Technology in Dubai – birth of a technology hub

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Dubai is leveraging technology to create an entirely new type of city destination from the ground up. With tech initiatives targeted at reducing traffic congestion on roads, transforming healthcare and smart metering to maximize resources, as well as fostering digital start-ups and innovation, Dubai’s drive towards a technology-powered future is very much about making the emirate a digital hub.

A thriving destination powered by digital

There has been a recent rise of technology-driven projects in Dubai as the Middle East seeks to reduce dependency on petro-chemical based revenues throughout the region, with “oil shock” - the large hole left in Gulf state finances by plummeting oil revenues – becoming a harsh reality. New revenue streams must be developed, and digital technology is at the forefront of them.

Dubai is home to a generation of more demanding, technology-centric citizens and is starting to host major international events like the 2020 World Expo, and with that in mind, Dubai’s government and leaders have been quick to engage in digital projects and set the emirate up as a center for technology in the region.

Investment and startups flourishing

The emirate is focusing on inviting inward investment from the technology world. Startup investment in the UAE exceeded $1 billion in 2016 and in Dubai Internet City, companies have attracted over $2 billion in investment since the hubs launch, with funding being ploughed into firms covering IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, cyber security, cloud and robotics.

Careem, a Dubai-based ride-hail start-up, has enjoyed great success and entered the ‘Unicorn Club’ of billion dollar startups in December 2016. It has raised a total of $71 million in funding which has fueled its expansion into 26 cities across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

Another Dubai success story is e-tailer Souq.com, which became Dubai’s first big money technology startup acquisition: 2017 saw Amazon buy the company for an estimated $800 million.

Making Dubai a smart place to live and work

Smart cities are one area where Dubai has been leading the way, implementing strategies designed to digitize public services and overhaul infrastructure in general to improve quality of life, access to data and efficiency and sustainability. Dubai launched its Smart Dubai initiative in March 2014 with a goal of making Dubai the smartest city in the world: the initiative has six core focuses, the economy, environment, people, mobility, living and governance.

Under the smart city umbrella, Dubai has also been investing heavily in technology-based healthcare. According to Alpen Capital the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) healthcare sector will be worth almost $20 billion in aggregate value by 2020, and Dubai has become a leading destination for medical tourism. The emirate also introduced a policy of mandatory health insurance in 2014 and uses IoT and cloud tools to track patient information and analyze data. Commitment to healthcare and medical research is evidenced by the building of two dedicated industrial free zones, Dubai Healthcare City and Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park.

At the inaugural IDC Smart City Middle East Awards in April 2018, Dubai picked up a host of awards across categories including Smart Living, Smart Public Safety, Smart Health, Intelligent Transportation, Sustainable Environment and Smart Utilities. All of these initiatives are part of the overall strategy to continue making Dubai an increasingly attractive place to live and work and to bring in talented, skilled workers from all over the world.

Ambitions for the future

The growth of incubators and business accelerators like Turn8, ImpactHub, Astrolabs Dubai and In5 are all at the center of the drive to make Dubai the next Silicon Valley, with Dubai Internet City, the emirate’s designated technology and innovation zone, aiming for 10 percent annual growth in the number of new business it hosts for 2018 and beyond.

Further to that, technology giant Cisco recently demonstrated its confidence in Dubai when it opened an Innovation and Experience Centre, while other projects are very tech-focused. The emirate aims to have “the world’s first blockchain-powered government” by 2020, and also wants to become “the world’s 3D-printing hub”. There is a target in place from the Dubai Roads and Transit Administration for a quarter of car journeys taken in Dubai to be driverless by 2030.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, has previously said that he sees “technology as playing the role of an enabler, rather than a principal goal” and that digital innovation will help drive his vision of making “Dubai the happiest city on Earth”.

Read more about the impact of smart cities in the Gulf region and our capabilities in helping civic authorities to modernize their public infrastructure.
Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.