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Fri 29 Sep 2006 12:00 PM

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Dubai sets the target

Dubai is determined to have 90% of its government services online by the end of 2007 but the main obstacle to progress appears to be a lack of public confidence in these facilities

By the end of next year, if all goes to plan, 90% of Dubai government services will be available online.

This ambitious target is an indication of just how strongly the authorities believe in e-government and the lengths to which they are prepared to go to ensure its success.

Despite admissions on the part of the government that lack of public confidence in e-government services have hindered progress in the past — it is still very resolutely determined to push ahead with its vision.

Since the idea was first conceived in 2000, Dubai eGovernment’s success has come in leaps and bounds and today services from 22 government departments can be accessed online — including Dubai Civil Defence, Dubai Public Prosecution, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Roads and Transport Authority.

Citizens can now access a whole range of services online: they can pay traffic fines, settle Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) bills and renew their health cards, to name but a few of theservices available.

Earlier this year the organisation reported a dramatic rise in visitors accessing its portal — with the numbers shootingup 167%.

The latest figures published in April claimed that the numbers of visitors accessing the site increased from a low average of 2,235 daily visitors in January last year to more than double at 5,969 by the end of the year.

Of the services offered by Dubai eGovernment, applications for medical certificates online initially proved the most popular, having clocked up over 307,000 applications by December 2005 — out of a total for 1,357,0666 transactions for all government services since it was launched in October 2001.

Other particularly successful online services include applications for certificates of origin from the Chamber of Commerce, payments of traffic fines online and applications for health hygiene certificates.

Salem Al Shair (pictured right), e-services director at Dubai eGovernment believes the massive rise in visitors accessing the portal is due to a combination of heightened public awareness, the quality of the services and an improved technological infrastructure.

“The response to our innovative portal from Dubai residents and visitors reflects their awareness of using the e-service toget their work done especially with an innovative, secure and transparent portal such as www.dubai.ae,” he says.

“The marked increase in the number of people adopting e-services through the portal is an indication of the ever reducing gap between state of the art infrastructure, quality of e-services and the expectations of people using the services,” he adds.

However Al Shair has not always been so optimistic.

Last December he told IT Weekly that he believed lack of public awareness and public mistrust in conducting financial transactions online were restricting the number of users to the portal (see IT Weekly 31 December to 6 January 2006).

The government also faces an ongoing battle against inherently low internet usage figures across the UAE — which currently stand at just 34.7% of the total population or 1.9million users. “We still need to increase the number of people using the electronic services,” said Al Shair in December.

“It’s a cultural change — a paradigm shift. People have to get into the habit of getting on the net and doing their transactions online,” he claimed.

And it should perhaps be noted that over half of those who used the www.dubai.ae portal between March 2005 and December were international visitors — not residents — with such usage increasing threefold from 13.28% to 47.74%.

Alongside disappointing low usage figures, in the past customer satisfaction with the Dubai eGovernment has not always been high.

Earlier this year nearly one in three users of the Dubai Police website reported that they were not satisfied with the service they were getting.

A survey conducted by Dubai e-Government in January as part of an effort to gain a clearer understanding of customer needs showed that just 69% of 202 respondents said they were satisfied with the online services provided by Dubai Police with figures even lower for users of the

Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS) website — just 59% of 566 respondents said they were satisfied.

Dubai eGovernment is working hard to promote the benefits of online services as well as conducting regular exercises to assess and improve the quality of the services.

But Al Shair believes one of the most effective ways to boost usage of the services is to improve the payment options for online transactions.

When he spoke to IT Weekly in January Al Shair revealed that Dubai eGovernment has an ambitious target of ensuring that 50% of all transactions are carried out online by 2007.

But he claimed that members of the public had in the past been reluctant to carry out payments online. “People can use credit cards and the E-dirham card but people are reluctant to use credit cards. They don’t trust it really,” he said at the time.

To address this problem and to help it to reach its targets, in June this year Dubai eGovernment introduced direct debit solutions to facilitate epayments for government transactions.

The Direct Debit payment system was launched in association with Dubai Municipality, Etisalat and the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD).

It allows CBD account holders to pay for all e-government services through direct debit in real time with an immediate update in their account records.

It is based on Etisalat’s secure payments platform and facilitates direct debit payments for businesses from their accounts, through self initiated, bank-authenticated online banking channels, using the banks’ standard internet banking infrastructure.

Al Shair believes this solution will herald a big rise in the number of payments carried out online. Dubai eGovernment said in June that it was also on testing mode on direct debit with a number of other major banks including Emirates Bank, National Bank of Dubai, National Bank of Abu Dubai and Mashreqbank.

“Direct debit aligns perfectly with Dubai eGovernment’s vision to offer innovative options for online payment solutions for businesses and people transacting with the government,”explains Al Shair.

In April this year Dubai eGovernment also announced that ePay now enables online payment of public utilities and fines using MasterCard and American Express (AMEX) credit cards as well as Visa.

With this increased flexibility in payment options and rising user numbers it looks as if Dubai eGovernment has a very realistic chance of reaching its 90% target by next year.

“The response to our innovative portal from Dubai residents and visitors reflects their awareness of using the e-service to get their work done."

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