Managing Digital Bangladesh 2021

THE scope of Digital Bangladesh (DB) is not yet clear. We assume that the government wants to make Bangladesh fully digitised by 2021 through application of third generation information and communication technology (ICT).
Digitisation helps increase operational efficiency and productivity provided the supporting infrastructures work properly. This is a tool that will help accelerate economic development and increase competitive edges of Bangladesh in the world market.
Wide-scale digitisation is likely to help Bangladesh become a mid-income country sooner than otherwise possible. However, for proper management the government needs to define its vision, mission and goals and formulate strategies and prepare action plans supported by necessary financial and human resources so that the plans can be implemented.
It is assumed that by 2021 Bangladesh will have a countrywide ICT network that will operate to ensure high speed information flow between the decision- centers wherefrom instructions will be transmitted electronically to the action centres to make the intended actions happen.
The goal is to accelerate a national decision-making process and to implementat the decisions, monitor the performance of the government functionaries at all levels starting from the national parliament through the ministries, administrative offices at districts, upazilas and down to the schools at village levels; evaluate the results at each level and if necessary correct the behaviour of the non-performers.
The scope of DB is very wide. It is not only e-governance or e-commerce or e-banking, or operating a country-wide mobile phone network through which one can access the daily newspapers or other internet devices.
In fact, it is a combination of all of them. It is a country-wide application of 3G ICT to institutionalise the best management practices in every sector and sub-sector. To make DB happen, highest priority must be given to science, technology and management education. Besides, to be productive, the educated people must be in good health. This means digitisation should start simultaneously with the education and health sectors.

Education sector
The universities of Bangladesh are already partly digitised. DB visualises that by 2021 all universities, colleges, high schools, primary schools, and madrasahs will have computerised connectivity. ICT is intended to be used as teaching-learning aids. After five years of schooling all students should have regular access to computers with internet facilities. The goal is to improve the quality of education. The use of automated library is spreading slowly in most universities, although they have to go a long way to be digital in the real sense. By 2021 the entire education sector should be digitised with third generation wireless technology.
Health sector
Under the Ministry of Health there are medical universities, colleges and hospitals in big cities. In addition, there are a large number of rural hospitals/clinics/healthcare service centres at district, upazila, and thana levels. However, most of these hospitals and clinics are not well equipped and their services are not of desirable quality. The number of qualified doctors and nurses is much less than required. Nor do they have required type of diagnostic equipment and operating theatres. Reportedly, the available facilities and medicines are often misused.
In Digital Bangladesh all these clinics will be linked through the computer-aided connectivity. Major hospitals should even have their websites linked with the websites of the DG, Health Directorate. But it must be noted that merely establishing connectivity will not solve the problems of inadequacy of the number of doctors, nurses, equipment, medicines, etc.
What the digitisation can do is to seek, receive, analyse the medical reports and transmit back prescriptions/instructions, monitor the performances at the rural clinics electronically.
In other words, decisions can be implemented very quickly. This will ease out management problems. Because the entire information and data set will flow back and forth electronically they will be relatively more transparent and in turn the probability of indulgence in corruption will decrease. Beside, by 2021, the DB will hopefully introduce video conference systems between doctors in major clinics.

Managerial talent
To digitise Bangladesh with 3G technology in 12 years is fairly ambitious. However, there is no reason to feel skeptical. It needs strong commitment and strategic planning for sustainable DB. The beginning must concentrate on the development of infrastructure in terms of hardware, software and manpower. Merely buying several lakh computers and distributing them among several thousand workstations located in colleges, schools, hospitals and clinics will not digitise Bangladesh. Locally produced qualified manpower must be available to keep the system running without depending on foreign "experts." The project presupposes that Bangladesh will be able to build its technical and managerial capacity to design the necessary digital network system, procure and install all the equipment properly, and to educate, train and deploy necessary personnel to operate and maintain the nationwide ICT network.
Sustainability of DB will depend on our ability to maintain, repair and expand once the system is installed. To install the system at the beginning we may seek foreign help, but to keep the system running we must not depend on external help. We must develop our own manpower.
To produce such human resources, the government must assign highest priority to the promotion of science, technology and management education. We must prepare a separate plan to produce adequate number of scientists, computer and communication engineers, software engineers, technology management experts, etc.
Otherwise DB will make Bangladesh highly vulnerable by making Bangladesh dependent on those countries that manufacture, control and distribute ICT. Sustainability is more important than starting. If we fail to manage a sustainable digitised Bangladesh with our own resources, Digital Bangladesh 2021 will harm rather than benefit the country.

Dr. Hafiz Siddiqi is Vice Chancellor, North South University.


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