A country’s Policy formulation is not an easy task as it needs an entire sector to work hard and come up with something that can uplift a country’s overall performance. After formulation of a policy, the next important thing is its implementation without which, even a well-devised policy will simply lose its worth. Focusing primarily on the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) sector, we must accept that due to the emerging technological advancements, IT has become an integral part for the progress of all sectors and industries be it health, education, governance etc. Therefore, it requires even greater attention on policy implementation. Draft National IT Policy 2016: Will IT Deliver?
The Ministry of Information Technology & Telecom (MoITT) in the past has generally come up with reasonable policy frameworks, although sometimes with delay. One such example is the recently announced “Draft National IT Policy, 2016”. There are some fundamental questions that the document must answer in order to establish its relevance and effectiveness. Such as How far has Pakistan achieved the envisioned goals as described in its policies from 2000 to 2016? How many of the significant technological areas/initiatives are still pending and need more attention? And what other reforms need to be introduced in order to get prepared for the future? A country’s Policy formulation is not an easy task as it needs an entire sector to work hard and come up with something that can uplift a country’s overall performance. After formulation of a policy, the next important thing is its implementation without which, even a well-devised policy will simply lose its worth. Focusing primarily on the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) sector, we must accept that due to the emerging technological advancements, IT has become an integral part for the progress of all sectors and industries be it health, education, governance etc. Therefore, it requires even greater attention on policy implementation.
Draft National IT Policy 2016: Will IT Deliver?
Then and Now: A Comparative Analysis of 2000 and 2016 IT Policies
At the onset, it is a quite strange phenomenon that while the Global ICT industry has moved towards convergence of policies, our policy makers are doing just the opposite by splitting the IT and Telecom sectors. It would have been much better if a holistic ICT Policy was introduced since huge time and resources were invested to come up with the much awaited Telecom Policy in 2015 and now the draft IT Policy. Still hopes remain high that both policy documents will act in a more compensational way that will fulfill the required future needs of entire IT industry.
ICT has become an integral part for the progress of all sectors and industries be it health, education, governance etc. It requires greater attention on policy implementation
Let’s begin with some broad analysis of Draft IT Policy of 2016 and compare it with achievements and fallbacks of previous IT policy of 2000. It would be equally important to suggest some recommendations that we believe should be part of future and final IT policy document. The following chart provides a quick glance of similar points of both these policies and also, the latest additions in the IT 2016 policy by the MoITT this year.
Some of the areas of previous IT Policy of 2000 reappeared in 2016 IT Draft Policy but with more committed approach so that the Government can put more efforts and come up with better results. The Government intends to increase role in training the Human Resource, providing best IT education and produce a workforce with relevant skills set at all levels in the country. This is to be managed through Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) in major universities, build upon the work already being carried out by HEC. The Government also aims to provide counseling regarding intellectual property rights, technology transfer, regulatory compliance and tax requirements in 2016 Policy so that, individuals can be properly trained to make contribution in the national development. Regarding the “Infrastructure Development” the 2016 Policy, other than IT Parks & Incubation centers, aims to facilitate access to workspaces, common services, funding and promotional agencies, university R&D facilities and professional training.
The well-planned “Development of Local Software Industry” can enhance the performance of this sector hence; the Government will create jobs and contribute in the improvement of software exports and IT remittances. It will also concentrate on the promotion of emerging areas of mobile applications, responsive web applications and animation.
The Policy makers probably have realized the importance of Cloud Computing & Big Data at the right time & intend to take it to the next level with a policy framework
The development of software in regional languages is very significant in order to reduce digital divide. For this purpose, the 2016 IT Policy has come up with more realistic approach and will support creation of content in regional/local languages, promote national themes in IT and Apps usage.
Both 2000 and 2016 IT Policies highlighted the need to establish a Hardware Development Fund (HDF) to finance IT hardware related R&D and manufacturing activities in the country. Alongside with this, the Government will also encourage and reward improvements in the hardware sector depending on the level of hardware productions by local manufacturers; this will result in increased local value addition and competitiveness in the market. Already MoITT has exempted tax on IT exports till 2019 hence, there is a huge opportunity for investors to invest in the market. These are just some of the core areas on which the Ministry of IT has been working since 2000. Now the additional areas also need to be highlighted here as MoITT has timely added them in the Draft IT Policy 2016.
Additional Areas Added in Draft IT Policy 2016
- Cloud Computing & Big Data
Cloud computing and big data has multi-advantages for emerging economies of the world. The Policy makers probably have realized its importance at the right time and intend to take it to the next level with a policy framework going forward. This will help the federal Government and the provinces to a greater extent by linking their databases in order to prevent any type of duplication and also ensure synergy in all departments. Also the provision of cloud based citizen centric services to the general public will pave the way for e-government and subsequent transformation to m-government at all levels.
Working on this area will improve the communication between Government and the citizens. It will also improve the efficiency and innovation; which will result as a milestone step in coming years. How Government will expedite big data adoption in Pakistan will be an interesting feat.
- Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)
Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) need special attention and must not be ignored in any field of life. A proper support for PWDs will help them contribute to the national development in IT sector. The National IT policy will boost their struggles through effective strategic measures in this regard as mentioned in the Draft. The Ministry envisioned to set up an “ICT Accessibility Unit” within public sector and also to encourage private sector. It will help to establish an equivalent unit in rural and urban areas to coordinate activities within and outside agencies. The government will also focus on the training of PWDs. Through such initiatives, disable people will get good opportunities in ICT sector and along with local language support they will be able to play their roles in the progress of Pakistan.
- Cyber Security
The previously leftover area of “Cyber Space Security” being included in the Draft IT Policy 2016. The Government policy envisages developing a broader policy framework for it in order to promote indigenous development of suitable security processes and technology through local development and deployment of IT products and processes. The important point is that the Government needs to align IT policy initiatives with its recently approved Cybercrime Bill that shall require extra diligence from the Ministry.
- Entrepreneurship and R&I in IT Sector
In order to promote and support start-ups especially after the 3G/4G roll-out, the Government under the IT Policy aims to introduce trainings, relevant platforms and fund raisings so that creative individuals can play their roles in the ICT development. This is a very important aspect as Pakistan produces more than 25 thousand IT graduates every year and this resource needs to be harnessed and nurtured to reap the dividend of ICT and make an impact on a global scale.
MoITT envisions to set up an “ICT Accessibility Unit” for PWDs within public sector & to encourage private sector to establish an equivalent unit in rural & urban areas
More specifically in addition to traditional fields, the policy touches upon advance Entrepreneurship and Research and Innovation activities to be focused in emerging fields as well such as biotechnology, renewable energy and nanotechnology etc.
- Open Source
Another worth mentioning addition in the Draft IT Policy is the increased emphasis on “Open Source”. Generally, “Open Source” refers to a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design.
Open source is getting traction for last many years due to its benefits like cost effectiveness, interoperability, avoidance of vendor lock-in etc. That is why MoIT has rightly planned to focus on it so that Pakistan can also take use of it. For this purpose the Ministry will encourage and promote R & D and training on Open Source in both private and public sectors through its collaboration with educational institutions.
For ideal implementation of Open Source system in the country, MoIT will separately devise a framework that will focus on common language for Govt. departments and ministries in the procurement and can overall ensure delivery of cross-agency services, identification of duplicate, re-usable and sharable services. This well-developed framework will also provide standards, principles and templates to ensure cost effective ICT procurement.
- Digital Transformation of Industries (DTI)
The MoITT has also appreciated the significance of IT intervention in to different sectors of human life and the future IT Policy aims to work on “Cross-Sector Collaboration” in coming days. The Digital Transformation of Industries (DTI) analyzes the impact of digital technologies on business and society, to better understand digital transformation opportunities and risks in industries and their related sectors. The cross-industry sectors will be Platform Governance, Impact of Policy & Regulation, Societal Implications, and Impact of Emerging Technologies. The contemporary global world is taking advantage of technology in different sectors and the main areas for 2017 will even include Chemicals, Mining & Metals, Oil & Gas, Insurance, Aviation & Hospitality, Professional Services and Retail. The DTI focus in the policy is a good addition.
IT Policy 2016: Carrying the Baggage from the Past
Implementation of policy is as important as its development since the success of any policy depends on it. Not only policy development has been an issue for MoITT but its implementation has also been quite a challenge in the past which is why, new IT policy of 2016 has to carry certain element as a baggage from the past. Comparing with the first decade of 2000, no doubt Pakistan has improved a lot in the IT sector. In the absence of internet proliferation especially prior to the 3G/4G auction Pakistan was the 4th most unconnected country in the world (as per World Band Report) its IT ranking was something that not many were proud off. The policy implementation did not exist back then that made the country lag behind even when compared with regional peers. The lack of Policy Implementation has remained the main reason for the country’s lack of progress in this important sector.
Getting policy implementation right is very important, poor implementation cannot only result in heavy losses in terms of finance, HR and time but most importantly the opportunity loss is colossal
Following are some of the most important areas that should have been improved over the years but no positive development can be seen even today especially when it comes to implementation.
Policy Review and Implementation has always been the weakest point of successive Governments. Getting policy implementation right is very important, poor implementation cannot only result in heavy losses in terms of finance, HR and time but most importantly the opportunity loss is colossal. For this purpose, while the MoITT has mentioned in Draft 2016 that it will need to undergo a drastic capacity building exercise to ensure that substantial efforts are made to achieve policy objectives through collective efforts, this would need very close monitoring for the policy to succeed.
The IT paradigm has changed significantly with new technologies and ideas such as IoTs, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Connected Cars, Drones, and Robots etc. have taken the forefront. Hence, the policy formulation demands serious review structure so that it can be ascertained that what has been achieved and what is still left.
Looking Ahead in Technology; What More Needs to be Done?
With rapid transformation of technology, there is dire need to be futuristic and lay the grounds for adoption of upcoming technological advancement. For the said purpose, ICT policies must be formulated by keeping in mind both, the present and the future waves of technology changes. Hence, if we look at the developed nations, their policy makers are working on many futuristic areas that are overlooked in the recent policy draft formulated by our Government.
The performances of PITB & KPITB have been commendable as it has introduced many smart initiatives in different sectors just in a short period of time
Policies must incorporate futuristic technologies so that the intervention of latest tech advancements take place without any delay. Similarly, with the Internet of Things (IoTs) expected to reach 50 billion connected devices by 2020 (IDC), demanding a well-devised policy. A national strategy supported by strong and stable regulatory framework for the Smart Cities, if designed and implemented correctly, would maximize the opportunity for the Internet of Things to deliver substantial social and economic benefits in Pakistan. The present Draft IT Policy aims to further introduce many smart initiatives in Pakistan but it has to provide more clarity on policy and regulatory framework for smart homes, connected cars, smart gadgets, robots, drones etc. in specific terms so that these futuristic needs could proliferate in the country. With fast paced technology developments in Pakistan, we can expect that in a year or two we will be seeing many of these innovative technologies in Pakistan. Therefore, a pro-active approach is very important to reap maximum benefits.
Provincial IT Policies
Presently, Provincial IT Boards and Directorates including Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board (KPITB), Baluchistan Science & Information Department and Sindh Information Technology Board (SITB) are responsible for introducing ICT setups and initiatives in their respective provinces. Interestingly, some of the provincial boards are found to be more committed to the digitalization of provinces as compared to others. The performance of Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has been commendable as it has introduced many smart initiatives in different sectors of human life covering health, police, education, agriculture and finance in the province just in a short period of time. Recently, Punjab also came up with its first draft of “IT Policy” and opened it up for public and stakeholders consultation. The Policy circulates around six fundamental “Es” of different areas including Education, Economy, Empowerment, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Engagement; whereas, the outline of the Punjab IT Policy include Industry, Start-ups and Miscellaneous Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), Health, Governance and Citizens. PITB is expected to finalize its IT Policy by the end of December, 2016. Apart from PITB, the KPITB has also shown commitment in digitalization of the province and introduced many such initiatives.
The most relevant and important question that arises is how the Provincial IT Boards will incorporate the National IT Policy structure in their respective ICT Policies and will build a framework through which efforts could be collaboratively done and not duplicated. The IT draft did not mention that how the Provincial Governments and their IT Boards will be indulged and develop policies for themselves and what role Federal Government will play in this regard; indicating a loop hole on the collaborative approach of Government. There should be a National IT Policy that should sink well with the Provincial IT boards & vice versa and also develop a system through which IT Asset could be shared amongst other provinces as well.
The overall performance of the MoITT has been satisfactory during last few years but it needs to keep pace with the changing technology trends
The overall performance of the MoITT has been satisfactory during last few years but it needs to keep pace with the changing technology trends. The Draft National IT Policy 2016 needs more realistic yet futuristic approach so that the IT sector of Pakistan is well-prepared to face future challenges beforehand. Although, the present signs indicate a step towards the right path but there is always room for improvement. Let’s hope that the coming year 2017 embarks upon a new era of development in Pakistan.
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