Why make Information Communication Technology a priority?
Naresh Wadhwa, President and Country Manager, Cisco. India & SAARC
Access to broadband makes countries globally competitive, creates jobs, entrepreneurs, and even new business models. Yet, as pro-found an impact as the Internet has made so far, we are still at the early stages. In India, broadband penetration is still less than three percent and we rank 43 on the Networked Readiness Index (2009-2010) report by the World Economic Forum. So, as a country what can we do to improve our competitiveness and sustain it?
I believe that a large part of the answer has to do with investing in Information Communication Technologies (1C1)-and, more specifically, with networks. For a country to increase its competitiveness, it first needs to focus on economic growth and job creation. Basic infrastructure units such as power, water and transportation aid this goal, but if we are to move towards a knowledge based economy, broadband will also need to join this list.
Access to information is crucial to an all inclusive growth path; one only needs to look at the e-Choupal initiative to witness the transformational power of technology. Moreover, a next-generation Internet if supported by accessible, afford-able broadband is made available we can translate this to other fundamental sectors like education, health care and energy. Second, in order to retain and attract new talent, the services offered to citizens need to be compelling. ICT can be used to achieve dramatic improvements in efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of services, as well as to reduce the transaction costs between governments and their citizens.
An apt example would be initiatives of India's National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Under this, the State Data Centers (SDC) initiative helps consolidate services, applications and infrastructure. These services are then rendered by the States through a common delivery platform that is seamlessly supported by core connectivity infrastructure such as State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and Common Service Centers (CSC) that extend all the way down to the village level. Another crucial factor for long term competitiveness is environmental sustainability. Increasingly a concern for citizens and businesses, are the kind of choices made by the government and their impact on the environment.
ICT offerings are more and more able to address environmental sustainability concerns in ways that can also be aligned with social and economic goals. Using ICT has brought about a new wave of innovation in development, affecting the flow of people, knowledge, traffic, and energy. This win-win approach is the focus of efforts in many countries across the world. However, a basic nonetheless crucial prerequisite to implementing any of these technologies would be to ensure that national ICT policies and infrastructure such as wired and wireless networks are in place because without a strategic plan in place, we cannot succeed.
Besides this, training programs that help develop ICT and Internet skills of the population should be offered either as a public service or via a public-private partnership. Such initiatives will provide a condusive environment for ICT adoption. Wealth and knowledge generation depends on the ability to organize in a way that allows the benefits offered by technology to be realized. A networked society can thus be seen as resulting from an interaction between a new technological paradigm-high-speed networks that represent a revolution for information flows and communications-and the social organization of an increasingly urban world. We live in a rapidly changing environment, and governments and their leaders must formulate a strategy and develop specific action plans to leverage the potential for the competitive sustainability that ICT has to offer. This includes efficiency improvements, greater responsiveness to citizen demands and increasing rural connectivity - all of which are intrinsically linked to a nation's growth trajectory.
Carpe diem! If only countries seize the moment, they will stand to benefit enormously, especially now when the global economic map is redefined by growth paths that have become more divergent as a result of the recent financial crisis. It's time to overcome our broadband complacency and reap the benefits of sustainable competitiveness for a long time to come.