United Arab Emirates officials are laying the foundation for a national identity verification system that could change how people are ID'd for everything from passports to employment documents.
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Governments around the globe continue to invest billions of dollars annually trying to deliver on the promises of electronic government and increasingly on the concept of "smart" government. Public leaders now look to a time -- some say by the end of the decade -- when integrated IT systems will automate a significant portion of government services to the public.
The road to smart government, however, is littered with debris from failed efforts, the US government's healthcare exchanges being just the latest example. In many ways the road itself is still being built.
Agencies routinely lack both the financial resources to upgrade their aging IT systems and the political will to share information openly with other government agencies. Even agencies that have mastered online services now face the need to reengineer their processes and deliver services to citizens the way the rest of the world seems to work, via mobile smartphones.
One challenge, however, continues to undermine the progress of most countries' e-government initiatives: That's the need for a reliable system to manage the digital identities and private information of citizens securely -- and the need for infrastructure to integrate various government databases on the back end so that individuals receive all, and only, the services to which they are entitled.
That's why a national identity card project making headway in the United Arab Emirates, and the project's leader, Ali M. Al-Khouri, director general of the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA), are both worth watching.
Ali M. Al-Khouri, managing director of the Emirates Identity Authority. (Image: EIDA)
I met Al-Khouri in late April while attending the Gulf region's first Open Government Data Forum, co-sponsored by the EIDA, the United Nations Public Administration Network, and the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Al-Khouri has earned an international reputation over the past two decades for pioneering the use of technology in government and for authoring more than 80 technical articles on technology and identity management. He still finds time to serve on the faculty at the British Institute of Technology and E-commerce in London.
The UAE government tapped Al-Khouri in 2009 to take over an ambitious project, begun in 2004, to build a national population register and the underlying systems to process passports and birth and death certificates electronically, along with entry, residence, and employment documents for UAE citizens and the nation's rapidly growing population of expatriates. Officials also envisioned that real-time population data would help the government make better investment decisions.
The project got off to a bumpy start. A year after Al-Khouri became EIDA's managing director the agency had enrolled only 14% of the population and was realizing its challenge was as much about retailing as it was technology.
Al-Khouri's team soon began rolling out conveniently located, customer-friendly enrollment centers that felt more like Starbucks than recruitment
Wyatt Kash is a former Editor of InformationWeek Government, and currently VP for Content Strategy at ScoopMedia. He has covered government IT and technology trends since 2004, as Editor-in-Chief of Government Computer News and Defense Systems (owned by The Washington Post ... View Full Bio
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