Technology start-ups are helping Dubai realise smart city plan

When looking at emerging businesses in the UAE, most of them have one thing in common: they have broken into the mobile app business, and as such provide a technology solution across multiple industries.

More interestingly, the business model of these establishments is service-oriented rather than production-oriented – they produce solutions, not consumer packaged goods. Perhaps your husband forgot his smartphone at home; now you can send it to his office through Fetchr – an app that uses your phone as a GPS location to pick up and deliver packages from point A to B.

Observing this change, this new breed of companies acts as an intermediary between an already-existing service provider and the customer base. It is exactly how the business writer Tom Goodwin has put it – You can run the world’s largest taxi service without owning any vehicles; you can own the world’s media without creating content; sell goods to consumers without inventory; or supply the largest amount of accommodations without owning any real estate.

Something smart is happening indeed.

Technology has created a new economic order while giving rise to a niche market dominated by technology-driven start-ups. In fact, a whole new ecosystem of cross-industry providers and services is coming into being – and this ecosystem is somehow marked by a new type of workforce.

Do you own a confectionary, or a vintage clothes shop? Perhaps a sports facility? Should this be the case, you might want to start thinking about tie-ups with other companies.

If you are a retailer, for example, working with Careem – one of the UAE’s premium ride-booking services – could make shopping more convenient for your local customers and thereby sustainably increase your profit margins.

Let us take the UAE food delivery service Deliveroo as an example. By delivering food to the customer’s doorstep, the company is cutting the cord between the seller and the buyer, thereby grabbing the power and the license to make continuous profit. Pay attention to the next time you order a meal from your favourite local restaurant; you probably will not visit its physical outlet and see the chefs. Instead, you will download a food delivery app on your smartphone, to allow the delivery service to bring the food to you.

Interestingly, it does not end here: today, connectors are connecting with connectors. Think of GuavaPass, an app that allows subscribers to find and book classes at boutique fitness studios across the UAE; when booking a class, GuavaPass automatically offers you to connect with Uber so you can move to your preferred fitness studio effortlessly.

Entrepreneurs can learn valuable lessons from these cross-industry providers.

In Dubai, success seems to lie with those businesses that are a part of the smart city transformation.

Put differently: these app-based businesses make city life more efficient, seamless, safe and impactful for residents and foreign tourists alike. Some of the country’s most successful technology-driven start-ups are helping realise these smart city aspirations by fully integrating all city services and infrastructure.

Sanjay Modi is the managing director at for APAC and the Middle East.

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