ICTs Good for Business- World Bank Report
Katherine Sierra and Mohsen Khalil.

ICTs Good for Business- World Bank Report

World Bank stresses the importance of communication in business.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: December 7, 2005

The World Bank Vice President of Infrastructure, Katherine Sierra, has said that information and communications technologies (ICTs) are key to development.

In a media release sent to Ultimate Media, Katherine Sierra says that stepping up efforts to expand access to and use of ICTs will “maximize their impact on poverty reduction and economic growth for all.”

“Think about it – if you want businesses to be able to invest and grow, they need to be able to connect to other businesses. In the modern world today, that means connection not just to the telephone, but to broadband,” Sierra says.

“Think about people communicating with their government and doing that on-line. And think about teachers communicating with their students and using the power of technology.”

Realize the Potential
However, Sierra says, for the potential of ICT to be realized, the technologies must be moved out of “just the ambit of the telecommunications ministries.”

“We call that mainstreaming. We say make it not just the business of one sectoral group but make it everybody’s business.

“ICT needs to be tapped across different sectors so people in the education ministries can understand how they can use these applications to enhance children’s learning. It should also be moved to state and local governments so they can see how these applications can help them get closer to their people.”

Learning From The Past
Sierra also urges governments in both developed and developing countries to learn from past e-development projects which did not deliver the expected results. One example was in Madhya Pradesh, India, where a project to bring government services to poor rural communities via Internet kiosks barely resulted in one person using one kiosk a day – as the services offered weren’t the ones the poor people wanted or needed.

Sierra says the emerging lessons are that ICT-enabled programs are successful when they are suitable to the level of a country’s development and relevant to the needs of the users.

“They succeed when the programs are integrated with infrastructure, applications and skills development,” she says. “They need to be designed and integrated within a broader process of institutional and business change, and coordinated as part of an overall development strategy. Continuous monitoring and evaluation is also critical for success.” Uganda recently adopted an ICT policy spearheaded by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

A Short Track Record
Although information and communication technologies projects can contribute greatly to development, the track record of e-development in both developed and developing countries is mixed.

And these e-projects can be risky endeavors. “While e-government applications can be useful tools for improving the manner in which governments operate and the quality of life of citizens, a lot can go wrong along the way,” says Robert Schware, editor of the new World Bank report, E-Development: From Excitement to Effectiveness.

And what this report tries to do it set forth the essential building blocks that governments need to follow in order to successfully implement e-government projects.”

“Lack of crucial pre-requisites, including affordable access to infrastructure, the rule of law and strong government and market institutions, can derail even well-designed projects,” he says.

There is though, evidence to show that if used well, information and communication technologies (ICTs) can speed up development outcomes.

Schware points out, for example, to recent Bank surveys of more than 20,000 firms in roughly 50 low and middle income countries that showed firms in developing countries which used ICT achieved faster sales and employment growth, as well as higher labor and productivity, than those that did not use ICT.

A Digital Divide
But Schware says an analysis of advanced Internet use across the world, suggests the “digital divide” is very much part of the broader “development divide.”

And that he says “is a finding that should temper some of the more optimistic hopes for e-development as a tool for leapfrogging stages of development.”

“For most developing countries, lack of adequate infrastructure remains the major obstacle to the uptake of ICT.”

The problem is the expense. As Schware says, the upfront investment needed to build out modern telecommunications networks, particularly broadband networks, far exceeds the resources of most developing nations.

This is a point readily acknowledged by Sierra. Infrastructure is a major bottleneck to growth and poverty alleviation in developing countries. ICT –telecommunications is one part of that,” Sierra says.

“We know that a quarter of the developing country’s population has no access to mobile services, even if they could have a telephone. We know that most people in the developing world do not have access to broadband and to Internet. And as these become increasingly important in the information society and in the way people do business, having that gap is going to become a real problem for the developing world.”

Schware describes in the E-Development report how innovative partnerships between governments, businesses and civil society have been formed to build networks and use advanced ICT applications in such sectors as government, commerce and education.

“Such public-private partnerships allow developing countries to overcome the obstacles of insufficient resources, expertise, and project management skills and to leverage limited government funds to achieve greater impact,” he says.

Enabling Environment
Schware says if there’s no access without infrastructure, it’s equally true there’s no investment without an enabling regulatory framework.

“Given the competition for international investment dollars, developing countries must create conditions that make it attractive for outside investors to invest in ICT networks,” he says.

“The basic goal of regulatory reform should be to create a stable open environment that encourages confidence in the ICT market.”

Schware says a major step towards that goal is establishing clear and transparent governance structures and respect for the rule of law.

He also advocates monitoring and evaluation to ensure cost-effective use of ICT based projects. The report stresses that two areas- e- government and e-education as the ones in which ICT applications can lead to significant benefits in terms of development

Bank Support
Mohsen Khalil, director of the Bank Group’s Global ICT department, says an increasing number of countries are now receiving Bank support for ICT components in traditional investment projects and to design e-government applications and integrated, large scale e-development projects.

“These include e-Sri Lanka, e-Bharat in India, e-Ghana, the Vietnam ICT Development Project, and the ICT Sector Development Project in Tunisia,” Khalil says.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: December 7, 2005
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.