ICT Forecast For The Year 2016: Digital Explosion!

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Another year has begun and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, like all other sectors, anticipates a very hectic and exciting year. We expect to see a lot of big things happening in the sector based on previous works done by stakeholders (of the sector).

Liberia has seen a proliferation of ICT, which has led to the exponential growth of the sector. ICTs are considered vital for socioeconomic development by many organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank. Here, I refer to social development as that which involves education, social interactions and evolution of social customs, fashion and trends. On the other hand, my reference to economic development is in the context of the creation of (better paying) jobs, a widespread and sustained increase in the living standards of Liberians and accelerated economic activities.

Being cognizant of the impact of ICT on socioeconomic development, our anticipation of new developments and improvements in the ICT sector becomes kindled. Hence, at the beginning of each year, we endeavor to inform our readers about what we expect to see happen in Liberia’s ICT sector in the New Year. In the following paragraphs I provide insight into what we expect to see in the ICT sector in the subsequent months.

I have in the past months written extensively on e-government in an effort to inform you about the government of Liberia’s (GoL’s) e-government programs. In view of this, I will not bore you by reiterating the government’s e-government achievements; but rather, I will inform you of what we expect to see happen with the GoL’s e-government programs in 2016.

First, we will see the adoption and/or endorsement of the proposed E-Government Strategy of 2014 by the Cabinet. We will then see the strategy implemented where the GoL will adopt the usage of electronic information technology based systems. These systems will increasingly replace and/or change traditional methods of government information and service delivery. We refer to this as e-government or electronic government. E-government is a major step in transforming the relationship between government and citizens. By enabling changes that lead to greater efficiency, access to information and better service delivery, electronic government will contribute to greater citizen participation in government and greater accountability and transparency in the decisions and actions of the government.

We will see a “revised” national telecommunications and ICT policy document that will guide the sector for the next five years. This “revised” policy document will help us successfully integrate ICTs into our economy and bolster technological deployment with the goal of supporting productivity gains and new business development.

In addition to the policy, we might see several infrastructural initiatives occur this year. These initiatives, considered priority projects core to the sector, include, but are not limited to, the building of a Metro Fiber Network, a Shared Services Center and/or a National Data Center. Discussions are being held with external funding partners to ensure that these projects are implemented.

As you may already be aware, the National Telecommunications and ICT Policy 2010-2015 mandates both the Chief Information Office (through the Chief Information Officer), or CIO, and the Project/Programs Management Office (PMO) to monitor, govern and implement all of the GoL’s e-government programs. These “units” have been virtually “handicapped” due to the lack of resources (Human and Financial Resources). In 2016, we expect to see both “units” well “resourced” in order to efficiently and effectively carry out their respective mandates.

There have been previous suggestions and discussions on the creation of a Ministry of Science and Technology, or a National Information Technology Agency – an entity that will have a seat at the “Executive” level to “champion” ICT development in Liberia. This year, there will be a reemergence of that discourse; and perhaps, we might see significant efforts made toward its creation.

We will see more efforts by local colleges to provide the best ICT skills for the sector. There are discussions about the need for colleges to assign their students to perform surveys to understand the needs of the sector in order to design and prepare ICT programs tailored to suit the sector. For example, the sector needs more programmers and developers to address the needs of software and content development in the country.

A lot of Liberians are convinced that ICT (information and communication technology) in early childhood education provides multiple possibilities for young children. There are two ways ICT can be used to impact early learning: The use of ICT in supporting basic ICT skills and attitudes and the use of ICT to support contents and individual learning needs. We will see a lot of primary and secondary schools integrate ICT at their schools and in their curricula. The GoL, through the Ministries of Posts and Telecommunications, Education and LIBTELCO, has begun deploying Internet-computers at public schools. We should continue to see more of that this year.

We will see the Internet Society of Liberia (ISOC-Liberia) become more effective in building Liberia’s Internet community. This will be done through digital literacy programs intended to be introduced in Liberia. We may also see increases in E-Education activities (e-Learning, Computer Aided testing, etc.). Furthermore, talks of the formation of ICT research centers will gain momentum and we will see a lot of national ICT competitions that will be used to encourage users and developers to be “prosumers” instead of “consumers.”

We look forward to seeing our online presence increase as we approach national elections. The need for candidates to provide information about themselves and their campaigns will be the driver for our enhanced web presence.

We will see local operators provide more innovative services and products to gain more customers. Local operators will provide these services and products at reduced cost with better quality.

Overall, we intend to experience growth in the sector in the areas of human resources, infrastructure and innovation. The ICT sector will continue to grow until we achieve both a knowledge society and finally, a “digital Liberia.”

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