Rise of digital economy: can Bangladesh take the lead?
Every single country in the world has been affected by the storm of Covid-19. Till date, the deadly virus has infected over 100 million people and killed 2.5 million in 219 countries.
When most of the countries are struggling for their economic survival, the situation is completely opposite for Bangladesh.
In fiscal year 2020-21, Bangladesh will achieve a 7.5 per cent growth in gross domestic product, which will be the second highest among south-east Asian countries, according to a report of the Asian Development Bank.
When most of the industries, be it a large company or an SME, struggled for survival in 2020, the scenario was completely different for the ICT industry.
The ICT industry faced enormous challenges in March, April and May when the companies experienced around 50-70 per cent fall in revenue, according to a report of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).
But the industry fought hard and started coming back sharply from June as soon as the lockdown was withdrawn.
The increased demand for automation and software both in the local and global markets has given a clear indication that the world will no longer be like before and adoption of technology and automation is a must for the survival in the new normal world.
It has been found that most of the ICT companies in Bangladesh have seen a year-on-year rise in work orders from the local and international markets in the last quarter of 2020.
It is always believed that the ICT industry has the potential to be a disruptor and game changer for Bangladesh's economy.
Now the major question is can Bangladesh take the lead in global ICT market competing with countries like India, Vietnam, the Philippines and others?
The government's aim to establish Digital Bangladesh and increase investment in infrastructure and human resource development has created the perfect environment for the local ICT industry to strengthen its footstep in the international arena. Although it is not easy, it is not impossible either.
The Covid-19 has given a clear message that the reality of Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Big Data, robotics, fintech are no longer a luxury, those are a requirement.
Because of the pandemic, e-learning, online education, tele medicine and online entertainment have seen a significant rise in demand.
As people will be more reluctant to visit shops and crowded areas physically, the e-commerce sector will boom in the days to come and digital payment will also take over cash payment faster than expectation.
During lockdown, people of Bangladesh have been more habituated to online shopping.
Not only grocery items and daily necessities, people continued buying expensive items like mobile, laptop, television, freeze and other electronic gadgets more than before throughout this year.
As a result, we have seen over Tk 30,000 crore business through e-commerce platform during the pandemic and more than 2,000 e-commerce business shops nationwide.
Not only that, we have also seen the rise of F-commerce. People even from the district and rural areas, especially women, have opened Facebook accounts to sell their products through the social media platform.
E-learning is another sector that will thrive more in the coming days. Although the schools, colleges and universities are still closed, we have seen an encouraging effort from the government to continue the education through different e-learning platforms and even through Sangsad TV.
Universities are still continuing their education through virtual platforms. The gap of education between Dhaka city and rural areas has also been minimised. We knew the way, but could not implement it.
The Covid-19 outbreak has opened up our eyes and have forced us to implement e-learning throughout the country.
Telemedicine is another area, which has achieved tremendous growth. Bangladeshi people could never imagine that they will consult with physicians through virtual platforms. But the new normal has also made it a reality.
People from rural areas are now taking their treatments from the doctors siting in Dhaka. Not only in Bangladesh, the demand for telemedicine, e-commerce and e-learning also increased all around the globe.
The pandemic is a brilliant accelerator of digitalisation for both consumers and businesses. Even the most sceptical ones will be prepared to integrate digital solutions to their organisations and will try to automate their operations.
During the ongoing crisis and its aftermath, companies will reinvent themselves by putting data and artificial intelligence (AI) at the core of their organisations.
AI can be an enabler of digital transformation covering multiple use cases such as digital relationship management, adoption of digital channels, digital identity verification, digital on-boarding, digital fraud prevention and many others.
Another segment where the whole world will see a huge shift in the coming days is the implementation of e-governance services.
Bangladesh has already taken a bold step in digitalisation of more than 3,000 government services by 2024.
Bangladesh National Portal, national identity verification system, e-GP platform, biometric SIM registration system are already in operation.
The implementation of over 100 online citizen services in the Mujib Year is going on in full swing.
Not only Bangladesh, the whole world will now focus more on digitalising government services.
Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan along with African countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Cameroon are now emphasising more on digital governance.
All of these have increased the demand for ICT services around the globe, creating enormous scope for Bangladeshi ICT industry to move into the next step and turn out to be a leading ICT solutions provider.
With more than 2,000 software companies and 500,000 people skilled in IT, it is time for the industry and the government to sit together and create a well-planned roadmap.
Bangladesh should not only target the developed countries, but also the developing ones to deliver advanced technologies like AI, Blockchain, Big Data and IoT services.
Africa and some countries in the south east and middle Asia are going to be the major markets for e-governance services in the next decade.
Bangladesh is fully prepared to serve these countries.
Government to Government (G2G) level collaborations and dialogues should be extended further to grab the opportunities.
BASIS, apex trade body of IT associations in Bangladesh, has already created two region-based focus groups to widen the country's business opportunities in two continents.
One of the groups focuses on Japan and the other one on Africa -- two promising markets.
Not only that, BASIS has also established BASIS-Japan Desk, which is the first country-based focus desk in the history of all trade associations of Bangladesh, with a view to strengthening the bilateral ICT relationship between the two countries.
The association also plans to establish four more desks in four regions.
Special attention should be given on developing skilled human resources, which is the backbone of the industry.
Different training and skills development programmes should also be taken to meet the spiralling global demand for ICT services.
The industry, government and academia should form a tri-partite collaboration to minimise the demand and supply gap between the industry and academia and to fulfil the industry demand.
This will help in meeting the global and local demands, boost forex reserve and create more employment opportunities.
The destiny of a nation is set by its visionaries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has set the vision for the country to turn it into Digital Bangladesh.
Thanks to her dynamic leadership and combined efforts of the government and the industry, Bangladesh is now right on the way to be one of the key ICT solution providing countries in the world.
The author is a director of BASIS and managing director of Dream71 Bangladesh Ltd, a software company.