Smart Thailand faces adoption, skilled labor roadblocks

Thailand's IT roadmap to enhance its ICT infrastructure and e-government services is going well, but lack of skilled professionals and buy-in among civil servants may hamper its progress.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Thailand has made good progress in getting its Smart Thailand IT roadmap off the ground, but it will face challenges in getting civil servants to use the government cloud (G-Cloud), citizens to embrace e-government initiatives, and having enough tech professionals to develop the country's infrastructure.

Thai news site The Nation reported in February 2012 detailing the roadmap, saying it comprises of two parts--readying the country's ICT infrastructure, and preparing the rollout of government services. Smart Thailand is part of the broader national ICT framework called "ICT2020", which aims to lead and guide all parts of the economy, especially the government sector, to progress with ICT adoption.

Thailand's IT roadmap to enhance its ICT infrastructure and e-government services is going well, but lack of skilled professionals and buy-in among civil servants may hamper its progress.

Serene Chan, industry analyst for Asia-Pacific ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, added Smart Thailand will promote the use of ICT for businesses and consumers, reduce the digital divide in rural areas and enhance the government's efficiency.

To that end, the government has made "notable efforts" to meet these objectives, such as by distributing 1 million tablet devices to students and having 30 government agencies adopt the use of cloud computing by end-2012, Chan pointed out.

"Both aspects mark a positive start for deeper penetration because for any ICT initiative to take off, increasing the adoption [of technology] is always the first step," she said.

It had also implemented more than 100,000 Wi-Fi access points across the country as part of its free Wi-Fi project, exceeding its target of 40,000 access points for 2012, noted Neeranuch Kanokvilairat. The senior telecommunications analyst at IDC Thailand told ZD this is a "commendable" achievement.

Adoption, lack of expertise challenges ahead
Despite the promising beginning, Chan said there will be roadblocks ahead for the government to achieve its Smart Thailand goals.

For instance, once government agencies migrate to the G-Cloud, various information systems will be integrated to facilitate the collaboration and sharing of data across the different units. This may result in a "significant amount of resistance" from civil servants, she noted.

At the same time, policies revolving data privacy, governance and ownership must be set, the analyst said. This means internal processes will have to be digitized and historical records must be converted into digital formats, and this will require a re-engineering of operational processes, she highlighted.

On the citizens' end, Chan said getting them to use the e-government platform for information and transaction purposes will be a challenge since awareness, education and incentives have to be given to encourage adoption. Without additional resources committed to educate the local populace, people will continue to use the existing manual alternative, she added.

The country is also lacking in IT professionals, noted Kanokvilairat. This shortfall in skilled workers will be felt as the government makes improvements on the national infrastructure, which includes Internet connectivity and an efficient 3G network, the analyst said.

He added it would be challenging to foster seamless cooperation among state agencies to offer relevant services to the public, as well as creating an alert system for officials to respond in a timely manner to citizens' questions.

With regard to the <ahref="https://www.zdnet.com/th/thailand-nets-1-4b-from-3g-auction-7000005903/">country's recent entry into the 3G scene, Chan noted Thailand had been one of the first countries in Asia-Pacific to declare its interest in adopting the wireless technology 10 years ago. However, because the telecom sector is "politically charged", this delayed policy setting and implementation, she explained.

As a result, domestic operators have not been able to progress as fast as their counterparts in Japan or South Koreain rolling out new services competitively, she said.

"This hampers mass adoption, proliferation, competitiveness and the development of local content, which are important aspects in getting people to use IT on a personal and business level," Chan said.

Set deadlines for e-services
To address the challenges related to G-Cloud adoption, she said the government can set timelines for agencies to rollout their e-service initiatives. For instance, agencies can plan for these online services to be introduced over a few phases. They can also collaborate to draft policies and procedures on data sharing across agencies, she said.

Government agencies can also be supported with programs which generate awareness and provide avenues to seek technical advice, she added.

As for the lack of skilled IT professionals, the government can collaborate with local tertiary institutes in ensuring graduates emerge with the right skillsets to support the development of the industry, she said.

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