Top-Level Government Body Essential for ICT Adoption

On 19th January 2016, a fresh study titled “Realizing Digital Pakistan”, by the second largest Mobile Network Operator, Telenor, was launched by the IT Minister, Anusha Rahman. The study, under ‘Roadmap’, quotes from the Government’s “Pakistan 2025 – One Nation, One Vision”:

Prime Minister to create the Digital Pakistan Commission with key Cabinet Members plus private sector, academia and NGO representatives to formulate plan to accelerate digitalization across all economic sectors in view of matching Malaysia’s key ICT performance indicators by 2020 and implementing all goals of Pakistan 2025.

It is gratifying to note that in my previous Newspaper article in Express Tribune on 21st December 2015, titled “Pakistan’s IT sector more robust than before”, while congratulating the government on launching a new Telecom Policy, I tried to say the same, that now it has become necessary to have a higher body, above the existing Ministries, to provide top-level backing of the political leadership in order to ensure an overall adoption of ICTs, particularly in the Government itself. A body that has the power and authority over the Ministries, and is able to influence their decisions and policies, particularly when it comes to ICT adoption.

The same concept I also advocated in the INET Islamabad conference (Towards Digital Economy in Pakistan: Building ICT Agenda for Sustainable Development) in November 2105. I gave a few examples of best practices in ICT-adoption from other countries who have similar high-level-bodies successfully driving ICT adoption. Like the one of Japan, where Cabinet Secretariat oversees the ICT for development issues, and South Korea, where a Presidential Council on e-Government oversees ICT policy matters, and directly under the council is a Presidential Committee that oversees implementation.

Wherever ICTs have made an impact, leadership from the top has played a pivotal role

Even in the US, if Vice President Al-Gore had not spearheaded legislation that helped to develop the Internet, ICTs in the US may not have spread as fast as it happened. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, the vice president provided intellectual leadership helping create vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication.

Closer to home in India, Prime Minister Modi has taken under himself the major on-going ICT initiatives of the country to ensure that Government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and increasing internet connectivity. All central government ICT initiatives have been clubbed together and re-christened ‘Digital India’. The program management structure of Digital India consists of a Monitoring Committee headed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) takes program level policy decisions. A large component of Digital India is providing broadband to over 200,000 ‘Gram Panchayats’, using Universal Service Funds, through ‘National Optic Fiber Network’ (NOFN). Before Digital India, the Initiative was not making any sizable progress, and amongst the ICT professionals the acronym NOFN was jokingly referred to as “No-Fun”.

In short, wherever ICTs have made an impact, leadership from the top has played a pivotal role. It has been the same all over the world, because everywhere, all the ministries/authorities consider themselves equal in status, and the older ones find it difficult to be “directed by a junior” like ICT. On the other side, ICT authorities alone cannot (and should not) create and deploy ICT-based public services on their own.

For instance, it is the agricultural authorities/experts who know exactly what service and information is required by the farmers, where, and when, whereas it is the ICT experts who can develop and deliver those services electronically. Similarly, although ICT experts and authorities may be able to deploy the educational applications electronically, but it is the experts of education sector who know what such applications should consist of. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the educationists get fully involved in the creation of the ICT-based applications – in fact they should have full ownership.

The argument for a higher-level body for ICT adoption is not only valid for demand side. It extends to the supply side too. For example, highway authorities have to accept and agree to make it mandatory for all new roads to have integrated cable-ducts for the futuristic “Information Highways”. It cannot be expected that highway authorities would start implementing such policies just because ICT experts are saying so!

Therefore, in order to make various authorities and ministries collaborate, and ensure that they listen to each other for a common goal, a high-level body is absolutely essential. With each passing day, the cross-sectorial impact of ICTs is becoming far too big and over-arching, and the massive demands and responsibilities that come with it are monumental. Once the top-level support is there, a lot can be accomplished, which we, as a nation, desperately need.

Mr. Parvez Iftikhar has previously served as CEO of USF and Country Head for Siemens Pakistan. He is currently working as an ICT consultant for governments across Asia and Africa of ICT Policy and Regulatory issues.