A corrupt bureaucracy will become a hindrance in the way of digital transformation
Kathmandu. The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is being celebrated on May 17, 2023 by the International Telecommunication Union, making the main slogan ‘Empowerment of least developed countries through information and communication technology’. Two topics have been prioritized within this year’s slogan. First, connectivity and second, digital transformation.
The least developed countries of the world are deeply immersed in the digital divide. According to the statistics published by the International Telecommunication Union, by the end of 2022, of the 2.7 billion people who are not connected to the Internet, about one-third of the population lives in 46 underdeveloped countries.
If we look at the state of Internet usage, in 2022, only 36 percent of the population in least developed countries are online. From a gender point of view, 43 percent of the male population in these countries were online, while the percentage of women online was only 30 percent. Similarly, 48 percent of young people aged 915-24 were online. Only 28 percent of the population in rural areas were online compared to 52 percent of the population in urban areas.
When it comes to Nepal, the Nepal Telecommunication Authority does not collect data separately in this way and the data to be made public is also collected in such a way that it is counted even if someone stops using the service once they have taken the service. If a person is taking the services of several service providers, that is also not excluded. According to the latest data released by the authority, 125.89 percent of the population has used mobile services.
It has 92.78 percent of 3G and 4G users. Likewise, 1.56 percent of the population has telephone lines in their homes. Talking about broadband, 94.37 percent of the population has used this service. As stated above, these figures are not realistic.
This region also had to bear the brunt of the 10-year internal conflict in the country between 2052 and 2062. At the moment, let alone the expansion, the existing telecommunication infrastructures could not even be protected. However, looking at the current situation, in terms of access to telecommunication services, Nepal is above the average compared to other least developed countries. More efforts are being made from the state level for systematic access and quality access.
Two big plans are being implemented by the Rural Telecommunication Development Fund under the Nepal Telecommunication Authority. The first is the construction and operation of the information highway connecting the Madhyapahari Lokmarg and the district headquarters based on optical fiber.
Under this, there is no significant progress in the three packages of more than 6,000 km of optical cable extension and necessary network equipment such as DWDM and core routers. With the slow working style of Nepal Telecom and its own projects stalled, it is natural that the projects under the Rural Telecommunication Development Fund do not get priority. One project has not started because it has reached the court.
The second is Broadband Access Network. In order to provide broadband services to municipalities, rural municipalities and ward offices under the same, community hospitals and community health institutions, through 18 multi-year projects, seven hundred and eight local body offices under 74 districts, 5,933 ward offices, 5,299 community hospitals and four Broadband service has been provided in 16 thousand 177 places of 1 thousand 237 health institutions.
In addition, broadband internet service has been provided at a total of 134 locations under the program of providing broadband services to rural municipalities, community educational institutions, and health institutions under Lalitpur district, which are not served within the valley.
Although these projects, which were started without the backbone network, have been completed, they have neither the quality nor the capacity as per the requirement. Therefore, these projects are less likely to deliver targeted returns. But in places where there is no internet, even if it is of low quality and low capacity, reaching the internet should be considered a great achievement.
For access to telecommunication services, private and public service providers were working in their own way, but these projects, which have been progressing under public-private partnership, have further supported the efforts of the private sector.
Another topic is digital transformation. For this, everyone’s access to internet and other digital technologies is a mandatory condition. There are four obstacles regarding the use and adoption of the Internet. The first is easy access. It was said earlier, from the point of view of access, Nepal’s development is satisfactory and more efforts are being made. Lack of purchasing power hinders access, lack of skills and lack of relevance. When talking in the second dimension, these four barriers have to be broken.
The second dimension is digital transformation. Digital transformation is a regular process. It starts with converting our analog data into digital form first. For example: all the information content like our paper documents, pictures, audio, video etc. had to be changed from analog to digital. We can call this process ‘digitizing’, i.e. converting analog to digital.
If we talk about Nepal, we have entered this stage but we have not completed it. Sometimes this action is taking place and sometimes it has not even started. We have to pass this stage based on priority after evaluating the usefulness of those materials. Digitally available content can only be made useful by using other digital technologies.
Therefore, digitization is the first condition for digital transformation. This is a matter of digitalizing the existing analog content. Now let’s make sure that all the content created should be in digital form.
While talking about digital transformation, I still cannot get a positive answer to these questions ‘Do we want to be transparent? Do we want an effective system? Because this is an unthinkable situation for the corrupt bureaucracy of our country.
Even in Nepal, the word ‘office automation’ is sometimes heard. What we mean by ‘office automation’ is that our office let someone build ‘office automation’ software. In this, we do everything from the registration in the office to the invoice through the computer. The work of writing comments was also done from the computer.
Comments are exchanged through the software. It was neither written by hand nor printed on Nepali paper. It was awesome. But the irony is that the registrar had to scan the application and details brought by others and store them in the computer.
The document was sent to all those for the purpose of which the petition was to be acted upon through the computer. As before, he would specify the application, collect comments, submit it to different levels and after the decision-maker makes a decision, he would go back in the same order to collect comments, then he would prepare a letter according to the decision, make a challan and the applicant would come back to the office and take it.
There is no time limit set, nor the number of objectives is reduced, nor can the application be submitted online, nor does the applicant receive a decision letter by email. There is a situation where there is a feeling of compassion towards the understanding of the ministries and agencies that are leading the digital transformation that we have done office automation by keeping such a process.
In fact, ‘office automation’ should be such a system, in which the applicant submits an application with the necessary details online, the application and the details are processed by the software, and after making a decision, the requested documents are provided to the applicant. This is an unthinkable situation for the bureaucracy of our country. We will not make the journey there until the distant future. Sometimes we hear ‘digitalisation’. That is, based on the digital information, data or documents we have, we will use other digital technologies available to facilitate our operations.
We will bring agility and efficiency in our work by using many digital technologies like Cloud Computing, Big Data, Data Analytics, AI, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, IoT etc. We will not do it ourselves, technology will do it. We will take the help of technology to make decisions etc.
Going further, we will reach the stage of ‘digital transformation’. That means our thinking, culture, working culture, nature will all be transformed. Technology will be used everywhere, in any work.
This will change the business model. The service will be provided according to the personal wishes and interests of the customer. And people have envisioned such a phase, which they call the ‘Digital Singularity’. A state of complete intermingling of technology and human nature. Independent imagination from the point of view of our imagination and ground reality.
While talking about digital transformation, I still ask these questions: ‘Do we want to be transparent? Do we want an effective system? Do we want to practice efficiently? We are ready to give up the ‘other’ facilities that we have enjoyed for the benefit of Rs.
Both public and private sectors will have a role in both these efforts. For this, the International Telecommunication Union has established ‘Partner to Contact Digital Coalition’. Through this, both the public and private sectors have been called upon to play a significant role for the empowerment of the least developed countries. If Nepal also takes the initiative, it can proceed with financial and technical support through this coalition.
The author is a former senior director of Nepal Telecommunication Authority.
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