Here's how the UAE is pursuing its digital vision and strategy
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Here’s how the UAE is pursuing its digital vision and strategy

Here’s how the UAE is pursuing its digital vision and strategy

Dr Saeed K. Aldhaheri and Ranjit Rajan, authors of Digital Nation: How the United Arab Emirates is Building a Future Based on Tech Innovation, provide insights into the country’s plans


What were your inspirations for the book?

Dr Saeed: We wanted to document the digital transformation journey of the UAE in the past 20 years as we thought this would inspire leaders, entrepreneurs and practitioners around the world about the digital mindset and approach of the local leaders and executives in how to use technology for the betterment of people and society. And we wanted to provide takeaways and lessons for other leaders and innovators around the world.

Ranjit: Dr Saeed and I have had the opportunity to witness the digital transformation journey of the UAE at close quarters over the past couple of decades. In 2018, we realised that, despite the fact that several articles had been published on the UAE’s objectives and achievements, no book had been written. The articles and the presentations at various conferences that we saw did not fully capture the passion, motivation and personal effort of the individuals leading this transformation across the nation. That triggered a discussion between us which culminated in the book a year later.

What did writing the book Digital Nation teach you? What surprised you the most?

Dr Saeed: I have personally learnt from writing Digital Nation that transformation is not about technology but more about empowering people to achieve business objectives. Technology serves as an enabling tool that provides better outcomes if people are at the centre of digital transformation and are well prepared to make the most out of it. UAE leaders and executives understood this very well and adopted this approach in the execution of the UAE digital vision. I was surprised by the wide acceptance and demand for the book locally and internationally. Others quoted and mentioned the book at several international events, including Norway Innovation Week and Barcelona Smart City Expo. At one point, it was one of the bestselling technology books on

Ranjit: The writing process was a journey full of learnings. We wanted to capture the personal stories and experiences of key personalities in the private and public sectors who were playing pivotal roles in the transformation. To achieve this, we interviewed them at length. The personal stories of these individuals were fascinating – all of which we couldn’t include in the book for lack of space. A few of the aspects that surprised us were the high levels of motivation and pride and the deep levels of involvement of these executives, their willingness to take on seemingly improbable goals, and their almost unshakeable belief that the UAE can be a world leader in technology.

Since your book was published, what are the notable examples of digital transformation that have you come across?

Dr Saeed: Digital transformation is progressing at such a rapid pace in the UAE. It is worth mentioning that the recent World Bank report ranked the UAE government as one of the very high Govtech leaders in the world. In a step to accelerate the transition to the digital economy and adopt new workplace practices, the UAE Cabinet has renamed the title of the Minister of AI to the Minister of AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, emphasising the UAE government’s vision for the digital economy and adoption of new business models and practices in the workplace. In March 2021, Dubai Digital Authority revealed the results of the Dubai paperless strategy that was declared in 2018 and announced that the Dubai Electricty and Water Authority (DEWA) was the first government department that went 100 per cent paperless, eliminating paper transactions and providing all its services using digital channels. At the same time, other government departments are moving ahead as per the plan to achieve 100 per cent digitisation by the end of 2021.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) has deployed a chatbot service called the virtual doctor for Covid-19 to support the public when doctors and medical staff were busy attending to patients. People can use the service to assess whether their symptoms could be associated with the Covid-19 virus. These are just a few examples of many other digital innovations that came out since publishing the English version of Digital Nation in 2019.

Ranjit: Our book was published before the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has led to a tremendous acceleration of digital transformation in the UAE. The overnight shift towards contactless digital services for government and financial services, the unprecedented large-scale growth towards remote (and now increasingly hybrid) work models, the adoption of online and hybrid learning, the increased reliance on online commerce and direct-to-consumer (D2C) services, and the rapid adoption of teleconsultation in healthcare, are just a few of the many trends that are continuing to reshape the digital economy in the UAE.

In the fast-moving digital world, how do you keep up with the changing technology trends?

Dr Saeed: I think anticipation and foresight are critical nowadays for organisations to navigate the uncertain and rapidly changing situation. Being a “future-ready” organisation requires a future vision that comes from foresight exercise capacity building in terms of skilled talent, leadership adopting the digital mindset and a digital strategy that is value-driven and very well aligned with the business strategy.

Ranjit: Keeping pace with technological disruption is not a choice but a necessity for any country or organisation to be competitive in the global digital economy. A culture shift is often required – from consumption of enabling technology to technological innovation. This may sound like a cliché, but leadership is critical. In the UAE, the national leaders have successfully set the tone by articulating a technology vision and then galvanising government departments, businesses, citizens, and residents to rally around them to execute that vision. Devolving ownership for technology-led innovation down the pyramid is critical. Digital talent development must be a priority. In addition to developing technical skills in specific technologies such as AI or others, critical thinking and creativity must be fostered to drive tech innovation.

What would be your advice to organisations who are looking to maintain momentum in their digital transformation journeys?

Dr Saeed: 1. Adopt a customer-centric approach to digital transformation focusing on customer experience, whether that’s internal or external customers.

2. Invest in building skilled talent and the technology infrastructure to execute digital transformation initiatives effectively and in an agile way.

Ranjit: During the pandemic, we witnessed the rise of many “born-digital” firms that could tap into the changed conditions successfully. At the same time, we also saw several traditional organisations adapt and rapidly launch digitally augmented products, services, and experiences to compete and, in many cases, dominate their industries. Organisations need to focus on digitising every step of the customer journey and continuously improve the experience at every touchpoint. To do this, they must constantly extract insights from customer data using analytics, AI and algorithms, personalise experiences, offer next-best actions, and collect feedback.

Digital Nation, published by Motivate Media Group, is available, in both English and Arabic editions, at all major bookstores and on

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