Our vision is to make Dubai the happiest city

Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General, Smart Dubai Office

Interview: Gulraiz Khalid


Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr is the Director General of the Smart Dubai Office, the government entity charged with overseeing Dubai’s citywide smart transformation, engaging with leadership in the public and private sector to make Dubai a global benchmark smart city.

Prior to that, Dr. Aisha worked as Assistant Director General of the Executive Office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. The Executive Office role is to implement the vision of HH (to make Dubai #1 globally) as well as to be the source of the best futuristic initiatives. Part of her role was leading the Smart Dubai task force team from the time of the announcement of the Smart Dubai initiative in March 2014, to the formation of the Smart Dubai Office.

Dr. Aisha also worked in the Ministry of Labor as an Assistant Undersecretary for support services responsible for developing and implementing strategic management, partnership development and change management policies. She holds a PHD in Management, Science, Technology and Innovation and Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Policy and Research on Engineering, Science and Technology from Manchester Business School. A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Applied Science (Business Information Technology) from Higher Colleges of Technology, and a degree in Public Finance Management from Dubai School of Government as well as a graduate of Orchestrating Winning Performance Diploma from IMD.

What is a Smart City Program? Is it about connectivity, is it about applications or is it about better infrastructure?

A smart city program is a journey. For us, the smart city program is not about applications, it’s about experiences and hence what we really want is to make happier experiences for people. The idea is that If I go out, I have everything around me; if I go to a park, I can be connected with others, I know what’s around me and be mindful in making decisions and that’s what the Smart City is really all about – To be mindful of what’s happening around you.

Dubai has been a world leader with reference to its Smart City Program. Please share with us the vision and objective behind this program.

Our vision is to make Dubai the happiest city. We started in 2014 when we launched our Smart City program with the mandate to make Dubai the happiest city and the smartest in three years and to develop 100 initiatives and one thousand smart initiatives across six dimensions that are Mobility, Economy, Living, Environment, Governing and People. Our main goal was to develop a seamless, impactful, safe and rich Smart City experience and within two and a half hours, we have already managed to achieve most of our goal and very soon, by the end of November, we will have the first digital backbone in Dubai.

When we talk about government entities for the last 15 years they have developed many smart solutions so what we are doing with our Smart City is that we are taking of all the silos between these verticals from Health to Energy to Education by opening and sharing data across the government. We are working with different, specialized players so that we are smart in every vertical but holistically we need to bring this together as one connected ecosystem. That is why we are working on every level to make sure we have the infrastructure as a backbone ready for such transformation. Governing data and policies around data are in place and a full city roadmap for a proper managed transformation is also in place already. I think we are right on time and very well prepared to take the next step.

We are working on every level to make sure we have the infrastructure as a backbone ready for such transformation.

What is the timeline for this project and where do we stand today?

Our planned timeline, which spanned over three years will reach its end in March 2017. We call these 3 years “The Enablement Years” and have already achieved more than 100 initiatives and more than 100,000 smart services covering all dimensions in our city. We are leading the Smart City movement globally with ITU. They have selected Dubai to be the Pilot City to design and implement the first International Smart City KPIs so we are talking progress that is beyond our basic plans, and that too well beyond the ending time for this project.

As we move forward in a connected environment full of IoT devices powered by AI and more, there are certain concerns raised regarding security, legal responsibility and privacy, a very possible example could be a driverless car getting into an accident. How do you plan to tackle these concerns?

Actually that’s something our strategic partners in Dubai are working on. We are building a comprehensive strategy for Smart City mobility. By 2030, 25% of our cars will be driverless cars and that puts a lot of pressure on not only transferability but also on the Police Department and Insurance companies to put proper framework to manage and govern these aspects, whether it be traffic or be an accident or any of these challenges. Our partners are supposed to come back to us with a proper framework which defines how they will tackle all these challenges that include security, policies around insurance, policies around the traffic and more.

The Privacy issue from a data perspective is being handled by our Dubai data room. We have a set of around 31 policies that tackle privacy, security, commercialization, sharing, opening and other aspects that fall under this domain. This is from a governing perspective but when we look from a physical perspective we make sure all the layers in our infrastructure are covered with technologies that are covering the security aspect. Our Chief Security Officer in the Dubai Security Centre is helping us ensure that we are covering the security and privacy of data completely.

Which initiative is the current on-going focus of the project?

Currently, we are piloting a “City Leader Dashboard” wherein city leaders can see different data sets put together. The idea is to have two dashboards; one for the city leaders so that they can see everything happening live in the city and the second one is for the people so that they can manage the resources around them. When it comes to the “City Leader Dashboard”, we are piloting it now and plan to launch it hopefully by the next month. When it comes to the personal dashboard, we have already launched our first beta version for Dubai in which you can access once and make payments once and you can access 55 government services on that one single platform.

As you move forward ahead of your timeline and we are not looking forward to any delays, what is your plan for after the achievement of the initial goal? Is there a plan beyond the Enablement Years?

We have already started to develop a plan for the next phase. A Smart City is not a project with an end to it, it’s a journey. Our first phase was to enable the city, our second phase is to make sure that the city is impacted by the enablement component, the next phase is where we start to see how all these layers will impact different experiences.

United Arab Emirates will be 50 years old as a nation in 2021 and before we reach that time, we wish to reach our goal of making Dubai the happiest city for people around the world.

We have already identified several KPIs and one of them is “Happy Service”. Last year we measured our happiness to be 89% and we want to increase it to 95% by 2021 so the next phase is for five years and not three years and it is aligned with our Golden Jubilee Anniversary. United Arab Emirates will be 50 years old as a nation in 2021 and before we reach that time, we wish to reach our goal of making Dubai the happiest city for people around the world.