News Column

Social Media Set to Boost Government Services

February 12, 2013

Amanda Fisher

Dubai's government officials need to stop being afraid of social media and provide better services to the public, the School of Government boss says.

Executive president Tariq Helal Lootah said Government agencies were scared they did not have the capabilities to have strong online services that would not break down or would be used effectively.

"The fear is there, definitely. You have to have strong management of IT and make sure you deliver the services smoothly, 24/ customers don't lose rights, especially when it comes to financial (rights)."

He said many government agencies did not have a culture of being "pro-IT" which led to a negative attitude towards technology and social media.

"Some of the managers will always want to go back to traditional (methods), not changing things, not improving things.

"(But) it's not an option for us in government (anymore). The (leaders) have asked the agencies to...convert their services online."

While there was no profit for government in using social media -- unlike the private sector where using it translated into business opportunities -- agencies needed to place customer service as their main driver.

Lootah made the comments after a session at the region's first Government Summit, exploring social media as a tool for citizen engagement.

Lootah referenced a recent survey the school had undertaken of both government departments and citizens, with the results concluding that both wanted more online services, but fear was shown on both parts.

"People always fear using electronics and their discussions online because they either lack the knowledge or they don't have confidence in the system. They always fear they'll make a mistake...and they'll have to go back and do it again," Lootah said.

Others worried it may affect their privacy, he said.

The current aim is to move 50 per cent of government services online, while His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai said during his keynote speech at the summit that his vision for the future of Government included employees being able to carry out all of their work on their mobile phones.

Vice President of Italy's Gartner Group, a technology research group, Andrea Di Maoi, who also participated in the social media session, cited a variety of examples where Government had harnessed social media in their operations.

The Italian government had previously used Google maps and photo-sharing websites including Flicker to determine whether citizens were under-representing the value of their houses.

"It's interesting that in areas of tax compliance, Government employees started looking at social networks to find out how we can catch the people who don't pay tax."

There were other positive ways of carrying out activities through social media, he said, referring back to the flooding witnessed several years ago in Australia, where social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were used to alert authorities to the areas where people needed help.

While there were risks to using social media, they were no greater than any other form of communication, such as email, as the same rules of conduct still applied, he said.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: (c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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