also working with Dubai’s government and has opened innovation hubs around the world, including one in Knowledge Village, where it can work with start-ups to utilise this technology. And he is not the only one. Most major companies now have innovation labs that are trying to figure out how to adapt to the coming changes.

That plan is more likely to succeed if governments are on the same page. For instance, car companies can plan all they want for driverless vehicles, but it counts for nothing if the authorities don’t provide a framework of legislation, networks and physical infrastructure.

Not so fast

But before we get too carried away by our utopian future, let’s not forget there are still a number of prosaic, but no less important, hurdles to overcome, as one story last week demonstrated. As of February 4 all UAE residents must now be in receipt of a Good Conduct Certificate in order to obtain a work visa.

If you’ve already been a resident for five years then you apply via the Dubai Police or Ministry of Interior websites, which should be relatively simple. The bigger issue is that, for any overseas applicants, the certificate must be obtained from their home country; an often cumbersome process that varies greatly between jurisdictions.

For companies hiring staff from abroad in the coming months this could be an issue. How long will it take to nurse new joiners through tangled bureaucracies, visits to police stations and embassies? How will you even know, at least for the next few months, what exactly it is they need to do to get clearance in those countries?

It’s not a disaster, of course, but it does fly in the face of the government’s plans to make everything more streamlined. But it also shows that nothing is as simple as we would like it to be; lofty vision plans, together with private and public partnerships should be lauded, but the first task of any government is to keep its people safe. Even if that means more hoops to jump through, more rounds of paper chasing and trips to different departments.

So let’s celebrate the future of innovation outlined in this issue, because these ideas will change the world – and in many ways for the better. But let’s also be aware that we live in the same world we did yesterday, with all its pitfalls, challenges and humdrum human dramas.

Jeremy Lawrence, editorial director, Arabian Business Group