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Ivan Fernandes, Chairman and Managing Director , Ducont FZ LLC, Dubai

One of the very few niche service providers in the area of mobile government, Ducont is poised for a big leap as the demand for mobile public services picks up world over. The Chairman and Managing Director of the company, Ivan Fernandes shares his vision and future plans with Vikas Kanungo of mGovworld.

"we are willing to explore the opportunities in India as well as other regional markets. In this region, Ducont is a known brand and everyone here including the banks uses our services. We are in a position to leverage on our expertise now and be the first mover in other markets based upon our strength.We have won many awards for our services from all the major forums globally including the GSM association. "

Ivan Fernandes

Managing Director , Ducont Dubai


m-Govworld: During my discussion with Dubai e-Government services director, they informed that your organization is the partner with them for providing the infrastructure as well as applications related to mobile government in a Public private Partnership mode. Can you provide more details on the initiative and the role of Ducont?


Ivan Fernandes: Ducont is a leading applications developers and system integrator for internet and wireless internet applications. We are the pioneers in developing mobile government applications. In fact our vision document and business plan that was created in 1998 talked about the mobile government applications. Once we set up our operations in Dubai, we developed the mobile applications platform and started offering services to the banks and government departments in UAE. Today most of the banks in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) use our solutions in addition to many government departments and the mobile telecom operators in this region. The e-Government committee of government of Dubai launched the m-Dubai initiative in September 2005. But before that, many government departments, the so called proactive government departments especially municipality and police had launched many mobile government services. Since our mobile platform was ready along with host of applications and we had also consolidated on the content front, the e-Government committee chose to have our organization as their partner for m-Dubai initiative.


m-GovWorld: You mentioned about the services for the police department. I have learned that the transaction services through the mobile phones for paying the police traffic fines are not yet offered through m-Dubai initiative. Is there any reason for that?


Ivan Fernandes: We have a contractual agreement with the e-Government committee to provide various services to various government departments. The facility for enabling the SMS based services for payment of traffic fines is a part of the agreement. The reason this has not been implemented as yet is that the government wanted us to first prioritize the  information and notification services before setting up the mobile wallet and transaction server.  We also wanted to have a direct debit interface to all the banks through the central bank switch which is not yet available. We are currently working with each bank independently and offering services over mobile for payments for utility services such as electricity and water.  We are providing these services through the banks to their customers. The second reason is that we are talking to 74 different departments of government for mobile public services and the demand for services from various departments including the police department is yet evolving. The requirements change from meeting to meeting. We have not yet reached a final blueprint of the services that these departments would want us to deploy. The SMS based payment facility is therefore not on our priority until we get a go ahead from the central bank to deploy a transparent interface for all the banks. The fines may however be paid by the credit card but not all the vehicle owners may have a credit card with them. We are working through the e-Government committee   and the banks to finalize the basket of services that will be offered under m-Dubai initiative. The services are being deployed in a phased manner based upon the agreement with various departments.


m-GovWorld: You have mentioned that you are ready with the applications for enabling mobile based payments for government services and also for the traffic fines. What kind of authentication system for the citizens have you deployed for the applications you are planning to deploy?


Ivan Fernandes: The authentication is the SIM number of the customer. This is called the MS-ISDN number. In addition, depending on the actual data interface used, we provide addition user level security such as entering the PIN over USSD and GPRS.


m-GovWorld: Does that mean that if my mobile phone is used by someone else , he can conduct a transaction on my behalf?


Ivan Fernandes: When an event happens, a message comes to you on your phone. To respond to this message, there is a link given that provides a secure GPRS to the payment server. You have to enter a pin to authenticate your request. Hence even if your phone is with someone else, the transaction can not be completed as the PIN number for the mobile transaction is known to you only. The system is therefore totally secure. Transactions can also be initiated over USSD in the same fashion as over GPRS.  While USSD is simpler and can be used from all available phones, the USSD infrastructure is currently not as reliable as the GPRS network.


m-GovWorld: Are such transactions supported by any law in UAE? For example are there any laws to make the digital signatures etc. legal in the court of law?


Ivan Fernandes: It exactly follows the same pattern of legality as the internet based transactions. On the internet with SSL and Server based certificates which are 99% of the transactions today, when you sign in, you don’t use any client certificates. You normally generate a session ID on SSL which is recorded along with the time of the transaction. The entire session is encrypted at the network layer. The pin or password is decrypted only at the server. The entering of Pin is considered equivalent to entering your physical signature as per the terms signed with the bank. This has a legal binding and is accepted by the courts here. For the countries that do not have a GPRS system implemented, we recommend voice based authentication. This means that the moment you do a transaction on the system, you get a call back and have to authenticate the transaction by entering the pin over DTMF just like in phone banking. The e-Gov legislation of Dubai supports both Internet based and telephone based transactions.


m-GovWorld: Is there any citizen ID card that is being issued to the residents of Dubai? Is the same used by the citizens for carrying out the truncations with the government?


Ivan Fernandes: Here we have resident ID for the non residents and for the residents of the citizens they have something called a national ID. But now they have initiated a project through which they are providing a smart 3D card which will serve as the uniform ID for all the residents in the country whether citizens or expatriates. This will also have the biometric authentication parameters of the residents stored on the ID card.


m-GovWorld: Has any applications being deployed in Dubai which also supports decision making and transactions in addition to providing the information based services?


Ivan Fernandes: Under the m-Dubai initiative, currently there are only information based services. However, if you look at the individual departments, there are many services that support decision making as well as transaction based services. For example, at the emigration department, they have launched a service called eGate. When I enter the country or go out of the country, I go to a special gate card eGate. I just swipe my card provide my fingerprint and the gate opens after authenticating my data. These cards are however available to select number of users. Similarly we also have parking meters at various places that directly enable the transactions.  


m-GovWorld: What is your business model? I have learnt that you are working in a PPP mode with the government?


Ivan Fernandes: In e-Government, we have a long term revenue sharing agreement with the e-Government department. We provide the applications, we run the services from our data center here and also maintain the services on a 24/7 basis. We charge the government departments for any enhancements they request for their departments. We also connect various departments. We share the revenues with the e-Government department for each of the transaction as well as the services provided. Every message that passes through our system whether sent by the citizen or the government is a message eligible for revenue sharing with the government as well as the Telecom operator.


m-GovWorld: Are you working only with the Dubai government or any other countries?


Ivan Fernandes: On the e-Government front, we are strongly working with the Dubai government, we are also working with some government departments in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.


m-GovWorld: What are your plans for providing the similar services to the Indian and Asian governments as you are originally an Indian entrepreneur besides the fact that you already have an offshore development center in India


Ivan Fernandes: We have now established the services here and will be more than willing to provide the similar services to India and other countries in the region. When we started, Indian Telecom operators were struggling to pay the telecom license fees and the data services were not on their mind. We offered the similar services to the government and telcos here that were ready and were willing to start immediately. The situation now is of course different now for India and we are willing to explore the opportunities in India as well as other regional markets. In this region, Ducont is a known brand and everyone here including the banks uses our services. We are in a position to leverage on our expertise now and be the first mover in other markets based upon our strength. We have also developed very innovative services for schools and are negotiating with the education department to introduce the services in schools. We have won many awards for our services from all the major forums globally including the GSM association.

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