Digital Dubai is catalysing the city’s digital transformation while promoting its digital economy. A key part of this remit is building the city’s data infrastructure, and create opportunities for the active exchange of valuable data. This data exchange between public sector entities is governed through the Dubai Data Law. A key element of Digital Dubai’s activities, therefore, is encouraging compliance with the Data Law. 

What do we mean by compliance? First, it means that government entities contributing data to Dubai Pulse align with the Dubai Data Law. This is the law that in 2015 made Dubai the first city in the world to mandate the sharing, use and reuse of data. 

As a second step, compliance means adherence to data governance guidelines. Using the spirit of the Dubai Data law as a framework, the Digital Dubai team has created a set of guidelines to help organisations inventory, classify, publish, exchange and use data. The aim of these policies is to assist and empower; helping our organisational partners extract maximum value by sharing the data they hold, while protecting intellectual property and privacy. Contained within the policies are a series of data manuals and standards to help organisations comply with the Dubai Data Law. Together, the standards cover most elements of data use, governance and sharing. 

Not only does compliance ensure that partner organisations fall safely within the framework of the Dubai Data Law, but it also leads to better data governance and management. This in turn improves beneficial impact, and catalyses superior insights to inform better government services delivery. 

When we first started measuring government entity data compliance in 2017, we found that the overall compliance rate stood at a relatively low 26%. Today, overall compliance is at 97%, and we expect it to hit 100% by the end of 2021. 

Achieving this dramatic jump in compliance was not easy. Entities began the compliance process at starkly different starting points. Cultures and readiness differed between organisations. Some were entirely new to the practice of data sharing, and many did not have specific departments dedicated to data management. 

Our long-running programme of data champions within our partner entities was instrumental in overcoming challenges and advocating for data compliance. Our data champions are valued change agents, leading the implementation of Digital Dubai initiatives within their organisations. They represent their entities on all data-related matters — ranging from data inventory and data management to promoting organisational compliance with the Dubai Data Framework. These champions are provided with compliance training and upskilling through programmes hosted in partnership with the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government. We currently collaborate with some 330 data champions across at least 45 entities, and are always looking to add to the pool. 

We also actively supported public sector organisations in building data management capacity and expertise. In 2019, we launched our city data challenge, called Data First. The challenge was open to Dubai’s government and semi-government data partners, and was designed to accelerate the creation and sharing of open data. It also judged compliance with the Dubai Data Law, and fostered a data-driven culture in entities. The 6-month challenge tracked participant progress over six months, with a continual schedule of workshops to boost learning and performance. Data First was instrumental in substantially improving data compliance and boosting public sector data readiness.

Compliance isn’t just important for Digital Dubai. It’s been recognised as a key driver of Dubai’s smart city plans. Compliance figures are reported back to the Dubai Government Excellence Programme (DGEP) and also to the Dubai Executive Council. 

At Digital Dubai, we are proud of the compliance journey our partner entities have been on, with noticeable improvements every year. Now, we are moving the conversation past compliance to proactive improvement. Plans are in motion to create and publish a data maturity index, which will help us assess the data capabilities of government entities in Dubai, and allow them to track and compare progress in the field of data.

With the foundations of compliance laid down, we are looking at next-level improvements related to data capabilities, data quality, data analysis and decision-making, data request fulfilment, and so on. 

We have come a long way in terms of compliance since Smart Dubai, now part of Digital Dubai, was launched in 2016. But this is just the start of the journey to data excellence.