Data and evidence-based decision-making has gained traction across both the business world and the public sector, as leaders realise the performance benefits of a data-driven approach. For the public sector, the focus has been on the provision of better government services, the creation of essential infrastructure for smart cities, and a more responsive decision-making apparatus.

Strategic human resource planning, however, has often lagged behind other organisational functions when it comes to adopting decision-making based on data — particularly in the public sector.

Dubai is changing this. In August 2020, Dubai’s Crown Prince H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued a resolution to form a unified register of Dubai government employees. A register is a carefully compiled dataset that is unified, verified and trusted; and this particular register creates one source of confidential truth that will inform strategic human resource planning as Dubai accelerates towards a future-ready economy.

The confidential register will track all the key attributes needed to establish a data-driven HR policy that accelerates Emiratisation, powers upskilling for individuals, and enables market-level training provisions to plug potential skill gaps as parts of the labour market become subject to technology-led automation.

The aim is to give HR leaders a complete overview of public sector employees in Dubai for the purposes of strategy creation— and for evaluating how these strategies translate into meaningful organizational change and stronger human capital within a future-oriented workforce. 

In particular, there are three use cases that the register will enable. First, it will facilitate Emiratisation by allowing Dubai’s leadership by offering a top-down view that assists in the creation of relevant policies, programmes and laws. Being a dynamic body of data, the register’s updates will be able to indicate the success and follow-through rate of Emiratisation plans. Individual entities will be able to follow up on their Emiratisation plans, and create efficient succession planning mechanisms. At the level of general public disclosure, the register will allow for precise calculations of actual Emiratisation across all government departments. 

Second, the register will be a valuable lever to accelerate job categorization, linked to job grades and salary scales.  Apart from helping standardize job roles and responsibilities in line with DGHR criteria, the register will help guard against ambiguities arising from overlapping roles. A degree of standardization and clear categorization will also carve clear career paths for each job title, helping the public sector improve employee motivation and performance, and attract and retain high-performers. 

And finally, the register will give rise to a comprehensive skills inventory, allowing decision-makers with the right permissions to track variables such as grade, qualification, area of specialization and more. This will allow entities to develop standardized skills frameworks, linking them with talent management solutions. It will enable constant and consistent learning to ensure employees have the skills to succeed in a future ever in flux. It will also enable effective succession planning, helping to identify candidates who can form a capable second line of leadership.  

For it to achieve these goals, the register has to conform to the high standards that have been built into its founding charter. Hence, the HR register aims for completeness, with quality dashboards giving handlers instant scores on completeness levels. It is tested for accuracy, using automated scripts, checks, comparisons and specifications. The teams managing the register are tasked with keeping data linked and cross-checked, with structured data entry eliminating errors right from the data-entry phase. 

It’s also important to emphasize the stringent confidentiality controls inherent in the register design. Entities will only be able to see full details on the data they have themselves contributed. Generally, decision-makers will be able to access anonymous data trends that does not include specific personal details. 

Four entities have been pressed into service to ensure the register is kept up-to-date, and is of the highest quality. The Dubai Government Human Resources Department is defining the register’s quality standards, and co-ordinating with other entities to source valuable data. The Dubai Electronic Security Centre is taking the lead in permission guidelines and policies, along with access controls. Meanwhile, the Dubai Digital Authority and Dubai Data teams are publishing the data on to Dubai Pulse — the city’s data sharing platform. The teams are also handling the technical elements of the register’s implementation, and designing the interfaces and tools that will help the city’s leadership make use of the data. 

Gathering quality data from all of Dubai’s government entities, and then verifying it, is no small task. A targeted and phased roadmap has been put in place to deliver the register. In phases one and two, the roadmap targets public sector entities that are part of the Government Resource Planning system (GRP). Next steps will see the register’s scope broaden out to include 120 plus entities from across the city’s public sector ecosystem. 

A register as ambitious and far-reaching runs into inevitable challenges. The register teams are focusing on the twin tasks of standardizing data across the sixty or so HR datasets that are already using the GRP system, and then reaching out to those entities not yet on the GRP system at all. Even within the GRP system, each contributing entity has variations in terminology and descriptions, leading to discrepancies and mismatches. Data also varies in completeness and detail between organizations. The solution was a massive drive to standardize and unify data while scoring it for quality and completeness. 

The challenge is compounded by the fact that the data must remain anonymous and invisible to implementing teams due to privacy safeguards. The teams don’t have the option of manually sifting, sorting and inspecting data. Instead, they rely on algorithmic checks and automated scripts to deliver completeness and quality scores. 

To expedite matters, the HR register teams have created a self-service portal for contributing government entities, where they can check their datasets’ quality, accuracy and completeness — and then take action to improve their data as needed.

The HR register demonstrates a profound point about large-scale data projects; that they are as much about people and processes as about the data itself. This is an argument also made by the Data Sharing Toolkit authored by the Dubai Data team, which specifically advocates that consensus be created on goals, stakeholders and outcomes before delving into data models.  

Challenges aside, Dubai is breaking new ground with its HR register by extending a data-driven paradigm towards long-term human resource planning, a field long thought to be qualitative or even intuitive in nature. 

The Dubai HR register will be a foundational element in enabling evidence-based policy-making and data-informed decisions when it comes to hiring, retaining, promoting and upskilling people. It’s yet another step in making Dubai a hub for incredible talent — both homegrown and global.