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Information Technology, The Way Forward...

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR GHANA

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INTRODUCTION

The most significant economic growth in the history of the United States, which occurred in the 1990s, has been due to the Internet. This has resulted in unprecedented investment in Information Technology (IT), generation of millions of jobs, new businesses and causing shortages of skilled Information Technology workers in both the USA and Europe. The spillover effect has benefited several countries, in particular India where Information Technology (IT) is becoming a major player in the economy. According to Business Week Magazines, in the next 10-15 years as many as 90% of Americans white collar and clerical jobs will be outsourced to other countries such as India, Philippines, South African etc., boosting the economy of these countries.

The dynamics of global economic growth are changing very fast. The evolution of the Internet as a pervasive phenomenon means that the traditional factors of production, capital and skilled labour are no longer the main determinants of the power of a national economy. Now economic potential is increasingly linked to the ability to control and manipulate information.

In this digital age, the ability to gather manage and use information effectively and speedily will determine the level of success of any government or business entity. A major issue to be addressed by any government desirous of making a significant impact is the availability and use of information. "What information is needed by the government, How do we get this information? Who should have access to this information?" For security reasons some of the information should be available to selected number of people with access rights.

Many governments realising the enormous potential of computers and Information Technology (IT) have made concrete plans to encourage the use of this technology and promote the Information Technology (IT) industry. Today, computer products and services have enabled formerly less developed countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysian to leap form the "Industrial age" and move into the "Computer age" on equal footing with the more developed countries. Unfortunately most third world countries especially African countries are behind in the use and promotion of Information Technology (IT) in both government organization and private businesses.

Several of the newly industrialized nations have created the enabling environment through the formulation of policies to promote industrial growth and the use of Information Technology to assist the government operate efficiently and to accelerate development.

A study carried out by the World Bank Policy Research group in 1993 has shown that between 1965 and 1990 East Asia grew faster than any other region in the world. The main source of this achievement was due to the miraculous growth in eight (8) economies: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan. Most of this growth has been due to superior accumulation of physical and human capital as well as the appropriate allocation of physical and human resources to highly productive investments and at acquiring and mastering technology.

South Korea was one of the first East Asia countries to prepare a national Computer Policy. In 1982 a National Technology Promotion Congress was established with the President as the chairman and included cabinet level government officers, leaders from business, industry and research institutions. Specific targets and goals were set to propel the country from the copycat electronics stage to a major designer and supplier of computer chips, components, parts and microcomputers.

In 1962 the per capita gross national product of South Korea was a mere Eighty US Dollars ($80), far below that of Ghana five hundred US Dollars ($500) at that time. The World Bank regarded the country as a poor prospect for investment. Today the per capita GNP is over four thousand Dollars ($4,000) (a fifty fold increase) as compared to three hundred and forty Dollars ($340) for Ghana.

Information Technology now makes up about 10% of South Koreas four hundred billion US Dollars ($400 billion) economy. The country is one of the largest producers and exporters of semiconductor chips with over twenty billion US Dollars ($20 billion) in exports for the computer Industry. The Information Technology drive is changing Koreas export market. The government is undertaking a thirty-five billion US Dollars ($35 billion) high speed Telecom infrastructure project which will allow 95% Koreans to have Internet Access by the year 2005. This will make South Korea one of the most "wired" countries in the world and ahead of several European Countries.

World Leaders who have been instrumental in pushing their countries, into the digital age spend time on their computers to use the Internet. South Africas Thabo Mbeki is known to surf the Internet in the night after a busy days work. Lee Kua Yew of Singapore and President Clinton of the USA are both world leaders who keep in touch with this new technology.

In 1980 Taiwan published its first National Computer Policy entitled. "The 10-year Plan for the Information Industry of Taiwan". The plan set out specific performance goals to be accomplished by Taiwan within the 10-year period. The plan addressed several issues including what the government must do in order for Taiwan to become a world player in the Computer and Information Industry. Government action during this period included Acquisition and Implementation of Information Systems for government departments, ministries etc. Provision of tax incentives for the Information Industry, creation of low cost data communications services and planning for the Information future.

Taiwan is now one of the worlds largest producers of integrated circuits, computer chips and other computer products. The largest customers are US companies. Computer chips from Taiwan have found their way into products ranging from Timex watches to BMW automobiles. Taiwan has also been implementing protectionism to spur technology development. The Taiwanese government offers several incentives to promote establishment of new Information Industries. Government purchases up to 49% of any start-up that is targeting a strategic technology such as microcomputers, telecommunications. The entrepreneur can get a head start on equity too because the government grants them 25% ownership on the basis of their technological know how alone. Thus the entrepreneur often needs to come up with only 26% of cash to control the company.

In 1981 Singapore established the National Computer Board. The first statutory function was the implementation of the computerization of the governments administrative machinery and operations. The second function was the co-ordination of computer education and training. The third function was the development and promotion of a Computer Services Industry. Singapore has witnessed one of the fastest economic and industrial growth in the world. Exports have risen from thirty billion US Dollar ($30 billion) in 1980 to one hundred and twenty-six billion US Dollars ($126 billion) in 1997.

Singapore after the setting up of the National computer Board, launched into Software development through the establishment of Software Development Centers, private joint venture firms, which were given special tax incentives for software export products. The growth of the Information Technology Industry has ranged between 19% and 29% annually.

India is benefiting immensely from the digital revolution. The first class Indian Institute of Technology set up with assistance form MIT, USA has been turning out world-class engineers and Scientists. Several leading US firms in the Information Technology Industry recruit from India and have set up subsidiaries in India to develop Software. India software exports to the USA are expected annually, to exceed ten billion ($10 billion) within the next 5 years. Other countries such as South Africa and Egypt are seriously implementing plans to follow the example of India.

Unfortunately almost all African countries including Ghana are behind in the use of Information Technology and do not have policies that will trigger the industrial and economic growth that has characterized the economic tiger of South East Asia.

Although Information Technology can be used to enhance government operations in Ghana and boost the economy, several factors have hindered the effective utilization of this new technology. In order to adopt Information Technology in the operation of government machinery to improve productivity and assist government officials in decision making there is the need for a national IT Policy to co-ordinate, promote and supervise the implementation and use of the Information Technology in Government organizations and also promote the development of a vibrant Computer Industry in Ghana

VISION

Vision - to move Ghana into a middle level income country by year 2010, with a minimum 8% GDP

Mission - To use Information Technology optimally to maximise our national efforts, and increase efficiency, and also as an alternate source of revenue.

         I. Background

DEFINITION

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Information Technology is the term that describes the disciplines encompassing systems analysis, programming, telecommunications and multi-media (combines audio, text and video information) applications. It came into common use in the late 1980s supplanting either terms such as electronic data processing, management information systems, information resource management, data communication etc.

POLICY

1. The government of Ghana recognises information management as an integral part of a structured and sustainable approach to development. Efficient management of information is a prerequisite for social and economic development, especially in a rapidly changing and an increasingly demanding national and global environment.

2. For the government, information is a resource (i.e. know-how), a work medium (e.g. financial data), and a work product (e.g., national policies). Increasingly, the government of Ghana is under great pressure from its citizens and partners to increase its operational efficiency. These pressures call for a continuous review of the way business is conducted, rationalised and supported in both the public and private sectors.

3. In order to fulfil the mandate it has been given by its citizens, the government has taken some major initiatives, which include functional decentralisation from the capital to the regions, the local management of regional programmes and the increased use of national and local expertise. In the area of technology, the government is determined to use appropriate information and communications technology to increase the quality, quantity and timeliness of its products and services in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

4. Within this context, the government, as part of its national policy framework, will develop a strategy for information technology (IT) infrastructure development, software development, value-added services and capacity building to support its objectives of turning Ghana into a knowledge society and an active player in the global economy. In order to develop an IT-driven socio-economic agenda, the government will set up national structures to develop and manage IT and related activities.

These structures will be responsible for:

a. Reviewing and enhancement of a National IT policy,

b. Developing Standards and Guidelines

c. Co-ordinating and Monitoring IT Projects

d. Forum for advisory activities on national IT policy and direction

e. Licensing and regulations (if and when necessary)

f. The purpose of the national IT policy is to provide a framework for Content development and ownership

g. Information management and dissemination

h. Infrastructure planning and implementation

i. Systems development and deployment

j. Human resource development and retention

k. Using IT as another revenue channel for the nation

The standards and guidelines will provide a framework for

1. Adequate levels of quality in information and information management

2. Uniformity of systems and tools

3. Disaster recovery and security

4. Data integrity and Interchangeability

5. Software compatibility

6. Seamless inter-connectivity

7. Structured nation-wide IT planning

5. The purpose of co-ordination and monitoring is to provide a one-stop-shop for

a. The co-ordination of national projects and project resources to ensure relevance, equity, standardisation, and to remove overlaps, gaps and isolated implementation of IT projects whether funded nationally or internationally.

b. The monitoring of IT projects to ensure that they meet original design and scope and to advise on necessary modifications for better integration into existing infrastructure

6. The forum for advisory activities will provide a platform for national consultation to advise the government and responsible bodies on IT trends and national requirements

 

7. Within the above context, the government will take strategic initiatives to ensure that starting from its budget planning process, public institutions have at their disposal four main resources:

a. Financial

b. Human

c. Information

d. Infrastructure

8. The institutions on their part will ensure judicious management of these resources by making full and proper use of information technology as an indispensable tool to rationalise their business procedures and processes to improve quality and increase productivity.

9. The move to IT-driven socio-economic development requires concerted contributions from the public as well as the private sector, to ensure sustainability. The national policy therefore provides the necessary framework and the enabling environment to promote, nurture and support:

a. National and foreign investments in all IT areas

b. Local software development by nationals and multi-nationals

c. Full integration of IT and related topics at all levels of education

d. Local manufacturing and assembly plants for IT equipment and accessories

e. Local training institutions for IT and related subjects

f. Mandatory affiliations between IT industries, IT institutions and other academic institutions

10. The scope of the national IT policy therefore comprises the following areas of activities:

a. IT Management Structures

b. Human Resource Development

c. Systems Development

d. Manufacture and Assembly of Hardware

e. Internet and Value-added Services

f. IT Planning

g. Standards for Hardware and Software

h. IT Implementation

i. Installation and Maintenance

j. Database and Content Development

k. Data Protection, Publication & Disclosures

l. Public Safety and Security

m. National Information Infrastructure

Information Technology Policy Continues...

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