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Using technology to protect the vulnerable in Dubai

Using technology to protect the vulnerable in Dubai

GovernmentMore NewsTop StoriesUAE

With the Community Development Authority in Dubai (CDA) playing a vital part in the way the government of Dubai helps vulnerable groups, Intelligent CIO speaks to its director Yousef Mohammed Bin Lahej Al Falasi, about how the organisation is using IT to better deliver its services, the potential of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and the way CDA utilises analytics.

The Community Development Authority in Dubai (CDA) plays a vital part in the way the government of Dubai operates to help vulnerable groups.

CDA has adopted state-of-the-art technologies to analyse the services it provides to customers and improve its communication with them.

One of its noteworthy projects is ‘Masar,’ a smart application that enables communication with those registered with its empowerment programme. The application allows CDA’s empowerment management team to interact with customers and update them on training schedules and send reminders to attend job interviews and employment events.

The application enables users to give feedback and follow up the implementation of CDA’s empowerment plan.

Empowering people who are eligible for financial and social benefits is one of CDA’s key missions. As a result, CDA has identified financial empowerment as one of the best methodologies to enhance the financial security of low-income people.

To achieve this, it has been conducting successful interventions, including training, as well as education and social support for the underprivileged, helping them acquire financial and other skills that significantly enhance their social and physical security.

The Masar application enables easy communication with the participants of CDA’s empowerment programmes, following up on their files and helping determine the extent to which the plans set for them have been completed.

This will ensure that customers stay informed and demonstrates a commitment to the success of their plans.

CDA utilises a smart dashboard that tracks service delivery, providing daily reports on the status of services provided to all customers. This service helps the CDA’s top management to improve the quality of the services provided to the customers by taking necessary decisions on the development of social services, introducing new initiatives, and by addressing the evolving needs of the members of the community.

Intelligent CIO, spoke to Yousef Mohammed Bin Lahej Al Falasi, a Director at CDA, about how the organisation is using IT to better deliver its services, the potential of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and the way CDA uses analytics.

Yousef Mohammed Bin Lahej Al Falasi, Director, CDA

Tell me about the work of the Community Development Authority.

The Community Development Authority works with various vulnerable groups in Dubai, particularly senior citizens, widowed women, separated people, people with disabilities and those socially excluded. We are a government organisation created to bring forward social inclusion by providing various types of support services to them in accordance with their specific needs.

In addition, we provide support to members of the community with low income and people that have been disabled, which prevents them from going back to work and the authority focuses on empowering them socially and financially. Our approach involves assessing their situation, to see what they have, what challenges they currently face and provide a plan of action that will enable them to overcome the challenges socially. Afterwards, we assess their ability about whether they can go back to work or to their own businesses.

How are you using IT systems to deliver these services?

IT systems enhance our efforts to collect social data. However, at present we are still working on this as a relatively new initiative because these are impact-based programmes. There is a need for us to develop our own model because there is no one-size-fits all programme for social behaviour monitoring and social change monitoring.

As every country has their own model based on its own cultural and social performances, thus, it also has its own specific method of measuring change. We have implemented a three-stage programme, starting with the gathering of data and analysing it. We look forward to automating the entire case management in the future through Artificial Intelligence.

Our empowerment team is working on an in-house programme called the Social Risk Matrix which identifies clients and categorises them and provides corrective as well as preventive action from a social level. It will read all the factors, identify them and automate the case management.

In terms of changing people’s behaviour, there must be a representative from the government sector to monitor that change. We have appointed case managers that sit with these clients to address their need for support in terms of putting up a plan and the steps for them to implement change, from the stage where they depend on government funds to the point that they can depend on themselves.

To monitor behaviour and change in the social sector takes a lot of focus, sustenance and monitoring. For this aspect, it is not possible to fully automate this type of service as the whole concept significantly requires human element to effect the changes.

We automate as much as we can up to the stage of automating the empowerment plan, the training, upscaling of the plan or even the timetable throughout this important journey. Empowerment focuses first on awareness, then upscaling and job placement, training and development and self-training. Within the plan, we put all these elements together and the plan works as a reminder and monitors the performance of the clients.

In the future, we look to move towards implementing Machine Learning, where we plan to develop the KPIs from the social sector to measure the impact that we are creating within the community.

In the long-term, we see moving into increasing our AI systems to enable all our clients access services through touchscreens where one simply uses their ID and all relevant social information, and it will automatically register the user in our social intervention programmes.

Do you think AI can only grow in importance in the future?

Yes, I am confident AI will only increase in value in the coming years. In the region, information exchange is done differently where it used to be operating through book registration. Now, we are talking about a 360-degree approach.

Introducing change in a community really requires a lot of focus into so many different levels. There is a need to focus at the individual level, the family level, and the community to be able to sustain change. However, at present it is not easy to simultaneously monitor their concerns, which makes it necessary to automate monitoring programmes.

Change is not easy to implement and sustain if we miss one single element. If an individual receives the message, we must ensure that the family can host it and also that the community believes in it.

In the information age, AI will enable us into developing this understanding into futuristic programmes – giving us forecasts or insights to enable us to decide on our next steps or what we need to do.

We are also introducing the Social Risk Register where we predict challenges in the future, and we create scenarios of how we will address these challenges when they happen. We call it the ‘what- if’ analysis.

It sounds as if analytics is really important to the way your organisation operates?

It is certainly important. We mainly cater to UAE nationals based in Dubai as well as the larger community in the emirate which compose of various nationalities. It is essential for us to understand what is happening around various communities.

In terms of analysis, we need to know what is going on in the news, in the economy and who is doing what in order to have a better social analysis. We cannot analyse the data based on a single source, which makes it necessary to apply the 360-degree view and then based on that, move towards automation. However, this will take some time to build up queries and KPIs.

With social change, there are multiple variations with the queries, which means we need to build up and constantly monitor these variations to have something sturdy. The community must be involved and the people in building up these KPIs, to be truly able to deliver effective services to the community.

What is the attitude of the community to technology?

There are still varying degrees of responses when it comes to technology use. For the people who are skilled to use these kind of systems, we are keeping the service available online. However, for those who do not know how to use the system, we provide an offline mode and it is being administered through a case manager.

Nowadays, it is easier than five or 10 years ago because most people now own a smartphone or has access to a normal desktop or laptop to access the Internet.  When it comes to support the elderly, what we have is a system where a couple of clicks will enable them to request something. We don’t want them to go through putting in too many details because senior citizens are normally not keen to stay online.

It is important for us to cater to all these kinds of customers – and think the way they think to provide solutions based on their mindset and accustomed practices.

The other side of the coin, I expect, is that the younger generation expect all the services to be online?

The young generation nowadays have become more dependent to technology that they want everything delivered to their home or location and that is both good and bad. It is good to have access to a smartphone as one can deliver anything.

However, people are beginning to realise as well that there is a need to develop social applications that improve our social cohesion and inclusion. This is an important factor in terms of developing technology applications for the social sector. In previous years, people were unconvinced that the public would use them but bearing in mind the attitude of the younger generation, I believe this is what will happen within the next two to three years.

I can see services moving towards empowering the National ID, just like the social security number in the United States and Europe, which means there will be an increase in data acquisition and sharing. The younger ones are not afraid of sharing this information, but the older generation are still hesitant to these trends. In this regard, we will have more applications in the social sector which will cater to younger generations.

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