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A sneak peek into Dubai’s citywide blockchain strategy

Recognizing the potential impact of the blockchain technology on city services coupled with a worldwide blockchain adoption trend that saw $1.1 billion invested by the private sector in blockchain technology in 2016 alone, Dubai launched a city wide blockchain strategy in October 2016 with the objective of becoming the first blockchain powered city by 2020

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Dubai Data Strategy is one of the world’s most comprehensive and ambitious data initiatives to leverage Dubai Data to enable Data Excellence and Smart City Transformation. The City and Emirate of Dubai’s  mission is to empower the usage of data. Dubai  Government’s policy framework is intended to develop and  implement a culture of data sharing and evidence – based decision making in Dubai and will serve as a guide for all involved in the sharing of data. Launched by Crown Prince of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, establishes a roadmap for the introduction of Blockchain technology for Dubai and the creation of an open platform to share the technology with cities across the globe.

According to the Dubai Data Economic Impact Report, by KPMG the economic impact of data is expected  to reach $2.8 billion per year as of 2021. The report revealed that by sharing 100% of government data,  Dubai stands to generate an additional value of $6.6 billion. Express Computer interviews H.E Dr. Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General, Smart Dubai. She shares Dubai’s vision, strategy and the pilots running to make the city a blockchain powered city

Wanting to create the world’s first blockchain-powered city is a bold vision – why does the Dubai government have so much confidence in blockchain? What was the empirical evidence that convinced the government that this is worth investing time, money and resources into?
Over the last 40 years, Dubai has succeeded in transforming into a global city and regional business and tourism hub. It has established an international reputation as an economic and investment center, attracting thousands of international companies that establish their regional headquarters in the Emirate’s many free zones. The Emirate has been able to achieve this success by diversifying its gross domestic product through vast development in sectors such as tourism, real estate, retail, travel and logistics. It has also been recognized for attracting skilled talent from around the world. Underlying this economic growth has been a strong and productive Government sector that has embraced technology and committed to excellence and digital city transformation. The city’s technological journey began in 1999 with the announcement of its first ICT strategy which was followed by the launch of Dubai Internet City, Dubai e-government, Dubai Smart Government and most recently the Smart Dubai Office.

Today, Dubai is amongst the world’s leading smart cities in its adoption of new technology and pioneering of innovative smart pilots. Recognizing the potential impact of the blockchain technology on
city services coupled with a worldwide blockchain adoption trend that saw $1.1 billion invested by the
private sector in blockchain technology in 2016 alone, Dubai launched a city wide blockchain strategy in
October 2016 with the objective of becoming the first blockchain powered city by 2020. Dubai’s rapid development in various economic sectors meant that traditional processes needed to be continuously updated to ensure efficiency and speed. Government effectiveness became increasingly imperative especially in Government to Consumer (G2C) and Government to Government (G2G) services.

In particular, the growth of the business, construction and tourism sectors saw the Government needing tighter controls over activities such as permissions (e.g. permits and No Objection Certificates (NoCs) and transaction verification and tracking. Simple processes were getting ever more complicated with the addition of activities that were now in demand by the city’s new businesses and residents. It was clear that Dubai needed an agile solution to streamlining its growing Government processes.

Dubai saw potential in blockchain as the solution. Blockchain is the technology that utilizes open distributed databases of transactions involving value. Its coding method allows for secure record keeping in distributed online ledgers where members share and confirm information with no central authority. Moreover, the blockchain economy is witnessing rapid growth with over 600 new companies
active in blockchain today and an expected market value of $290 billion in 2019.

Finally, Dubai’s adoption of Blockchain technology at a city-wide scale comes at a time when the technology is increasingly being recognized as the ultimate trust machine. Blockchain eliminates the
need for trusted third parties in transactions, an attribute which would contribute significantly to simplifying Dubai Government’s evolving processes. The adoption of blockchain technology applies to
the smart governance, smart economy and smart people areas of the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) as the next sections will showcase.

What are some targets that Dubai has set for itself, in its journey to become a blockchain enabled city?
A detailed roadmap that is organized around the blockchain strategy’s three pillars has been developed.
This roadmap defines the way forward for Dubai’s blockchain ambitions. For each pillar in the strategy, the city has a plan with actionable initiatives.

A. Government Efficiency
Over 2017 and 2018, the Smart Dubai Office has been identifying and piloting use cases of the most
applicable government services on Blockchain. The first Blockchain use case titled the Payment
Reconciliation and Settlement System went live in September 2018, with many more planned to roll in
2019. This new system reconciles payments between government entities and banks within seconds,
compared to a process that earlier took 45 days!

The most applicable services are those that would benefit the most from the implementation of
blockchain technology due to their need for third party elimination, transaction ledgers, smart controls
and/or automation. So far over 20+ use cases have been identified and are currently going through pilot phases to live implementation.

The piloting of blockchain has been done across the city in several sectors such as energy, transport and
logistics, tourism, health, education and employment, economic development, safety and justice, social
services, municipal and land works and smart districts. This process involved the key Government
champions in each sector such as the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the Roads and Transport
Authority, the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing Department, the Department of Economic
Development, Dubai Police, Dubai Health Authority and many more public sector stakeholders that are
key to sectoral adoption.

In order to roll out the blockchain pilots in an organized approach, Dubai recognized the importance of
putting in place a governance framework that would ensure that all stakeholders are aware of their
roles and are receiving the support they need. For this purpose, the Smart Dubai Office had rolled out
workshops with each stakeholder with an objective to identify the best potential pilots in their sector
and provide them with the technical standards and unified protocols for implementing their pilots.
Moreover, it constantly supports each entity in selecting a technical partner to implement the
blockchain pilots.

By opening the door to blockchain technical partners from around the world to come to Dubai and pilot
use cases in each entity, Dubai is stimulating the blockchain market and its own economy. In brief, the
city is creating demand for businesses to thrive through innovation.

B. Industry Creation
In addition to rolling out blockchain in the Government, Dubai aims to create a blockchain industry where private companies and start-ups thrive and innovate. To achieve this aim, it has set three key action areas that would support in creating an enabling eco-system that would empower businesses as follows:
i. Policy Development
The policy implications of blockchain implementation will be continuously assessed and policy will be
developed in a number of areas such as security, consumer rights, start up support and enablement, and
financial technology. We are currently running workshops with public and private sector entities to

identify challenges entities are facing before Blockchain implementation, and will finalize our policies
keeping in mind feedback from all.

ii. Startup Accelerators

Smart Dubai has participated in two accelerators – the Dubai Future Accelerators and the
Startupbootcamp Smart City Dubai Accelerator – inviting blockchain startups and solution providers
from around the world to work with local government entities and test blockchain implementation in
the city.

iii. Smart Dubai Global Blockchain Challenge
Hosted annually, the Global Blockchain Challenge invites startups from across the globe to pitch their
Blockchain ideas that can be implemented in Dubai. In May 2018, the 2nd Smart Dubai Global
Blockchain Challenge saw over 200+ applications from 85 cities to showcase their best and brightest
Blockchain solutions. We shortlisted the top 17 entities and flew them to Dubai to present at the
Future Blockchain Summit, the world’s largest Blockchain conference, where we awarded the top 3

C. Thought Leadership
In this pillar, Dubai aims to lead the global thinking on blockchain technology and become the hub for
blockchain intellectual capital and skill development.
For this purpose, it has set four key action areas as follows

i. Skill Development

Dubai aims to become the regional and global hub for blockchain skill development by offering the most
comprehensive and frequent training programs aimed at blockchain coders, policy makers, and
strategists and project managers.

ii. Intellectual Capital – Smart Cities Global Network
Smart Dubai aims to create and share intellectual capital related to its blockchain adoption through the
development of case studies for each of its city pilots. To achieve that goal, Smart Dubai launched the
Smart Cities Global Network in April 2018. The Smart Cities Global Network is the largest international
network of smart city stakeholders. Smart Dubai aims to bring together partners that share it’s passion
for advanced technology, Fourth-Industrial-Revolution breakthroughs, smart living, and spreading
happiness in the community with tech-enabled, human-centric services. Network members include
representation from Government, the private sector, research centers, academic institutes, subject matter experts and the media. The network approach is agile and flexible without fixed time commitments and governance structures. Instead, members can join the network online and become
visible to one another through the first comprehensive global smart city directory. Through this visibility, Smart Dubai and other network members may reach out to one another to collaborate on exchanging knowledge around implementation of smart city and technological initiatives, ecosystem enablement efforts supporting start-ups and entrepreneurs, skills development, publications, events,
awards and more.

iii. Blockchain Conferences
Dubai has been hosting blockchain experts and speakers on a regular basis in order to stimulate debate
and discussions around the most pressing and controversial issues surrounding the adoption of
blockchain technology on a city level. The Future Blow The Future Blockchain Summit May 2018 was the
largest Blockchain Conference ever held with over 8,000 attendees and 134 speakers.

iv. Academic Sector Activation
We are heavily engaging schools and universities in all blockchain activities such as pilot development,
training, speaker events, and intellectual capital building. As part of Dubai’s 10X program, a program
launched to make Dubai 10 years ahead of all other cities across all industry sectors, Smart Dubai is
soon launching the Smart City Academy, which will be the world’s first open platform for decentralized
education and skill development that will run on Blockchain.

What kind of investment has gone into developing Blockchain capabilities and how will ROI be
Collaboration has always been the core of Smart Dubai’s work. Instead of pouring in billions of dollars to
create new infrastructure catering to every different industry sector, we are working with government
and private sector partners across all dimensions, leveraging and enhancing existing capabilities.
Our government and private sector partners are domain experts in their respective fields, we do not
want them to worry about the hardware and software of setting up a Blockchain network, we instead
want them to identify and implement Blockchain use cases, relevant to their sector, that will benefit
residents and visitors of the city most. With have therefore partnered with IBM to launch the Dubai
Blockchain Platform, which will be the first locally built and hosted platform. Paid for using a subscription model, the platform will be the core infrastructure through which all Dubai government
blockchain applications will run. Launching this platform also contributes to our goal of having a unified
and integrated citywide ICT architecture for Dubai, which will make digital transactions and data
transfer between entities much more efficient and seamless.

What would you say are some of the challenges in pursuing this Blockchain strategy, and what
has Dubai done to try to overcome them?
Setting up a Blockchain network ideally has three phases, Pre-Implementation, Implementation and Post
Implementation. Across all three phases, firms that are involved in setting up a Blockchain network will
come across various challenges, some of which include scalability, regulation, ownership, interoperability, governance, etc. As the technology is quite nascent, there is no global framework on how to solve these challenges. As Smart Dubai, we have continuously focused on the advantages of collaboration for any initiative, therefore we have been hosting regular Blockchain Policy Workshops bringing the public and private sector together to identify such issues and come to a mutual consensus on how such challenges should be overcome. We hope to announce the city’s official Blockchain implementation policies in early 2019.

How is the strategy set to advance in the next year? Could you elaborate on what the next steps
in this journey would be?
Through 2017 and 2018 we underwent most of the ideation or pre- implementation phase. With the
Dubai Blockchain Platform now launched and the Blockchain Policies being launched soon, we will be
going live with our identified use cases in 2019 and 2020.

If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]


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