ICT in development
Bangladesh's dreams of emerging as a significant player in the information world, much like neighbouring India, have hit snags, although there are efforts and the desire. In the past, it was said that proficiency in English was India's great advantage, so it should not be difficult for us to be on par with the neighbour. Obviously, it is not as simple as it seems. In fact, even Pakistan's exports of information technology products and services, at over $2 billion, are much higher than ours.
The ruling Awami League won the election largely on a promise of making a Digital Bangladesh. Although the efforts may not be totally satisfactory for many, the fact is that substantial improvements have occurred. The government embarked on a policy of digitising much of the administration and the judiciary. Besides, a number of steps are on to improve the IT infrastructure.
Once the second optical fibre is in place, the major complaint of the private sector of disrupted connectivity will largely be addressed. Continuous connectivity should enable Bangladesh to enter the booming outsourcing industry that has made India a global IT player. The government has also announced a plan to launch a communication satellite this year that should make the network a little more reliable than it used to be.
Bangladesh needs to do many things to reach the international market, but it will be far from easy for such a late entrant. Already, a number of countries are in business and it will not be a cakewalk breaking into their turf. But the major hurdle will be to develop the manpower or in more fashionable jargon, e-HRD, to break into the market.
If Bangladesh is to join the IT revolution, a highly-skilled and internationally-recognised workforce is the first requirement. Without this, no investment in economic growth activities will have a substantive impact in the country, with half of its population is aged under 30. An ICT workforce would allow Bangladesh, both at home and abroad, to literally bank on one of its most underutilised resources.
For the last 20 years, “IT revolution” was one of the talk-of-the-town topics, but now it looks like it was just the warm-up. The IT industry saw huge investments in the 1990s, and 2000 saw the “dotcom meltdown” as performances failed to meet expectations. The frenzy of the dotcom years has gone. Bangladesh has an IT industry of around $350 million.
The Indian success story is the dream for other developing countries around the globe. Why is this sector so attractive to those countries struggling to achieve a better future for their people?
Ali Sanwar is an ICT writer.