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16.09.2001 Feature Article

Can IT Save Ghana Or Does The Country Need An IT Minister?

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by Bonsu Kyeretwie “My belief is that if an op-ed or column does not greatly upset a substantial number of people, the author has wasted the space. This is particularly true …where many people have strong views and rather fewer have taken the trouble to think those views through – so that simply insisting on being clear-headed about an issue is usually enough to enrage many people if not most of your readers.” -- Paul Krugman (eminent American economist. Professor of economics at Princeton University. Tipped to receive the Nobel Prize before its too late.)

So you have chosen to spend the next fifteen to thirty minutes (the upper limit applies to those who share yours sincerely[YS] slow reading ability) of your precious time reading this article? The assumption of preciousness is important; you probably would not have taken this decision otherwise. Welcome. It is 2:35 am local time here and yours sincerely is seated in front of a PC gazing at the monitor to check the text of this article as it appears on screen. In addition to getting this article done he is also following the news flashing across the screen. In other words the PC is capable of multitasking, whatever that means. The headlines? Well, they include the following: "Lucrative Prospects for E-Learning", “Educommerce: E-Learning as a Marketing Tool”, “Firms slow to adopt Knowledge Management", "Intranets important to SMEs and Governments", "Europe's Intranet Market to boom", "Universal Net Access for UK corporations", " US$ 10.9 billion spent on Intranets in 1998", "IT Outsourcing worth US$ 110 billion by 2003", “HP ships chipset staffers to Intel”, “Hard times for Linux biz”, "MIT offers World-Class Courses, for Free", and "Internet Spending to Increase". Better an Approximate Answer to The Right Question than Right Answers to Wrong Questions The purpose of this article is not to offer hard and fast solutions but to help generate a forum for healthy discussion spurred by the author’s initial humble reasoning. The intention is not to bore you with an endless list of news headlines, so why not begin the dialogue here? What exactly do the headlines above mean, and are they of any importance to Ghana? And what about Africa as a whole? And if you may permit: Who owns the internet? Is he or she (or are they) very rich person(s)? Was Hal Varian - eminent American economist - right in stating in an article in the September 1995 issue of Scientific American that: ‘Now that the Internet has been privatized, several companies are competing…’? Who is Freeman Dyson, and why does his book “The Sun, the Genome and the Internet” merit yours sincerely’s endorsement, and the rating: ‘A MUST READ FOR EVERY EDUCATED AFRICAN’? And while we’re still at it, who is Esther Dyson, and why are her views on the future development and governance of the internet important, or otherwise? What is EDVentures? What about Release 1.0? Is Y.S. an agent (paid maybe?) of father and daughter, an accomplice in a conspiracy to cause uproar or is he just dropping names and showing off? What are the imperatives for Ghana’s government? Is having a Ministry of Communication not enough? Do names and titles change anything? What is e-governance, and why is it important for the nation to have a national website as functional in capabilities, as user-focused, as rich in links to external sites, as rich in external links (while maintaining precision and relevance), and as up-to-date in content as those of Finland, India, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia and the US are? Who is Shri Pramod Mahajan? Why does India need an IT minister? To show off to the rest of the world? What is teledemocracy, and what do we mean by the expression ‘information society’? Must Ghanaians citizens have a right to get access to public information? How much public information, if yes? And what degree of access, again if any? Must Ghana have an (information) security infrastructure? Does the nation need to undertake a reevaluation of her IT policy , and if so how often? Does the majority of Ghanaians know the value in having Africa’s only representative on the internet’s governing body, the ICANN as their compatriot? Is the country leveraging this asset to the fullest? What of the fact that a Ghana-born Vice President of a major (US$ 4 bn global sales in 1997) international telecommunications company has been selected by the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) to its Technological Advisory Committee (TAC) and Federal Advisory Committee (FAC), comprising several well-known communications technology industry experts? What types of persons are needed to guide the country to success in IT in the twenty-first century? Will it take their Capabilities (know-how), Contacts (including the willingness to engage in Networking, and acceptability to other groups for networking to be effective) and Capital (intellectual, of course) to do such a job? And how many Ghanaians appreciate the difficult conditions under which certain bodies including the 26-member Ghana National Committee on Internet Connectivity (GNCIC), Ghana Internet Society, and Ghana INFODEV (Information Development Committee), to name but just a few, and a number of individuals, all have labored to bring internet connectivity in Ghana to its current level? Several others are working to achieve noble goals, including enabling distance education for development. What of the NGOs, Ghana-based and foreign-based, such as the Illinois, US-based GHACLAD? Let us not forget the numerous individuals and private firms that have successfully launched and operated homepages and websites offering all who have access a chance to communicate, through the exchange of information per the medium of the internet? Most of you may have heard that we are living in the information age, but what exactly are the implications of this claim? What is data? What is knowledge? What is service? What is data mining? What is information, and how does one measure the value of any bit of information? And what “value” is meant anyway? A ‘technical’ (information theory) approach might consider the probability of the event and other factors, whereas financial ‘value’ emphasizes the added financial gain that the information brings as compared to the next best alternative (what the financial stand of the entity might be without the particular information in question). And can any metrics (traditional measures of performance) be adopted to make knowledge-based strategies meaningful? What is intellectual capital? What is the knowledge-value added framework (KVA ), and how can it change your firm’s bottom line? Back to School with E-Learning, or Is The Internet A Network of Computers? Please note that the promise of not seeking to provide hard and fast solutions to the questions raised was not an empty one, although it is now time to take a closer look at the issues. Why not begin with e-learning? Fine. The term e-learning has been coined to refer to the use of the internet (and other digital media) to facilitate instruction, e.g. making files available online for use in teaching courses at schools, enterprises or other forms of organizations, including public ones. In fact, we may define e-learning as technology-mediated learning as well as the electronically based intra-or interorganizational activities that facilitate such learning. Notice that the word ‘computer’ is missing from the definition. This is important: most people think the internet is a network of computer networks. Well, if you think of microwave ovens and refrigerators with microprocessors as computers, then no qualms. But if you want a more befitting definition of the internet, Y.S. proposes the following: ‘The internet is a network of all networks or devices that have an IP (IP stands for Internet Protocol), a means of connection (such as a modem or router) and the appropriate software (browser, etc.).’ Period. According to a document from CISCO, a leading network equipment manufacturer: ‘E-learning combines education, communication, information and training and is a core element of a successful e-business strategy.’ In addition, e-learning embraces knowledge management and performance measurement (the metrics). In one of its recent issues a highly regarded scientific journal devotes a whole section to ‘Trends in undergraduate education”. It reports that top European education officials had assembled in the same Prague castle that had inspired Frantz Kafka to deliberate on how they could make each country’s system of higher education more competitive in a global student market, without sacrificing quality. One participant noted: ‘We need to make our higher educational systems more attractive to students from elsewhere in Europe and around the world.’ E-learning is to be promoted, among other measures. The EU now has a computer literacy ‘driving license’, the so-called ECDL, or European Computer Driving License. According to an IDC (international Data Corporation) document , e-learning is rapidly growing in the US market, and branching out from its (e-learning’s) technology-oriented. In 2000 corporate e-learning in the US was dominated by IT skills improvement, which accounted for 76% of the market. It is projected that by 2005, the market will be focused on business skills and other non-IT skills, which together will account for 53.8% of the total market volume. But this is the case for an advanced economy such as that of the US, and in a sphere such as corporate e-learning, from which we are very far. Let us consider distance learning. In 2000, approximately 47% of US colleges offered some form of e-learning, according to the report. By 2004, that figure is expected to increase to about 90%. To Cisco CEO John Chambers E-learning the next big killer application for the internet. "Education over the internet is going to be so big it is going to make email usage look like a rounding error in terms of the internet capacity it will consume ," he says. Several benefits are expected. They include increased use of distance learning programs, increased enrollment, improved access to education, cuts in per-student costs, and accommodating student diversity. Can you pause for a moment to think of the benefits Ghana could derive? Think not only of the direct benefits (education) but also of the spillover benefits – health, employment, rural development, etc. But no one should think that introducing e-learning will be easy. E-learning is more than merely throwing computers into a few classrooms. Indeed, as Harvey Feldstein of the Australian Center for Learning Innovation noted last April: "The real solutions to the IT skills shortage are long term and will lie in reaching school students." He noted further "This will require energy, dedication and a commitment to a much higher quality of education than we currently enjoy. E-learning may help in the short term, but high-quality schools, well-paid teachers, and a serious redesign of our maths and science curricula are the only viable long-term solutions." The good thing about vast amount of information on the net however is that with careful planning and devotion it is not beyond any developing country seeking to build IT human resources capacity to be able to do so at greatly reduced cost. So even developed countries (such as Australia) have had to review their entire educational systems. Ghana cannot escape this: it is a known fact that the educational system is in shambles. The opportunity can be seized to accomplish the redesign with the parallel introduction of e-learning, though as noted earlier this will be a tall order. The goal must be to produce citizens with enough education (emphasis on IT) to survive in the digital world. James Dalziel, executive director of WebMCQ sees many viable parts of the online education market, all of which are large and untapped. "There is much debate about what the 'next big things' in e-business are," he says. "The most attractive 'next big thing' today is not the one with the largest market, but the one where few people yet realize its potential for the future. This stealth 'next big thing' is e-learning. Before continuing the discussion above, a short story dating back to 1990. Y.S. thought it might be a good idea to get his sister in Ghana a radio phone (no mobile or cellular phone: just the earlier one that only permitted the user to carry the handset about thirty meters away from the receiver). She was someone who spent most of her time outdoors in her home garden. After sharing the thought with a fellow Ghanaian, it dawned on yours sincerely that radiophones (of any type!) were forbidden, at least for ordinary citizens. The type yours sincerely had in mind was one of the most primitive, and cost less than US$ 30, with no sophisticated features or functional capabilities, but this did not seem to make any difference at all! Without any wish to belittle any nation, it must be pointed out that it was of Far East Asian manufacture. After a few more questions it became clear that the reason for the ban was the perception that these units could be used to plan and carry out coup d’etats! Why this story? Who has the right to make decisions on communications equipment and their effects on national security? It is true that as a result of the strenuous efforts of several forward-looking individuals and organizations the country was able to join the internet bandwagon earlier than several Sub-Saharan African countries. It is also true that the decision to support Noah Samara’s brilliant WORLDSPACE idea was another step that demonstrated foresight. Agreed, IT policies, projects and decisions are very complex in nature, and it is often difficult to get it right all the time. But would this not be the very reason why making such decisions should be entrusted to those competent enough to weigh as many considerations as possible, including the benefits in terms of ease of communication, against security interests? Who were behind decisions to ban video players and recorders in Tanzania? At least the late President Nyerere had the humility to publicly admit his failures later, after he had stepped down. Hopefully you are not asking what video recorders and the internet have to do with e-learning, but in case you have any doubts, please check the definition of e-learning again. What will the price of the decision to ban internet access be for ordinary citizens in Afghanistan? If children living in Afghanistan today (under such a ban) grow up in that same environment –you may hope the situation will change for the better, but face reality you must- grow to become competitive on the global job market? What of their (children’s) impact on national development? Is it possible to isolate yourself from the wind of change? Why not take advantage of the drift (read lift)? Today, e-learning is a highly developed sector of the IT industry, with leading players such as the Angus Group (Australia) controlling a global market estimated to be worth billions of dollars (US)! Can a nation aspiring to membership of the global IT community afford to neglect e-learning? More so if it is a developing country with an educational system in crisis? What are the major points to consider in the design of an e-learning policy? Will it be in the country’s interest for poor folks to be smart? What strategies exist, in the civilized wars of the new economy, where businesses constitute the battlefield rivals, for creating opportunities for social entrepreneurship to provide the impetus for transforming the neglected public schools? A Carat of Diamond but buried in a Crater full of Broken Glass? And finally of what use are all these excursions into fields as varied as those above? Well, you might prefer beginning with the abbreviations: PC as you know refers to the personal computer, the twentieth anniversary of whose birth the world recently celebrated. What is educommerce? What about the abbreviations SME, IT and MIT? Well, they refer to Small and Medium size Enterprises, Information Technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively. So what of Knowledge Management, Universal Net Access and Intranets? Knowledge management is the thrust of this section so we’ll begin the discussion with a consideration of its main principles. In the information age, you will need to have effective, systematic procedures of searching through the mounts of data (e.g. the billions of terabytes of data on the internet) in order to find the right information for you. In view of the vast amounts of data, information and other units forms communication striving for your attention, you also will need to know how much of your time to devote to each search. It is the task of effective knowledge management to help you solve these problems. This applies at every level – individual, organizational, and national levels. Today, thanks to the efforts of several individuals and organizations who identified the problem of the global ‘digital divide’ and proposed means for addressing the disparities, there are websites that provide help to governments and organizations from the developing world seeking to use IT for national development. The offer guidance on the aspects to focus on, and how to go about these in a more effective manner. Y.S even knows of a couple of websites that design and maintain websites for governments, including that of one of the leading industrial nations, for reasonable fees. Further, knowledge management assumes that as organizations (and society in general) develop they accumulate knowledge, and become more complex. In order for them to utilize this knowledge effectively mechanisms and procedures have to be in place for the acquisition, capture and processing of such knowledge into actionable results. It is the task of turning the knowledge gained into a competitive advantage through the execution of those actionable results that is the concern of organizations that adopt the notion of knowledge management. By ensuring connectivity between the various entities (individuals, divisions, units, etc.) the organization can create an awareness of the strength that keeps them all together. Knowledge based management sees the challenges in the knowledge-based economy as being threefold: a) To strive for knowledge efficiency, by organizing routine knowledge which is essential within the organization and avoiding such things as reinventing the wheel; b) To aim at achieving a greater degree of knowledge connectivity; and c) To recognize the need for knowledge innovation, through mechanisms such as knowledge exchange and updating. For sharing of knowledge must not be seen as relinquishing power. Also, knowledge management in the information age has taught us certain characteristics of the modern organization. These organizations, according to Ellis and Tissen are: 1. Totally process based, and the processes together form value chains. 2. Entirely team based. 3. Fully community based. A corollary to # 3 above is that the community is also a virtual team, although made up of real people. It is the challenges for knowledge management within these communities that were spelt out above. Think for a moment about how society (in Ghana or Africa for that matter) is organized. Who is poised to, (or should) benefit the most from knowledge management? Must the process be delayed? Will the costs be affordable? What are some of the possible ramifications of the technological transformation of what we know and call the information industry in the knowledge based era? Undoubtedly the scope of economic activity that results from the information industry is huge; but it is itself dwarfed by the enormous impact it has on every other significant sector of the economy. Consider the impact on health care delivery, education and rural development, not to talk of commercial activities and business in general. The combined result of the spectacular advances in the field of digital electronics and the changes now accompanying the move from narrowband information to broadband communications has caused a paradigm shift in the information industry. Along which lines must the new realignment of the broader information industry (resulting from the paradigm shift just mentioned) take place? Is the realignment necessary? Many believe that this realignment will occur along the lines of function and capability. Specifically, the players in the industry are predicted to reorganize themselves into the following three broad groups: a) Players involved in the creation and collection of diverse types of information content b) Players involved in the manufacture of a variety of information appliances c) Players organized to carry out various modes of information transport. The Romus and Romulus of Computing Why not continue –or reinforce the discussion started above- in a moment, but before then embark on yet another digression? Certain moments in life are hard to forget: the passage of time and the deterioration of human memory notwithstanding. To this special category of moments belongs an event that took place at the beginning of the 1979/80 academic year at the University of Ghana, Legon. Standing before a group, and obviously the focus of the group’s almost divine attention was a Ghana-born, US-trained electrical engineer who had completed his BS, MS, and Ph.D. in electrical engineering, all within the walls of Columbia University in New York. The stage was the Department of Computer Science of this ‘morsel-of –Stanford-in-Africa’ (Legon’s layout- to the discerning eye at least- is reminiscent of the ‘bigger sister’ in California). The setting was provided by an old English-School style furnished classroom, where the group (yours sincerely and his fellow freshmen), a dozen or so enthusiastic young men, had gathered to be initiated into the aristocratic discipline of Computer Science. Having heard facts and myths about the mightiness of the computer, all were pleased that at last there was going to be a real chance to both hear ‘the gospel’ and be able to address this omnipotent creature, a product of man's knowledge and vision, one-to-one. Perhaps the most notorious of the myths at that time was one that 'the' computer (as if only one computer existed in the world at the time!) had critically examined the question of God's existence and offered proof that this question had a negative answer. What a great disappointment this was to those among us with absolute faith in the almighty Father needs no further expounding on! The unmistakably intelligent-looking professor, hallmarked by his neatly groomed beard, the ubiquitous latest issue of the ‘ Transactions of the IEEE’ he held in his left hand, and the authentic gold-rimmed spectacles that provided the rest of the academic glitter, briefly introduced himself in his soft-spoken elite East Coast accent. Neither the stress with which the nasal articulation of the word ‘computer’ came from him nor the passion with which he implored us not to waste the taxpayer’s money would ever be forgotten. The latter was only his soft-spoken ‘rebuke’ whenever a student had cut classes or failed to grasp concepts he (professor) had laboriously gone through earlier. He had left an enviable job within the Network Planning Department of AT &T in the US for his forays into academia in Ghana at a time of obvious national political and economic woes (at least they were waiting to come). As for the word ‘computer’ it sounded in the ears of his charges as the name of Jesus resonates from a true believer’s tympanic membrane. He announced that in the course of the term (the university was then running the trimester system) the students were to complete an introductory course in computing (CS 101) as part of the required courses for the B.Sc. program in computer science, and that he would be the professor. He delivered a few pleasantries (no mention of Columbia or AT & T although his confidence as he stood before the class and delivered lectures and the authority and respect he commanded from other faculty immediately sent the right signals to everyone). And then, he handed to his charges the meticulously prepared (Columbia standard obviously!) course descriptions and outlines. He then began his lecture by telling the group that the science it had assembled to learn owed its rapid growth and development to the foundations laid by two theories. Not only did the twin goddesses of automata and switching theory reign supreme in computing, having provided the basic principles. They also served loyally as servants and guardian angels to the new discipline, running ever new errands and also leading the discipline to a number of important breakthroughs and applications, both within, and outside. To give the non-techie reader an idea of the workings and applications of both, yours sincerely will only recall what the professor said at the time. Automata theory is responsible for the operation of elevators –stopping at preselected floors, waiting for some time to allow passengers exit and enter, and then again moving on to any remaining destinations. According to an online dictionary of computing: ‘Automata theory, the invention and study of automata, includes the study of the capabilities and limitations of computing processes, the manner in which systems receive input, process it, and produce output, and the relationships between behavioural theories and the operation and use of automated devices.’ Gathering the knowledge that interpreting this set of instructions requires, the processing of such knowledge, and initiating action based upon it are all within the confines of automata. The simple machine (elevator’s brain) must be capable of receiving a call or request for service, determining the current position as well as the route to the destination. In addition it has to be capable of carrying out this series of simple, executable instructions, including stopping at floors and opening doors. Finally, being capable, whenever confronted with a new request, of finding the most feasible solution (path) out of a number (the rest would most likely be suboptimal) of options is the mainstay of automata theory. Of course for all that to happen someone must initiate action. The button you press to signal to the elevator that you want to move to the fifth floor -assuming you joined it at any other floor and wanted to get to the fifth - 'switches' or turns the elevator’s brain into 'action' mode. Switching theory is exactly what its name says. It concerns itself with devices (and changes of state within them), from simple ones; e.g. an ordinary circuit switch, to complex ones incorporating several switches. These devices may assume any of a finite (limited) number of states (usually one of two possible, in the case of a simple switching device, though theoretically there could be more complex designs with a number of possible states) at a given time. The device assumes one state or the other, depending on a set of parameters (e.g. in a traffic light system at any time just one of the lamps is on). In modern day automata theory so-called ‘pushdown automata’ refers to complex computing machines (or generally computational models) with the ability to recognize (read understand) less limiting, or context free instructions (languages), as opposed to the relatively ‘blunt’ elevator in our example. But such is the development of IT design. There were no IBM PCs (at least in Ghana) at the time, and things like PDAs (personal digital assistants), or laptops –all of which also run on the same underlying theory- were equally non-existent. A particularly interesting field of development in recent times is cellular automata, which is concerned with self-repeating computer generated graphics. Today, the fields of application of the results from both theories (automata and switching) are varied. They cut across fields ranging from the physical and life sciences (where they have been responsible for several breakthroughs in computer modeling and sequencing of DNA, itself a vital field of modern genetic engineering, especially in human genomics) to computing itself. There they are used in programming languages, compiler design, communication protocols (router design), and in other hardware design solutions. The New Era: Sleek, Smart, and Slim Servants called Routers or Is The Network The Computer? What will be the role of today’s manufacturers of computer hardware? Why are investors not content with the HP/Compaq merger? It is believed that today’s computer hardware industry will be relegated to the constricted role of suppliers of memory and processing capabilities to each of the three distinct groups outlined above. What are the implications for a developing country in Africa drawing out a national information technology strategy seeking to secure capacity building in the IT sector? Must the nation develop the capabilities to manufacture and supply routers? What are these routers, anyway? Are they some sophisticated space vehicles that are capable of propelling ancient man (Australopithecus Africanus) unto the planet Jupiter? Do they require tons of liquefied Hydrogen to fuel them? Or maybe they are sleek instruments the size of a slim rack-mounted personal hi-fi equalizer? What are these routers capable of? Are their capabilities any more than merely receiving and delivering messages? Maybe as part of their duties (the set of instructions they can understand and carry out) they can also ask if there are any new messages to send, having dealt with one packet. And what about asking whether their (routers’) neighbor somewhere is free (does not have a packet of messages waiting to be sent) and ‘nearer’ to the destination of a message at hand. If yes, what does a router do? Remember automata? So the initial router (if it has too many messages) can send ‘that’ message to the neighbor, and wait till the next request comes, again from another router? More explanation? Still not getting it? Don’t worry. Take a pencil and begin to draw. A router is a very ‘dumb’ machine (or device, if you will) capable of moving information across an internetwork (i.e. two or more networks of computers, though strictly speaking the networks could be made up of other devices) from a source to a destination. Consider two departments A and B of a big firm, or two villages in a district, if that makes it any easier. Now suppose each of these departments (villages) has a number of sections (households) A1, A2, A3,…, through A16 for department (village) A, and sections (households) B1, B2, B3, …, through B16 for department (village) B. Then assume both departments (villages) decide to communicate (they need not, but you just imagine living life in isolation for a second in the age of the international global village!). Suppose further that each department has a network consisting of 16 computers (a computer each for the sections or households). Now imagine one server, which serves to carry out certain communication functions (say e-mail) both within the section (between two individual computers or among any number of computers within the section) and also to allocate common resources (memory, etc.) among the other 16 computers. Then we have 2 computer networks. If the computers are not far from each other, then you may assume the networks are of the so-called local area network or LAN type. Let them be LAN A and LAN B. What happens if a message (say e-mail) is to be sent from a computer within one of these large groups (LAN A or LAN B) to another computer in the other large group? What happens if the two sections (households in different villages) speak different languages? How many languages must the ‘dumb’ messenger understand in order to successfully deliver messages? Must he or she have a way of checking if the message is delivered to the rightful recipient? And what about checking if the message were intact (no envelope dropped from the mailbag)? More Questions Why did Cisco, a company newly founded by Stanford graduate students suddenly become the darling of almost all technology investors, including the most respected investment banks and other institutional investors, including some of Wall Street’s finest fund managers over the period 1998-2000? What happened to Cisco shares later? Does that mean Ghana cannot be built by developing router (switch) manufacture capabilities? Why did Dell Computer Corporation decide to manufacture its own switches? Is Dell doing well today? What is the company’s strategy, and isn’t it true that the company ‘manufactures’ PC systems? Why did Intel introduce the ‘Intel Inside’ label, and insist that hardware manufacturers display this logo on the front panel of their hardware containing Intel components? Why the claim that Dell ‘manufactures’ PCs? What does the company do then, if it does not manufacture PCs? What secret has the company discovered, and why is it generally tipped to profit most from the HP/Compaq merger? Is it possible for companies to ‘manufacture’ business processes? What are ‘business processes’ in the knowledge economy? What is the value chain? Why is it important to study it for any industry, product line, or service, and to identify opportunities an organization can cash in on? Must interconnectivity begin with tools and technology or with people who desire to connect and share? Can you impose networking on people or they (people, i.e. members of the group) must have compelling reasons to share and must find others also willing to share when approached, for interconnectivity to take place and be meaningful? And so what does knowledge-based strategies begin with: strategy or knowledge? In the digital age what sources of competitive advantage are most important? Do geographic boundaries matter? Why do companies claim to be operating ‘24x7x365’ shops? The Diaspora, The Diaspora, and Again The Diaspora The professor the story above introduced to you is by no means the only personality to have done so much for computing in Ghana. By the way, he also founded a professional group, the Ghana Computing Society. But Y.S. happens to have benefited from the short period of interaction with him, and as you may realize, insights offered by real experts remain a trustworthy source of guidance and inspiration for a lifetime. Nevertheless, the tremendous work done (and in most cases still continuing) by other Pioneers – Professor F.K. Allottey, Dr. Nii Quaynor, and bodies such as GNCIC, Ghana Internet Society, among others, cannot be denied. Y.S. regrets to not have had the opportunity of meeting most of them, but the internet offers an effective medium for keeping up with the good work they continue to do. They deserve commendation for their ability to cope in the face of difficult circumstances. It is also fact that several nations that have gone the path that Ghana now seeks to take have utilized the resources of their émigré communities (especially those in the US): both the intellectual and financial capital. In the knowledge economy where more and more government agencies are run like businesses, the importance of reaping the benefits –easy access to capital (financial and intellectual) can hardly be ignored. There are several Ghana-born prominent professors (including recognized leaders in neuromorphic engineering, a field in neural networks), industry experts (including the professor reminded of in the story). There is also a growing number of specialists and entrepreneurs in the US alone, not to mention the hundreds elsewhere, in the global IT industry. Some, such as the professor, have advised the UN on information and communications infrastructure strategy concepts for developing countries, and it will be tragic to neglect their expertise and contacts. You also may be proud of the fact that another compatriot is a world-renowned inventor and leading expert in the field of advanced materials for high-speed communication In Lieu of A Conclusion, or Quo Vadis? Looking for main points to take home from the discussion (hopefully no monologue)? People come first, not technology. It is all about equipping people to reap benefits resulting from the competitive advantage they gain out of being capable of learning more useful concepts, and doing so faster. What it takes to change that is the IT infrastructure and architecture, in concert with the right strategy, itself dictated by the desired goals and a good understanding of the elements of the knowledge economy. It is all about empowering people with technology. How to choose the right technology? Oh, thought the discussion on that just closed, but don’t worry. Well, you need to know how ‘to ride the wave’. Which wave? Remember the ‘dumb’ machines and devices considered under automata and switching theory? Are they that dumb? So do you realize the importance of ‘knowledgeable messengers’? Cisco makes its money because its founders realized the value to be derived from making significant improvements (in design and algorithms) to networking equipment and devices –hubs, switches, routers, cable modems, and DSL technology. The company realized that the sate of networks in the seventies – fairly simple, homogenous environments- created room for business opportunities, and it (company) seized those opportunities. Above all, CISCO realized the importance of large-scale networking in the information economy, and with the ‘demilitarization’ of ARPANET (US Department of Defense’s forerunner to the internet) the company was well poised for the bumper harvest. It took good preparation and proper solutions, though, to win! In the hard world of digital competition, it takes only the right choices to succeed, and to do so, it is imperative to have strategies built on a thorough understanding of the principles of strategic choice in the knowledge economy. What are some of these principles? What are the dimensions of decision processes in the information age? What orientation must the decisions have? How must the decision architecture be in order to be that which is most appropriate under given circumstances? How should the communication flows be organized? What are the dimensions of knowledge development in the digital age? What is value chain management? What is the concept of ‘deconstruction of value chains’ and what are some of its implications for achieving competitive advantage? As value chains fragment and reconfigure, will new opportunities arise for physical product businesses? Who was in charge of Harris’ repositioning, how did he do it, and can he do similar things for his country? What is meant by customers’ switching costs dropping? And what new ways exists for companies to generate customer loyalty in the face of low switching costs? Must you choose between Windows and Linux? Or you agree with Shakespeare that variety is the spice of life? What are disruptive innovations or technologies? Which network connection technology will be more appropriate for Ghana: modem, ISDN, ADSL, cable or powerline (data and communication over the electric power cable)? What of the connection medium: copper, optic fiber or wireless? Will the proliferation of the local (Ghanaian) IT market with ‘junk’ equipment such as outdated computers and peripherals hastily assembled by laypersons -without any IT knowledge, but probably with no harm in mind and perhaps, just a desire to make some money, and ‘help’ their motherland develop- be beneficial in the final analysis? Who will pay for the ‘cleaning up’? Is it easy –granting feasibility- to build heterogeneous computing environments with heavily outdated and outmoded IT components? Are standards important in information and communication equipment? What is network economics, and what are some of its teachings? What is meant by each of the terms positive externalities, network effect, up-front costs, lock-in, customer groove-in, increasing returns to scale and standardization? Do you want to participate in any discussion of IT that fails to include a mention of Moore’s Law? Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, predicted (in 1965) that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit (IC) would double every 18 months. Although he forecast that this trend would continue till 1975, it has continued to hold to date. A corollary to Moore’s Law is that the cost of computer processing power (in terms of how much you pay per unit of processing power) doubles every 18 months. What are its implications for all- from public IT policy makers, through IT professionals and businesses –both in software and hardware, to consumers? It may be totally impossible to attempt to foresee what the next big thing will be, but if one thing is clear, it is that in this age of knowledge management it is people who come first, not technology. But if you will allow Y.S. a guess, he might say ‘the next big thing is two things’, and these are already around the corner: e-learning, especially knowledge networks, and the neural network computer. What will it take to succeed? Well, in the information age, time is in itself one of the most valuable sources of competitive advantage. The process that has been commenced with the announcement of the Information Technology and Communications (ITC) policy is a noble and ambitious one. It must be pursued with the speed (see previous statement), caution (failed IT policies can be very costly), dedication (in the internet age where markets are open on a 24x7x365 basis there is the need for continuos and continuing monitoring) and transparency (perhaps the cheapest way of fighting corruption and other ill-effects of asymmetrical information is to make much more information more accessible) needed to ensure success. If reading this article has caused you to enter several terms into your favorite search engine ’s dialogue box, or even caused you to grab your old-fashioned but trusted encyclopedia on pulp medium, do not worry, for all of us are in this fight. Rest assured that you definitely are not alone, and that this must be an ongoing process to join Bagehot, the founding editor of the Economist newsmagazine, in what he called ‘a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress’. And if the excursions to the fundamental concepts of modern organizational management (needed to understand the information age) have incurred your displeasure, do forgive Y.S. Neither he (nor organizational management) is to be blamed: rather blame the information age and its not so simple character, impossible to describe without notions from computer science, information theory, and game theory, among others. Also forgive Y.S. if he failed to include your own field. You are the professional, and at least, having thought about it is a good sign: it shows how IT affects almost every sphere of human activity. The good thing is your motherland abounds in true experts in those fields, and probably with their help and involvement ordinary folks (including the children of today and tomorrow) like you and Y.S would grasp these and even more complicated concepts better. Have you asked yourself what this article has in common with the California Power Crisis (or if you prefer its domestic sibling in Ghana): it raises more questions than answers. But even more, it is enigmatically, also true. Hopefully you the reader would continue the reasoning and come up with clues that lead to a solution to the question still staring at Y.S. from the green board: DOES GHANA NEED AN IT MINISTER? Do you ask yourself the same question? How often? Is it the right question? Could you possibly help Y.S.? Who are Dr. Kwame A. Boakye and Mrs. Christine Kisiedu?

Bonsu Kyeretwie
Bonsu Kyeretwie, © 2001

The author has 4 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: BonsuKyeretwie

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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