ICT is perhaps one of the most misused acronyms over the last decade. “ICT for this” and “ICT for that”, “ICT organisation A” and “ICT organisation B for….”No policy paper in the developing world was complete without “ICT” on it. ICT seems to be the magic wand that turns everything into gold and after all, putting in “ICT” in your grant requests will get you a few boxes ticked in your favour.
So what exactly is this whole ICT thing? It’s generic enough to encompass all Information and Communications Technologies and perhaps that is where the problem lies. It gets a tad bit annoying when such terms make it into high level policy briefs like this one -:
The role of ICT sector is to promote IT enabled services and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) activities. The purpose is to create jobs in BPO and in the process enhance the contribution of ICT sector to GDP.
Add BPO and more jargon, make it sound complex, go for meetings, sell the idea, get it endorsed b the big boys, build an “ICT” city and hope manna will fall from heaven.
This is where it gets interesting. Think of ICT is a pipe or conduit if you like that allows you to pass data and information around, process it and perhaps add value to it in one way or another. When I was reading Computer Science at some point in my life, we were taught to solve problems using tools. In most cases the tools probably are there, there are extreme cases where the problems are complex but in most mundane or day-to-day problems, the limiting factor is the domain knowledge to solve that particular problem.
For example there are alternatives to fossil fuels, with well-defined formulas or steps on how to make synthetic hydrocarbons or other alternative fuels. What has not been cracked is how to make them economically available to the masses. How to go about solving this problem requires a multitude of skillsets across different disciplines. Everything from Chemical Engineering, Economics, Statistics, Operations Management and IT. It a multi-disciplinary problem, more of a technology problem.
Now the problem of laying bets solely on ICT isolates the problem solving bucket into one very small subset, that of information and communication especially in a world where the “Knowledge Economy” and its constituent intellectual capital seem to derive more value.
ICT is a dumb pipe. The golden egg is Technology. Facebook is not an ICT firm but a tech company. GE (General Electric) evolved from being a specialised manufacturing company to a multi-faceted technology company with interests in aeronautics to healthcare. Technology along with domain knowledge solves problems across different industries. The race to intellectual capital domination started a long time ago, invest in the solution, get patents, scale and monetise. Silicon valley thrived because there was an ecosystem established to make this happen, the ecosystem incentivised people to solve challenging problems. Another is example is Singapore and its bio-tech industry.
In a nutshell it is all about understanding your environment and solving problems. ICT is just but a tool. The sooner you start seeing relevant problems or issues from a technology perspective rather than an ICT perspective the better your end product. In my opinion the term ICT is myopic and has outlived its usefulness, if I had my way I’d ban it.
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