Younus Al Nasser: paving the way for a culture of data sharing in the city

Thanks to Smart Dubai, the emirate is in the midst of a smart data revolution. But what will this look like in practice? And is it safe? In an exclusive Q&A with Vision, Younus Al Nasser, Assistant Director General of the Smart Dubai Office, discusses Dubai’s path to becoming the happiest, smartest city there is

Vision: How can big data give government a competitive advantage for attracting resources and talent to maintain a global smart megacity status?

Younus Al Nasser: The Dubai Data Initiative paves the way for a new culture of data sharing in the city. With the launch of the Dubai Data Law in 2015, we are working on showcasing the benefits of sharing data across the city. Once the Dubai Data Initiative is implemented city wide, there will be three important facets to the culture of data sharing in the emirate:

▪ Comprehensive - All data shared will be both open and shared

▪ Collaborative - Unlike the past, it will not only include government data, but data from the private sector as well.

▪ Benefit Driven - Every piece of information shared will directly correlate with how it will benefit the city and its people

Additionally, to support the collation of data from across the city, we have developed the Dubai Data Curriculum to prepare the next class of data specialists from both the public and private sector, who will lead our data initiative. A couple of weeks ago we graduated the first two classes of our Dubai Data Compliance Course, which we are hosting in partnership with the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government. Already as a result of this course, more than 150 data sets have been identified and catalogued — and we will be opening new classes and courses very soon.

V: How do you think city ‘happiness’ is influenced by its smartness, and vice versa? Can a city be happy without being smart?

YAN: Unlike other smart cities around the world, Smart Dubai’s vision is to be the happiest city on earth, not the most technologically advanced city in the world.

Instead, we strongly believe the latter, technology, is key to achieve the former. Using technology as an enabler, we are providing the city with the right tools and policies that will help make life better and happier for all of the city’s residents and visitors. We are working diligently with our partners across the city to prepare the foundation for a sustainable smart city transformation that prioritises people’s happiness in everything we do.

Also, we encourage all cities implementing smart initiatives to think from a people and happiness-centric approach. We don’t look at the best technologies and implement them just because they are the latest in the market. We must consider what our people need most and then use appropriate technology that benefits them the most, thus helping them live happier lives.

V: Frost & Sullivan has indicated that almost half of the world’s 26 ‘smart cities’ are located in emerging markets. Is digital innovation in emerging markets a trend you’re also starting to see?

YAN: Our ambition from the very beginning has been to have a holistic smart city, with smart initiatives not in one particular industry sector, but across the whole city and all industry sectors.

While benchmarking cities in the initial phase of our initiative’s launch, we looked for cities that had already ventured into such an all industry-wide smart city implementation. The UN informed us there was no city that has smart initiatives included across all dimensions, thus there were no set KPIs to benchmark against.

In January 2015, we partnered with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is part of the United Nations, to develop a smart city implementation roadmap bespoke to Dubai and the first global Smart City Index to measure and evaluate smart cities anywhere in the world. Dubai was selected as the pilot partner for the program, and we have just now almost completed two years of our partnership, validating the smart city key performance indicators with each of our partner entities. Using this Smart City Index created by the ITU, by tracking Dubai’s smart city progress, we hope to become a benchmark for all smart city transformations taking place in emerging markets.

V: How do you think value can be best extracted from raw data?

YAN: Data will help the city to be more insightful, because city leaders will be able to make connections faster and with greater accuracy. And insights can lead to new services or processes that will benefit the city. Data will make the city more creative, because entrepreneurs will be able to discover trends in open data and connect these customer needs, designing new products to meet the needs of the city. Finally, data will improve decision-making for the city, because city leaders and planners will be able to review data from multiple sources in a single view, and make decisions more efficiently based on all the available data.

V: Cyber security is a key issue at the moment – what measures is Smart Dubai taking to ensure data privacy?

YAN: Security is our number one priority: the security of the city’s data is our utmost priority. To ensure that the data is secure, and to minimise the risk of confidential and private data being disseminated, we are continually reviewing the latest technology innovations that can both protect our data, and facilitate the trusted exchange of data between parties. Blockchain, with its distributed network of checks-and-balances and its indelible transaction ledger, has emerged as one of the most powerful technologies to meet our strictest requirements of security and efficiency. All of us who are engaged in the Dubai Data initiative are evaluating and testing the use of Blockchain as an essential tool serving our data initiative.