Liberia’s ICT Forecast For 2015: A Year Of Progress!

By:  Darren Wilkins

The year 2015 is expected to be a stimulating and defining year for our Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector; it is expected to be a year of progress and new developments. We will hear about things like Digital Migration, a national web portal for Government to digitally deliver services and information to citizens, residents, businesses, et al,   the discontinuation of the use of Internet email systems such as Yahoo! And GMAIL for OFFICIAL Government communications, a strong CIO regime, and a robust e-government program that has already begun. But what is more important is the improvements we expect to see the players of our ICT sector bring in the 2015. In the following paragraphs I provide a forecast of the initiatives that we will see our players of our ICT sector embark on in 2015.

We will see the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the head of the ICT sector and a ministry with immense authority but often greatly underrated, emerge with more policies and standards that will improve and turn the sector into one that epitomizes modernity.

We will see the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) play an even aggressive role in implementing its national mandate of regulating the sector. Already, we are hearing about Digital Migration and measures being taken to eradicate “grey routing.”

LIBTELCO has been criticized for its inability to fully roll out the African Coast to Europe (ACE) fiber-optic cable since its advent several years ago. But these criticisms do not subsume the challenges that the entity continues to face. Hopefully though, with the recent changes in management and governance, we may see a shift in paradigm and a new energy as LIBTELCO takes on its national mandate. We may see a National Operator (LIBTELCO) that adopts an agile/responsive approach to service and product delivery as well as competition.

We will see our operators (Lonestar, Cellcom, Novafone, West African Telecom, et al) provide more and better services and products to satisfy customers’ demand and respond to the changes of time. Prices will decrease, there will be more innovative products and quality of service will be optimal.

We will see ICT firms especially those in Software or Web development take a paradigm shift in their delivery of solutions to businesses, government and individuals. The use of Open Source Software will encourage Software firms to adapt new business models and strategies (new to Liberia); models and business strategies that are currently being used by companies (RedHat, Zimbra, et al) engaged in the commercial open source software business. This is a result of the Ebola Crisis which brought in a blitzkrieg of open source software enabling the collection, dissemination, communication of information and collaboration between crisis responders.

ICT professionals and business strategists will emerge with a new type of strategy. This strategy will involve a trichotomy or what I call the “Nexus of Forces” — Mobile Technology, Social Media and Open Source) and they will create new opportunities for innovative business models. This new type of strategy will force our businesses, government and individuals to look to technology to create new products and services, not just enable them. We are already familiar with the impact of the “Nexus of forces”; we saw this during the response against Ebola.

We will see ICT professionals divorcing themselves from old-school ICT approaches (techie), to a more business-focused, customer-centric and service-centric role; the amalgam of these three components would be the result of a parallel between business strategy and technology. This “parallel” involves aligning strategy with technology to achieve goals and competitive advantage.

As I mentioned above Ebola has kindled a new focus on software development in Liberia. This will drive ICT Schools and Training firms to reconfigure or redesign their curricula to meet the demands of the changes that we now have to deal with. We will see more technology integration in our schools and there will be much talk and work on integrating robust Science, Technology, Environmental Ed/Engineering, and Math programs in schools.

We may see a National ICT Certification program that will help produce more skilled ICT professionals and we will ultimately see a robust Open Source Software initiative that will enhance our software ecosystem.

In the area of Agriculture we will hear much about Agro-technology. Our health sector which I believe, has ignited the need to make radical changes in many areas of our country (Education, Health, Agriculture, etc), will see major improvements and this will be driven by modern technologies.

We will continue to work aggressively with our leaders to persuade them about the impact of ICT and what the opportunities could be to our country; that is if EBOLA has not brought the much needed “ICT Epiphany”. We will continue to build a strong culture around our ICT initiatives, governance, human resource development and a vibrant local entrepreneurship. In simple terms, this is about ensuring that we are doing the right things, that we are building the right skills and that we are taking the steps necessary to ensure sustainability.  There is no doubt new skill sets will be required and the acquisition and retention of people with these skills is already a competitive differentiator for many organizations, especially government.

We (ICT professionals) will work with businesses, other organizations and government to reinvent things. We will see more business processes become automated, standardized and simplified. People will realize that working smarter is better than working harder.

We will see an e-government initiative that will kindle a new paradigm in the way citizens and businesses interact with government. Those responsible for Government’s ICT strategy and programs will continue to refine their ICT strategies based upon a solid understanding of what we refer to in Enterprise Architecture as the “business architecture.”

We will see a standardized and well controlled government web presence that will lead to the development of a national web portal; a medium that will provide a one-stop shop for Government’s delivery of services and information to its citizens, residents, businesses and other stakeholders. Through this one-stop shop medium, Government will realize significant cost savings, and citizens will not only experience the convenience of Government’s services being delivered “digitally”, but they will also realize a reduction in the cost of services that were previously done via the traditional brick-n-mortal environment (government office).

The issue of the secondary domain name will be resolved and control of this domain name shall be placed in the hands Chief Information Office (CIO) through the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

We will see progress in Open Source Software and Open Standards within the context of a national policy and action plan. Being able to have standards that allow innovation is critical to economic development, thus the push for open standards and open source software.

Our focus will shift toward a new paradigm which is about using technology to create value and new revenue streams, new business models, and products and services and digital experiences around existing products.

These are just a few of the developments that we foresee in 2015. But we expect to see more development in our ICT sector. This year, is indeed a year of progress.

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