Dubai Data Champions

Dubai Data Establishment leads the emirate’s plans to create a data-driven economy
DDE has made progress across all three pillars of its mandate for Dubais data, says Al Nasser. (ITP Images)
DDE has made progress across all three pillars of its mandate for Dubais data, says Al Nasser. (ITP Images)


Dubai Data Establishment is leading the emirate’s plans to create a data-driven economy and enable city-wide data sharing through the implementation of Dubai pulse and the development of policies and initiatives for data governance.

Extracting value is the focus for many data initiatives, across the public and private sector, as organisations look to realise the ‘data is the new oil’ mantra and discover hidden value in their data. Data initiatives are harvesting, refining, collating and analysing their datasets to find new efficiencies and new business innovations hidden in the numbers. There is huge potential value to be had by a corporation in unlocking its data, but when it comes to cities, and the enormous amount of data they generate, the corresponding value is even greater — as much as AED 10.4bn ($2.8bn) per year for the city and emirate of Dubai.

According to the ‘Dubai Data Economic Impact Report’ prepared by KPMG for Smart Dubai, which aimed to assess the impact of publishing and sharing public and private sector data in the city, by 2021, the city could be generating over 10 billion dirhams from different sources related to shared data. Government data alone could create AED 6.6bn in value, equivalent to 0.8-1.2% of Dubai’s forecasted 2021 GDP. While ten billion dirhams may sound like an ambitious target, Smart Dubai, through the efforts of Dubai Data Establishment (DDE) is well on the way to creating both the means and the impetus for city-wide data sharing.

Younus Al Nasser, CEO of Dubai Data Establishment, and Assistant Director General, Smart Dubai Office, said that the Dubai Data Initiative, which was launched in 2015 as the core of Dubai’s data plans, has made great progress and matured considerably across all three of its main pillars of policy and regulation, data preparation, and value creation.

The Dubai Data Law was announced in 2015, and since then DDE has worked extensively on the frameworks, policies and preparing organisations for compliance with the law, Al Nasser said.

“This year, we have prepared more than 19 policy products, and these policy products are covering both data policies and data standards. The policies look after the governance of data, the teams within government organisations and also data classification, confidentiality and IP rights, all the way to data dissemination and commercialisation of the data and exchange of data between government departments and with the public,” he said.

Methodology, policy creation and standardisation to ensure data quality have also been covered by DDE, and the policies have been supported by several rounds of a two-month long course on data compliance, which is intended to help government organisations to prepare for data sharing and to be compliant with the law.

In the second pillar, the preparation and ingestion of data into the central data platform, there has been a lot of progress made around a wide range of data sets, which will promote both innovative use of data, and help drive efficiency, and also help Dubai to achieve its aims of becoming a paperless city.

“Today Dubai Pulse has more than 40 data sets ingested from seven entities,” Al Nasser explained. “We are preparing to ingest more than 100 datasets by the end of this year, which consist of both very impactful open data, that can spark lots of innovation; and also we are ingesting shared data that will be available through a permission model, that will add lots of efficiency to the city services. We are also adding a lot of data to our master repository of the city, and preparing for the milestone where we reach 100% availability of government data.”

In the third pillar, DDE is focused on the value that can be created from insight and analysis of data. One aspect of this is developing the fundamentals of data science, and supporting the discipline of data science in the UAE, Al Nasser said. In July, DDE announced a Master’s Degree in data science, to be delivered in collaboration with Rochester Institute of Technology, which will help to create more data scientists for the UAE.

The Dubai Data Economic Impact Report was also created as part of this drive, to benchmark the potential value of data to the city, and provide a measurement of progress in achieving these goals, as well as to stimulate interest in open data, to create a culture of data sharing and an incentive for companies to participate in data sharing.

One of the most important parts of the Dubai Data Initiative is Dubai Pulse, the central data platform which will host all of Dubai’s data. The platform, which was announced earlier this year, is a single repository and platform for all data from government and private sector sources.

“Dubai Pulse is the digital backbone of the city, it is one of the unique projects that Smart Dubai is driving today, and Dubai Data Establishment is fuelling it with the data sets that are coming from the city,” said Al Nasser.

The platform is intended to enable all users, from government personnel through to academics, and start-ups to access the data. Data in Pulse is organised into three layers of free open data, analytics for academic, professional, commercial, and economic purposes which will be available for a fee, and a third layer of data which will be available only to Dubai government entities.

Pulse provides both the raw data, and also an analytics layer, which includes interactive dashboards, to give users instant access to data and the ability to get quick insights and to start working with the data.

“Today, as an individual you access Dubai Pulse, you can request a space to perform queries on data, you can create analytical insights on top of it. It has helped to create this visibility of data, and to show that data can be really powerful.”

Al Nasser said that the beauty of Dubai Pulse is that it has been developed independent of any one solution, using a consortium of different technologies combined into one platform. This has enabled the design to include best of breed solutions to manage all the different requirements, such as permission models, all the way through to adding machine learning and artificial intelligence to perform sophisticated analysis.

At present the platform is available with open data, and DDE will be adding confidential datasets with access restrictions later this year. Forty datasets from seven government entities have been made available on the platform so far, including data from Dubai Police, Dubai Land Department, Roads & Transport Authority and the Dubai Department of Economic Development.

“Dubai Pulse was architected by Smart Dubai to cater to future needs. It has been set up to make sure that we are encouraging and promoting a culture of open mindset and being very transparent, while we are also maintaining the confidentiality and the intellectual property of the data that we have. This comes with sets of technologies and the way that we architected this platform, to be sure that we have the controls that are needed to make sure that we are compliant with our policies, and that at the same time we can provide a trusted, seamless exchange of data between the organisations and entities that can access the data,” Al Nasser said.

“We are also wrapping it up with comprehensive security controls, with our partners Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC), and set those controls to make sure that we have world class security measurements, horizontally, across all layers of this platform, and vertically to each technology that we have used.”

Another aspect of preparing data for use in Dubai Pulse, and in developing use cases and building applications on top of the data is that DDE and the government entities now have datasets that are ready for sharing, and a better understanding of how and what can be shared, which will provide a head start for future initiatives that can use the same data.

The platform is one element of the Dubai Data Initiative (DDI), but progress has also been made in the human part of program, the Data Champions. The Data Champions were selected from government organisations by DDE, to be the arms of DDE, and the leaders of data efforts within their organisations. Today there are over 300 champions from 47 government entities. Participants were trained on data courses which covered all the main issues, and are kept up to date through bi-monthly meetings and complete transparency into the progress of DDI and the status and benefits of data that has been ingested.

The Data Champions are leading the implementation of DDI within their organisations, Al Nasser explained, including classification and preparation of datasets, and helping to build internal data governance in their organisations.

“We have seen the champions have matured in their organisations. [Organisations] have developed their own needs when it comes to big data and analytics, so this shows how successful the concept of champions has been in unifying efforts, having more collaboration and having the city aligned on one strategic objective,” Al Nasser commented.

The Data Champions have helped organisations to define their own needs for data, and have provided feedback on multiple levels, from compliance and policies through to technical support. Data champions have also helped organisations to create their own dashboards for data, which in turn have empowered the organisation leaders and further promoted data programs within the entity. The greater visibility has also helped organisations to request additional city datasets from DDE, that they believe they can use to create efficiencies and enhance planning.

The Data Initiative has also made headway in attracting and engaging the private sector. Although still in the early stages, Al Nasser said that DDE has been meeting with private sector organisations to understand their current data maturity and data requirements. DDE is now developing policies and practices which will enable exchange of information with the private sector, while maintaining data confidentiality and intellectual property, to develop the vision of a city where entities are seamlessly connected. DDE is also preparing a series of hackathons which will use Dubai Pulse data to encourage development utilising actual data.

“I think our engagement with the private sector have been very positive — the private sector is coming to us to get onboard, and to be compliant with the data initiatives,” said Al Nasser. “They want to ingest data into Dubai Pulse and to have their data available along with the public sector data. It is no longer the private sector seeing the initiatives as only government-driven - they want to be part of it, because the government is leading the way.”

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