‘Our aim is to become the best municipality in the region’

‘Our aim is to become the best municipality in the region’

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Naser Mohd. Abdulla Head of Spatial Data Directorate, Al Ain Municipality – Town Planning & Survey Sector With its extensive range of citizen services, Al Ain Municipality is rated amongst the best municipal organizations in the region. Naser Mohd. Abdulla, Head of Spatial Data Directorate explains how geospatial technology helps enhance the functioning of the organisation Q. Please tell us about the activities of Al Ain City Municipality and the responsibilities of the Spatial Data Directorate. Al Ain City Municipality is one of the three municipalities of Abu Dhabi Emirate in the UAE. It is a government institution serving the eastern region of Al Ain. We provide services to the community of local citizens and expatriates through different service centres across the city and also through our online e-services portal. The Spatial Data Directorate’s primary responsibility is to update and maintain the base map of Al Ain region using the latest geospatial technologies. Some of the Directorate’s other functions include: to survey base map features; to maintain GIS data including plan, land, utilities, roads, gardens and other layers; to exchange data with other government entities and consultants in the form of soft or hard copies; and to provide support for other entities using our GIS systems. Q. What are the major challenges related to city management that can be tackled with the help of geospatial technology? One of the biggest challenges related to city management is to ensure the smooth functioning of various citizen services. As one of Abu Dhabi government’s services to its nationals, the government assigns land to the citizens. Using geospatial technology, we have helped the department responsible for assigning land in selecting the best location suitable for each land owner in the least possible time. Using our spatial services, the nationals are now able to know the location of their lands (plots) by searching its address. Besides, the department responsible for identifying violations and inspections is also using our technology to verify any violation in the city. Apart from that, approving commercial activities in the city is based on locating commercial plots, which is also carried out using geospatial technology. Likewise, planning new urban areas is being done with the help of services rendered by the Spatial Data Directorate. Q. How is the Al Ain City Municipality incorporating geospatial technology in its processes? Geospatial technology has become an indispensable part for the functioning of Al Ain Municipality. Most of the departments in the Municipality are using these technologies to improve their processes and ensure better services for the residents. The process of deploying geospatial technology begins by evaluating the requirements of various divisions. To assess the needs of each department, the Spatial Data Directorate carries out a detailed analysis, where the particular department’s processes are analysed and the best practice researched. Subsequently, we identify the exact steps where geospatial services are required and serve the requesting entity accordingly. Al Ain Municipality has been one of the pioneers in adopting GIS and other related geospatial technologies in the entire region. Since its inception, the Spatial Data Directorate’s services have benefited various departments across the Municipality. Geospatial technology is these days being implemented across all major function areas of the Municipality including land management, building permits, roads & infrastructure, utility approval processes etc. Q. The vision of Al Ain City Municipality is to ensure sustainable development for the Oasis City. How does geospatial technology contribute to realise this vision? Sustainability is the cornerstone of any modern society and Al Ain City Municipality has always strived to incorporate sustainability in each of its processes. Geospatial technology can enhance the decision making process and thus ensure better planning. By providing full, up-to-date and accurate data, Al Ain Municipality spatial data division helps to make the right decisions with respect to the planning and implementation of communities, roads and utilities etc. in the city. Integrating spatial data systems with other entities to get updated data was one of the major reasons that the spatial data division was able to provide the required services. For example, the Directorate integrated its system with the building permits department, and with electronic land management systems in order to provide real-time services and to get real-time updates for all transactions. Q. Tell us about some of the ongoing and upcoming projects. We have a number of projects currently going on at the Spatial Data Directorate. The Town Planning and Survey Sector of Al Ain Municipality has been maintaining a digital spatial data and GIS infrastructure for the eastern region of Abu Dhabi Emirate since the past two decades. Through the implementation of mobile LiDAR technology, the Municipality was able to update the base map of Al Ain city and also successfully implemented a real time system for updating spatial data. The Mobile LiDAR project helped in updating the base map in conformity with DMA (Department of Municipal Affairs) base map specifications and thus enabled the municipality to better serve its numerous customers in the eastern region of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Image: Mobile LiDAR project Image Archive is another major project. It is a known fact that the tremendous value of geospatial files as an enterprise asset can only be realised when they are accessible to all potential stakeholders. While geospatial content can be a cause for concern for geospatial record managers in an enterprise, from the infrastructure point of view, it is vital for end users to have simple and reliable access to geospatial content. Besides, geospatial experts and developers need to integrate geospatial content in custom solutions so as to fully leverage the huge investments in geospatial imagery. For the past four decades, Al Ain Municipality has been collecting a lot of data in the form of images, which can be extremely vital for different departments in the Municipality to carry out their projects. However, to do that, a system had to be created for easy storage and retrieval of those images. A project for image archiving was carried out. Under the project, over 13,000 images of all kinds were scanned and archived into the system, and geo-referenced. The images can be accessed directly through the server and so the users can search and retrieve any image by date, year etc. from the year 1963 up to now. We are also working on linking our systems and processes with other key entities for spatial data updating and quality assurance in order to reach an enterprise geospatial level. Regarding the upcoming projects, the municipality has prepared GIS Roadmap and submitted to DMA (Department of Municipal Affairs) for approval. Q. Are there any applications developed for the general public? How has the public benefited from the application of geospatial technology at Al Ain Municipality? The Al Ain Webmap (http://alainmaps.am.abudhabi.ae) is a web portal that is designed to serve the general public in Al Ain city as well as the employees of Al Ain Municipality, who have the privilege to access the Municipality’s GIS data through the internet. The webmap has different layers for different departments in the Municipality such as land layer, roads and infrastructure layer, utilities layer etc. Apart from serving the internal departments of the Municipality, the webmap is also an extremely valuable tool for the residents of Al Ain city as it offers various services such as showing latest satellite images of the city as well as routing information to select the shortest route between two places. Besides, it also offers the option to locate plot numbers where the owners can search for plot numbers and see their plots on the map from the comfort of their home. Apart from that, it can also be used to conveniently locate various public services such as restaurants, hospitals, schools, retail stores, public transport etc. Image: Al Ain Webmap Portal Q. Tell us about the challenges that you face. There were a few challenges in the way of further promotion and application of geospatial technology at Al Ain Municipality, which we have successfully overcome. The first and foremost challenge was the conversion of all our data to WGS-84 from Clark 1880 system, which enabled us to adopt Abu Dhabi Emirates’ specifications for geospatial data. Another major challenge was the Oasis Mapping project, which we successfully completed a few years back. In this project, the plot boundaries of all 7 oases in Al Ain were re-marked and owners were given new digital site plans. Since the area was covered with palm trees, it was difficult to use aerial photos for demarcation. Hence, surveyors were deployed to the field and historical information had to be gathered with the help of elder citizens. Q. What plans does the Spatial Data Directorate have for future? The Spatial Data Directorate has been working hard to improve the Municipality’s services. Our target is to become the best Municipality in the region with a seamless enterprise GIS implemented across all departments. In coordination with DMA, the new GIS roadmap will be adopted for future projects.   Al Ain Municipality is looking towards a brighter future, in which it intends to take the usage and growth of geospatial technology to the next level by deploying latest and more efficient technologies. We intend to deploy automated functions, so that citizen services can further be improved to the extent of customer satisfaction. The contributions from Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI) and the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) are used to define the matrix of technologies, policies and institutional arrangements that facilitate the availability and access of spatial data at all levels of government, private sector, and the community, to align with Al Ain Municipal services and businesses.