Telescoping the annual ICT conferences

By By Dorcas Mhungu
October 2010
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As the curtain goes down on 2010, two major conferences have been held in Namibia with ICT emphasis.

Telecom Namibia hosted a two-day ICT summit enshrined in this year’s theme, “The contribution of ICT to sustainable economic growth and knowledge-based societies” while the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) was scheduled to host a conference titled “Enhancing SME Productivity and Efficiency through Innovation and ICT” at the end of October.

The telecommunications services provider hosted its summit against the backdrop of a growing need for the nation to keep abreast with, and continue to embrace the technological advancement to grow its economy and knowledge based societies.

Frans Ndoroma, Managing Director of Telecom Namibia said while a lot has been done on the development of a powerful information infrastructure, the country must not underestimate the need to develop a knowledge society to ensure social inclusion, improving the business environment, innovation systems and skilled human resources, as pillars of the knowledge economy.

Nearly 800 delegates thronged the venue of this year’s summit that drew participants from remote countries like Uzbekistan, Czech Republic, Barbados, Iceland, Nicaragua, United Kingdom, The Bahamas, Belarus, Romania, Grenada, Bangladesh, Italy, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Cook Islands, Lithuania, Canada, Argentina, Malta, Colombia, USA, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Angola, and South Africa.

Exhibitors showcased a wide range of technology and software that can vastly improve the efficiency of an organization and consequently improve performance and earnings resulting in growth in the economy.

“ICT greatly facilitates the accumulation and application of information and knowledge and enhances the efficiency of the process,” argued Ndoroma adding that the Namibian telecommunication sector is going though rapid transformation and Telecom is building the next generation telecommunication systems to provide speed and ease with which the acquired knowledge, information and data are translated into productive activities.

Telecom, according to Feitjies Veldskoen, a board member of Telecom Namibia, faces a challenge in harnessing knowledge and technology that will take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization and translate it to economic growth.

Byte Technology Managing Director, Johan Kruger said his company’s products which include money handling cash dispensing machines, cheque processing machines and photocopying machines all contribute towards pushing Namibia’s economic growth. “We are in Namibia, for Namibians and here to stay. We see a very bright future for ICT and would like to make Namibia one of the leading ICT rich countries in the region.”

Vanessa Maresch of Salt said Namibia has an acute shortage of ICT skills. While her organization is truly Namibian and all its staff complement is 100% Namibian, it was disappointing that the tender regulations in Namibia left the local companies to the mercy of competing with bigger guys from outside and most of the lucrative tenders are awarded to South African companies.

“Every cent we make stays in Namibia and government must do something about this uneven playing field and protect its local industry,” Maresch moaned. She called on the government to investigate other African countries’ tender regulations like Botswana to accord Namibian companies the priority to participate and contribute meaningfully to the economic growth in ICT and in fulfillment of Telecom Namibia’s 2010 theme. The Namibia Chamber Of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) lined up its annual Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) conference at the end of October under a related theme, “Enhancing SME Productivity and Efficiency through Innovation and ICT”.

NCCI Development Officer, Cleo Moono who is heading the conference organizing team, underscored the need for the country to have an ICT astute business community and expressed concern at the general lack of appreciation and use of ICT by the SME sector in Namibia.

Moono says currently, 90% of SMEs and members of NCCI on its mailing list have no email addresses.

While emails have virtually taken over as the most widely used form of communication, Moono says its global importance and efficiency has not been embraced by the majority of SMEs.

The situation has made it difficult to communicate with members and this has resulted in NCCI personnel to make door to door delivery of invitations for the chamber meetings or events in their respective areas.

“This makes the work cumbersome, expensive and time consuming,” Moono laments, adding that the majority still preferred using the fax.

It is against this backdrop that this year’s NCCI theme is on the relevance of innovation and ICT to boost business in the SME sector. Moono further elaborates that the convergence of ICT has been made even more readily available by the mobile technology which, with the more advanced cell phone, one can fax, mail, speak and send short messages.

He explains possible contributing factors to the low level of appreciation of ICT by SMEs in Namibia.

The first deterrent, according to Moono, is the prohibitive cost of internet connection which is regarded by many as a luxury to have 24 hour internet service. Another factor is the level of literacy that Moono insists is below standard in most instances, making the business persons shy away from technology because they cannot use it. Important to note, is the fact that Namibia, is among countries with high rates of ICT services in the region because of lower population, adds Moono.

“In Europe children are born in highly technological environments while here, some people get to grade 12 and even university before they see a computer especially in the remote areas, or the only computer they know is the one in the headmaster’s office, one which is not to be touched. The challenge is huge when one gets to university,” Moono says. According to him, this trend spills over to the public sector where people have shown reluctance to learn new technological advancements. This hurdle can be overcome by developing an ICT culture from an early age.

For the NCCI, there is need to introduce ICT skills to children from as young as in kindergarten. The benefits will be reaped two decades later.

The NCCI annual conference therefore planned to urge telecommunications service providers to cast the net wider by making network accessible not only along the major highways as is the case at the moment to the more remote areas.

NCCI wants SMEs to move away from doing things the traditional way, adding that the term innovation is generally associated with technological advancement. “Innovation is a cross cutting term and is applicable in production, marketing, or planning.

“Our theme this year and its emphasis to embrace ICT is grounded on the fact that ICT at the moment is spear heading all spheres of the economy and social development. ICT facilitates communication at all levels and the platform enhances efficiency and productivity by blocking leakages in the economy. With ICT, you do not need the physical presence to check on information but can do so just with the click of a button. Not involving in ICT advancement is costing the progress of SMEs. They need innovation,” Moono said. PF