Digitisation efforts pay off

National ICT Day today

A few clicks from one's smartphone can now get many things: from education materials to entertainment, products to house help, medical service to rides, and so on.

And Bangladesh too has been embracing this transformation wholeheartedly after the Awami League came to power.

On this day, nine years ago, the party unveiled it as a major component of its manifesto in the lead up to the ninth general election. December 12 has since been declared the National ICT Day.

The country has achieved huge success in that time and the process will be faster in the coming years, said Mustafa Jabbar, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services.

“We cannot measure the success with numbers as there was almost nothing at that time,” he said, adding that the country's ICT and telecom product market size is now worth about $6 billion a year.

Export earnings from ICT is about $1 billion and the local market size is worth more than $2 billion, while the telecom operators collective revenue stands at upwards of $3 billion.

“These numbers were almost zero in 2009. The telecom operators only had voice and SMS service,” he added.

Bangladesh has achieved 50 percent digitisation thus far, according to Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT.

“40 percent of the government services have now been digitised. But, we are not satisfied with that as our target is to bring 90 percent of the services online,” Palak told The Daily Star recently.

People can now get most services using the internet and the process will be faster once 4G service rolls out, he said.

Over the last few years, the transformation process has been moving very fast and every year more than one crore internet connections are added.

At the end of October, the total number of internet users stood at 7.98 crore, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

In 2008, export earnings from ICT amounted to only $26 million, Palak said.

“Billion dollars is now a reality. Only the government's policy support has helped the industry to move forward,” he said, adding that the next target is to hit the $5 billion-mark by 2021.

Through the digitisation process, Bangladesh will join the fourth industrial revolution, he added.

One of the outcomes of the journey is the mobile financial service. At present, there are about six crore active accounts and the transaction value each day is about Tk 921 crore as of October.

In the past three to four years, the e-commerce business has also flourished as well as mobile application and gaming industry.

Not only that, some local companies are also running different development projects like the Internet of Things for different countries. The government also took the initiative to assemble digital equipment like mobile handsets and laptops locally and developed 28 hi-tech parks across the country.

However, a chief executive of a top software company criticised the government's tendency to entrust foreign companies with projects even though local companies are sufficiently capable.

The government is also not decisive enough on technology adoption like mobile number portability, which will be available in a few months' time whereas all the neighbouring countries got it 7-10 years ago.

Some international organisations' periodical reports also painted a different picture at times. According to International Telecommunication Union's ICT index, Bangladesh's position is 147 out of the 176.

Another ITU report published last year said Bangladesh has the lowest internet penetration in South Asia, with just 14.40 percent of the population having connectivity to the internet.

TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, however, played down the accuracy of the reports. 

“Though there are some problems in the regulatory framework, the government did a tremendous job overall with regards to digitisation.”

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