Electronic ID cards in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) is responsible for the development of digital ID cards in the UAE. The EIDA wanted to widen the scope of ID cards so that they could access in financial services and retail purchases as well as the core uses in border control and driver licensing.

The challenge

The Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) wanted to widen the scope of digital ID cards of UAE residents (including foreign visitors and workers) in order to address problems with the existing ID cards:

  • Long registration and waiting times for applicants.
  • A relatively high level of turnover of staff.
  • Low levels of customer satisfaction and revenues.
  • High overhead costs.

There were also challenges relating to meeting international standards for quality and privacy levels.

The initiative

The EIDA launched an ambitious project, early in 2014, to maximise the use of ID cards in transactions relating to goods and services. It aimed to make electronic ID cards the main access channel to many services, including ATM withdrawals, electronic payments, filling up at petrol stations, uploading driving licence data, and obtaining special needs tags.

The project had a number of goals:

  • Enhancing the role of the EIDA as the main entity for defining and implementing IDs in the UAE.
  • Promoting the Emirates ID card and understanding customers' requirements.
  • Supporting UAE decision-makers and strategic planners with respect to population register data.
  • Ensuring that all administrative services reached high standards of quality, efficiency and transparency.

The EIDA developed a strategy, Strategic Plan 2014-2016, followed a “five-phase approach starting with the detailed analysis and review of all strategy inputs, followed by a systematic formulation of the strategy and ending with a comprehensive implementation and change management plan”. [1]

The public impact

The EIDA’s Biometric Enrolment, which forms part of the National ID Registration Programme, was recognised as one of the world's best, according to the UN e-Government Survey 2014.

The current database has a wide range of biometric data, including “over 105 million prints of rolled fingerprints, plan and hand side prints, in addition to over 15 million facial images”. [2] The two most accurate fingerprints are stored in a secure, encrypted container in the smart card that is issued as the National ID Card.

Due to the success of the programme and the high levels of enrolment:

  • Registration times have been reduced by 80 percent, while applicant waiting times have fallen by 1,000 percent
  • Staff turnover has declined by 60 percent while customer satisfaction is estimated to have increased by over 50 percent.
  • At the same time, revenues have increased by 400 percent, and overhead costs have fallen by 300 percent, underpinning the sustainability of the strategies adopted.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.


Public Confidence Strong

The public showed strong confidence in the utility of the EIDA and the provisions in the proposed plan. In a poll, 87 percent of the UAE’s population supported the expansion of services that made use of the ID card (8.29% of whom did not support the idea, while 4.47% were neutral). The high levels of enrolment indicate that this confidence has been maintained.

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

The various stakeholders participated in the planning stages, in particular in the EIDA’s initial round of interviews and research. They collaborated with a variety of stakeholders, including:

  • A number of government ministries, such as the Ministry of the Interior
  • Government agencies, e.g., The Abu Dhabi Systems & Information Centre (ADSIC)
  • The ID Card’s customers.
  • Private sector service providers such as banks and telcos
  • Domain experts and technology partners.

Political Commitment Strong

The EIDA was set up, with full political backing from the ruling family of the UAE, as an independent federal authority established by virtue of the federal decree No. (2) of 2004. The decree empowered the EIDA with the powers necessary for executing the Population Register and the ID card programme.


Clear Objectives Good

The Strategic Plan 2014-2016 had detailed and specific objectives, with a clear vision, targets and KPIs to measure performance, along with a clear roadmap to implementation.

Evidence Strong

The strategic phase of the project was systematic and included the following components:

  • A series of knowledge-gathering interviews with experts and external research.
  • Workshops with senior and middle management teams to both review the existing strategy and discuss Emirates ID’s potential future directions
  • Presentation of its draft strategy to many organizations in both public and private sectors, as well in a number of international and local conferences in order to share knowledge, receive feedback and hear other perspectives.
  • A benchmarking methodology, which was designed and then employed to support two key aspects of the strategy definition:
    • overall strategy
    • specific objectives and initiatives.

Feasibility Good

The 2014-2016 strategy document mentions that detailed implementation plans, which included budgets and human resource mapping, were undertaken during the planning phase. Additionally, the strategic plan was reviewed by experts in order to find out any gaps that could be plugged before implementation.

The context was addressed by analysing socioeconomic and technological trends in order to understand the current requirements in the UAE.


Management Strong

The management team included a number of experts in the field, supported by effective mechanisms to make sure that the programme was rolled out on schedule. A management plan and a change plan were in place early on in the project.

The EIDA had a two-pronged management strategy which followed a top-down approach to information gathering and articulating the strategy and a bottom-up approach to implementation. To implement the programme, the strategy support offices were given a clear mandate and employed experienced professionals who were well versed in the service requirements of the ID card.

There is a formal monthly reporting process, where each manager updates the status of the KPIs and initiatives for which they are responsible. Their analysis and recommendations are consolidated and submitted to the leadership team who prioritise actions and allocate resources accordingly.

Measurement Strong

Clear yardsticks to measure the progress of the programme were set up before the program was rolled out. Once the strategic framework was in place, the appropriate measurements and targets were identified. There were a number of KPIs applied throughout the project, for example:

  • The accuracy of basic data in population register.
  • The proportion of up-to-date information.
  • The percentage of incidents related to identity theft and database breaches.
  • The umber of public and private entities that have successfully activated the use of ID card readers.
  • The efficiency level of the Emirates ID Validation Gateway services.

Alignment Strong

Efforts were made to ensure organisational alignment and these efforts and mechanisms have been explicitly stated in the strategic plan:

  • The Director-General of the EIDA established its strategic direction of the authority, ensuring alignment with the expectations of the board of directors and the commitment of the management team to executing the strategic plan.
  • A major input into the strategy analysis process were the strategic objectives and initiatives of federal and local government bodies.
  • By adding languages to the interface (Malayalam, Urdu, Tagalog, Russian and Mandarin), the EIDA covered the sizeable expatriate population residing in the UAE and the health authority of the country has. This was in addition to the two languages already in place, Arabic and English.