How Microsoft tools have helped Abu Dhabi’s tourism authority during the Covid crisis
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How Microsoft tools have helped Abu Dhabi’s tourism authority during the Covid crisis

How Microsoft tools have helped Abu Dhabi’s tourism authority during the Covid crisis

The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT) embarked on its digital transformation journey before the pandemic, leaving it better prepared to adapt to the crisis

Gulf Business

Embarking on a digital transformation strategy is no longer optional – and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic further accelerated the pace of adoption.

When the pandemic struck the UAE, the government immediately put in place strict measures to control the outbreak, such as closing offices and hotels. While the decision disrupted the operational patterns for many organisations, others, such as the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT), were well prepared from a technology perspective.

The DCT, which had partnered with Microsoft pre-crisis, set up a virtual crisis centre using Surface Hub 2S devices and Microsoft Teams, the first of its kind within Abu Dhabi. The department also began managing the communication between stakeholders with virtual collaboration Microsoft 365 tools and Teams.

The DCT was also amongst the first government departments to go into Microsoft datacentres based in the UAE, which helped it scale rapidly when the virus struck.

“The Microsoft ecosystem allowed us to respond both safely and quickly,” says Peter Jamieson, chief technology officer and director of Digital Transformation at DCT.

“We used Teams, Surface Hub 2S, and Surface Pro 7 to coordinate remotely and work with our key stakeholders. It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s incredibly powerful for us to collaborate when we can’t be together.”

Saeed Ali Obaid Al Fazari, acting executive director of Support Services adds: “DCT values the importance of innovation and technology to build scalable, flexible, secured, and sustained ecosystems and increase the efficiency of business operations.

“Using all these [Microsoft] products has enabled DCT to work more efficiently. Time in meetings is reduced. People are being productive. Customer experience is visible. We are really interested in giving the best experience for the customers as well our employees,” he states.

The digital transformation journey 

Charged with regulating, supporting, developing and marketing Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry through a range of activities as well as promoting and preserving the emirate’s heritage and culture, DCT is implementing a massive tourism strategy that seeks to welcome than 20 million visitors a year.

When Jamieson started the job at DCT, employees were working on desktops that were tethered to a datacentre and centrally managed. Aging equipment was running legacy editions of Windows, laptops were permanently docked, and employees worked in four different versions of customer relationship management (CRM) software. “We weren’t living up to our true capabilities for innovation and creativity,” he says.

He deployed Microsoft technologies as part of efforts to modernise and transform the way the entity works, including how it evaluates hotels, monitors standards, works with specialist partners, collects data, and analyses reports.

Less than a year into the launch of the project, a thorough workplace modernisation was underway with the rollout of Microsoft cloud technologies driven by Surface devices. About 1,500 users began working with Microsoft Office 365 E5, and an ongoing Teams deployment allowed for location-independent meetings that met stringent government requirements for security.

The systems are designed to detect threats early and respond, even before IT teams are notified. Microsoft security teams also constantly monitor systems. “With security, the toughest thing is giving people access to the right things,” says Jamieson. “With Microsoft 365, because I can send someone a link that is either time-locked or bound to their ID, I know the right person is opening that file. If I do make a mistake, I can recall the message with confidence.”

Looking ahead, the DCT is also investing in virtual reality, augmented reality, and AI to explore what the technologies can do for the department and Abu Dhabi. One example is reality headset Microsoft HoloLens 2 which will help reimagine how museums can be experienced by schoolchildren.

The DCT has a bold vision to boost Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector, and is depending on digital to help turn that vision into reality.

“The DCT is automating complex, time-sensitive government operations, enhancing workflows, and improving our ability to anticipate and mitigate technical problems. All this translates into a more effective, efficient, and available organisation that better serves our internal customers, citizens, and visitors alike,” says Jamieson.

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