The State of ICT in UAE: Three Key Advancements and How e-Government Can Leverage

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released its 10th anniversary edition of its well known report: Global Information Technology Report. As in the previous editions, this 2010/2011 version of the report has shed the light on the status of ICT infrastructure in more than 100 countries (138 in this report) including the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

What I would like to present here is the key advancements in UAE ICT sector as identified by the report, the opportunities they represent for the eGovernment program(s) in the country and how these programs can leverage these advancements.
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Global Information Technology Report from WEF… A Comment on the Framework

A few days ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its periodic report Global Information Technology Report (2009-2010), which is the ninth in its series. Because the solid framework and indicators it has, it continuity and reputation of the WEF, this is widely considered as tool to measure the readiness of ICT in many countries around the world (133 countries for 2010 issue of the report).

Beside the data and statistics provided, what i love about such reports is the methodology part and this year, the authors of the report has decided that the time has come to make some adjustments on the framework that has been used for nearly a decade. According to the authors, this review has been triggered by three observations about changes in the context of ICT use. Following,  i’ll list these three changes and then make my argument on another change need to be considered. The three observed changes are:

Blurring boundaries: the traditional boundaries of the ICT sector are shifting. One good examples of this according to the report is that the boundaries of the ICT sectors and the consumer electronics sectors are blurring as devices such as television sets now routinely incorporate Internet access as a standard feature.  Because of this change, the authors suggest to take a broader, more future orientated definition of ICT and not be limited to traditional notions of hardware and software. Thus there is a need to take a broader,more future orientated definition of ICT and not be limited totraditional notions of hardware and software.

Beyond access: the report suggests that providing access to ICT for all is not the main problem as it used to be few years ago. Instead, the main challenge now is  “how to make the best use of access to ICT”. This shift was caused by several factors including the wide spread of mobile technologies and the decrease in the cost of accessing the internet across the world.

Broader goals: “ICT has become omnipresent and an integral part of our lives—both professional and personal—over the last few years” and because of this fact the report says “it is not surprising that questions are being raised about the broader goals toward which technology should be used in society and within organizations in both the public and private sectors”

So, these are the three factors because of which the WEF is considering making an adjustment in its GITR report. What i want to say that I totally agree with the authors on the need for such an adjustment, but i would like to mention a factor that needs to be explicitly considered: the rise of social media.  The social media tools (especially social networking) can be considered one of the major technological social changes in the last decade. Facebook for instance, which has more 350 m subscribers  has surpassed Google in Weekly U.S hits for the first time according to Business week.com. In my opinion, the most remarkable change social media has made in our world is the following: it has empowered the citizen with the ability to create, broadcast and exchange information and ideas, this is not an exclusive privilege for governments and business any more. Let me quote the GITR report: “Governments have to move beyond providing online services (traditional e-government boundaries) to provide more effective governance to their citizens. While individual citizens will increase their use of the Internet, ICT has to be deployed to create cohesive and harmonious societies“, read the underlined words again and tell me: can you think of a better tool do get the job done than social media? I can’t!

Because of this, i suggest that the social media should explicitly be considered as a driver for any adjustment on the GITR framework.

Ibrahim