The Liberian ICT Sector: A Forecast for the Year 2019

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Dr. Darren Wilkins

By Dr. Darren Wilkins | 0886703789\0777129092 | [email protected]

A new year has come and as always, we begin the year with hope, resolutions, forecasts and optimism. We pray and hope for the New Year to bring the best for us; we make resolutions that involve change in our lives and modus operandi; and, we proceed with optimism in hopes of achieving our goals. The year 2019 has come and, looking at the horizon, it appears to be a year of profound change. It is also the second year in power, of a “relatively new” Government that experienced several challenges in its first year. Yet, 2019 is expected to be better because as many believe, the first year of any or every new government is always very challenging. The subsequent years they say, are the better years.

In the following paragraphs I provide a forecast of this year’s ICT sector by taking a stab at the four main areas mentioned above: the Legal and Regulatory aspect, Infrastructure aspect, E-Services aspect and Human Capacity aspect. Read on!!!

LEGAL & REGULATORY ASPECT: This year we expect to see the approval of the National ICT Policy 2018-2023, by the President of Liberia, after deliberations by the cabinet. The quinquennial document developed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and other stakeholders, is set to guide the ICT sector for the next five years.

We will see the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) become more rigorous in performing its regulatory responsibilities.  We look forward to the development of convergent licensing regimes, the vehement enforcement of standards, regulations and policies, in particular those pertinent to electronic transactions and cybersecurity. We expect to see the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MoPT) develop a cybersecurity policy for the country. We also look forward to the LTA developing a cybersecurity program that develops human capacity and puts in place a robust cybersecurity mechanism that will be able to “handle” Liberia’s digital transformation.

We expect to see the use of mobile money rapidly become the norm in Liberia. Hence, we will see the LTA and financial institutions put in place the proper legal and regulatory instruments that will guide this new economic necessity. Liberia relies heavily on Mobile phones which have so many peripheral merits besides phone calls and text messaging. Today, Mobile Network Operators (MNO) are gradually becoming financial services providers, conspicuously adding to their usual mandate of providing telecommunication services. Mobile Money Operations (MMO) have become the newly created avenue for MNOs to encourage savings for mostly the “unbanked” populace of Liberia. It is also be the vehicle that ultimately turns our economy into a cashless economy. Yet, there could be indecorous implications if these activities of the MNOs (Lonestar and Orange, for now) are not strongly regulated.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Broadband and digital services will be key to Liberia’s digital transformation. Unlike 2018 which saw a very quiet and slow period for Liberia’s ICT sector this year we shall see great things happen. We expect to see our national infrastructure grow. We will see the likes of Csquared, Orange, LIBTELCO and other players build a national infrastructure (networks) that will provide the platform for the “foundational technologies” mentioned above.

There is also a possibility that another operator might make entry into the sector. While there are arguments that the population is small and that the market is not attractive, new entrants with newer and innovative services, especially mobile money services are looking at things differently.

Regional Infrastructure (ECOWAN): The West Africa Network or ECOWAN is expected to improve the connectivity between ECOWAS offices and affiliated organizations, and provide a robust platform for regional information systems. ECOWAN is an Intranet linking all member state capitals with broadband communications. It will serve as the Enterprise Information System for ECOWAS and will be connected to the global internet. ECOWAN is ECOWAS owned and operated, and accessed only by ECOWAS officials and affiliated organizations.

Regional Infrastructure (ECOWAS Power Pool-based Fiber Network): This network is intended to expand broadband access in the ECOWAS region by first leveraging the West Africa Power Pool’s (WAPP) communications infrastructure network, and linking the WAPP network to national and regional infrastructure to bridge connectivity gaps in the ECOWAS region.

Cloud Computing:  Cloud computing is gradually being adopted in Liberia and is expected to be basis of computing power and digital services. There is much talk about “Shadow IT Departments” hence, we expect to see traditional IT departments gradually depart from highly-centralized and resource-intensive data centers to cloud services. Processing power will now be transplanted from desktops and devices to the cloud. The improvement of our broadband infrastructure will also enhance or make the IoT become a reality in Liberia. Already, we have seen the theory solidify into reality with the creation of “smart spaces” at home and in offices. This is the result of the proliferation of smart TVs and other appliances to join smartphones and watches. Soon, everything will be connected via the Internet, communicating in real-time to provide a fluid, interconnected experience. All of these new technologies are expected to force operators to provide the backbone of reliable high-speed fiber connectivity on which cloud-based systems are dependent.

E-GOVERNMENT & E-SERVICES: We expect the Government to approve its e-Government strategy so as to have a guide for its digital transformation and the modernization of its public service departments, to improve service delivery to the citizens. So, we will see major ICT “changes” in Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions (MACS) this year.

Cybersecurity and others: We expect to see interest grow in cybersecurity, especially in the wake of the Lonestar MTN and Cellcom hacking saga. Other technologies such as analytics, automation, virtualization,  IoT for  the remote monitoring and management of operations, Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP), etc, will be explored and incorporated where and when necessary.

HUMAN CAPACITY: Training people in digital skills is very important. Digital skills are necessary and important because they facilitate the meaningful participation of Liberians in the digital economy and empowers us to do so on our own terms. Hence, we expect to see a plethora of opportunities and initiatives to build capacity in 2019.

Tertiary institutions in particular, have the responsibility to build human capacity for economic development. This year we expect to see Liberian colleges and universities, especially the University of Liberia experience a major transition which includes a dramatic paradigm shift from the way things were done in the past to a modern day approaches. We will see the University of Liberia carry on transition that will involve a robust digital transformation. This digital transformation began with the digitization of the students’ registration system, the appointment of a Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer (VP-IT/CIO) to drive this initiative, the establishment of a data center to automate processes, incorporation of innovative and emerging technologies to achieve the University’s academic mission, business operations, etc. Moreover, we expect to see the University offer its first IT/computer science program which may become popular, given the free tuition program that has been provided by the President.

We expect to see the AME University begin a graduate program in Management Information System (MIS), to cater to the needs students obtaining baccalaureate degrees in IT/ICT/IS/CS from other institutions. Other tertiary institutions in Liberia will begin to develop systems such as digital registration systems, online learning systems, and so on.

We expect to see the establishment of the Liberia Research and Education Network (LRREN), an entity that is expected to be run by a consortium or an ecosystem of Liberia’s tertiary institutions.

At the lower level, we will see secondary institutions embrace and integrate ICT in their institutions and be part of Liberia’s digital transformation.

Finally, as I said in my 2018 review, the ICT sector has become a fundamental pillar for all sectors. No sector can grow without relying on ICT, hence, digital transformation must be a responsibility shared among all sectors. We are in a new year we anticipate a paradigm shift that will places a major focus on ICTs. We have come a long way with very little to show. We are now at a time when our collective decisions and actions will determine whether we become participants or observers in the digital economy. It’s time for a change, Liberia!!!!

Happy New Year!

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