This Week in Imaging: Can the Dubai Government Really Go Paperless?

Photo credit: Kathy Wirth

This week,, a Web site that covers information technology in the Middle-East, reported that Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, launched the “Dubai Paperless Strategy,” an ambitious strategy under which the Dubai government will seek to go entirely paperless.

The new strategy will include technology, legislation, and culture encouragement, to ensure that citizens have alternative, legally recognized paper-alternative ways to transact business, and shift users away from paper to digital technology.

The initiative comes from the ruler of Dubai, Rashid Al Maktoum, as part of his vision to transform Dubai into a complete “smart city.”

The ruler of Dubai impressively proclaimed: “After 2021, no employee or customer of the government of Dubai will need to print any paper document. This reflects our holistic vision for our role as human beings, not only towards Dubai, but towards the world as a whole. The Dubai Paperless Strategy will eliminate over one billion papers annually used today in Dubai government transactions.”

According to Dr. Aisha Bint Butti bin Bishr, director general of the Smart Dubai program, the objective is to completely eliminate government paper transactions by 2021, by digitizing both external and internal processes in government institutions. By going paperless, Dubai hopes to reduce cost and waste.

Under the Dubai Paperless Strategy, the government will use technology to encourage paper-free government transactions and procedures, and will also create new laws to regulate paperless transactions in all institutions. It will also seek to educate and encourage citizens to go paperless.

Ultimately, the government will stop issuing or requesting paper documents from citizens, and government employees will stop issuing or processing paper in key or supporting operations.

But is this last directive even possible?

The Dubai government thinks so, and says that to go paperless, it will enable use of digital IDs, signatures and certificates, as well as secure data available via dedicated platforms. New laws will address such things as citizens even physically showing up at court, and eliminate “the legal requirement to produce paper documents to guarantee the credibility of the transaction.”

The Dubai Paperless Strategy will be implemented over three stages, based on the number of government departments undergoing the paperless transition.

Dubai itself is a city-state within and part of the United Arab Emirates, and is located on the Persian Gulf. Its population is about 3 million, or about a third the population of New York City.

Now, we’ve never lived or worked in Dubai, but it is a modern city, and we can assume that it routinely processes and issues such documents as: drivers’ licenses, traffic fines, passports, birth certificates, business certificates, real-estate certificates, court documents, benefit summaries, and social-welfare documents. Governments create and issue agency reports, legislative bills, court decisions, calendars, building codes, maps, patents, ordinances, etc….the list is endless.

While a lot of this can be digitized and never see paper, it’s hard to envision all of it going paperless. Can we and do we want to digitize passports, birth certificates, deeds, and other critical information and documents? Personally, we don’t see it happening, at least not in the next several decades. And one of the key things about paper documents is that they appear “official” and “real,” whether it’s a parking ticket or birth certificate – paper feels far more real than an email or an entry in a database. Will Dubai’s citizens feel secure with a digital document – such as a receipt – instead of a paper one?

Interestingly, the Dubai government has also said that it aims to make Dubai the “world’s 3D printing hub,” and is aiming to have 25 percent of all new construction be 3D-printed. In 2016, it began delivering on that promise, unveiling the world’s first 3D-printed office building (shown below) – so perhaps it’s paperless office may be not such a pipe dream after all.

Interior of Dubai’s 3D-printed office building.

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