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Infrastructure, skills holding back SEA government ICT adoption

Lack of skills and inadequate infrastructure support are among the biggest barriers Southeast Asian governments face in adopting new technology, reveals survey.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Inadequate ICT infrastructure and the lack of skills are among the biggest barriers governments in Southeast Asia face when it comes to the adoption of new technology.

Some 46 percent of respondents from the government sector pointed to staff ability and skills as the top obstacle in the adoption of ICT in the public sector, according to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Commissioned by Microsoft, the study polled 150 senior managers each from the public sector and the private technology sector.

A further 37 percent of government respondents cited funding and affordability as a barrier, while 36 percent pointed to organisational ICT infrastructure such as bandwidth, speed, and connectivity.

The lack of robust ICT infrastructure, though, was most cited among respondents in the private technology community as a top obstacle of government ICT adoption. This was followed by staff skills, highlighted by 32 percent of private technology respondents, and the lack of technology standards (28 percent).

Inadequate ICT infrastructure was deemed a bigger problem in some countries than in others, according to the report. In Singapore, for instance, only 12 percent of respondents highlighted this as a concern, while 58 percent of their counterparts in Indonesia and 55 percent in the Philippines thought likewise.

This was due, in part, to "the uneven development of affordable broadband infrastructure", which facilitated faster delivery of advanced services such as e-health and e-education, the report said, noting that "first-mile" broadband infrastructure in Indonesia, for instance, was expected to reach all the country's regions by end-2016.

Ilham Habibie, chairman of the Indonesian National ICT Council, however, noted: "It is a fallacy to believe we have actually covered Indonesia as there remains the challenge of connecting everyone.

"We have yet to connect the last-mile, meaning, offices and hospitals that use lots of data to conduct, for example, tele-medicine," said Habibie, who was among several government-sector senior managers interviewed for the EIU study.

Not surprising then that only 25 percent of respondents across the board believed their country was well-prepared for cloud computing in the public sector, according to the report. It noted that cybersecurity ranked low on the list, with just 16 percent of all respondents highlighting this as a challenge. Such concerns could have been mitigated with the deployment of private clouds, which helped isolate sensitive information from public clouds, according to the report.

Richard Moya, CIO at the Philippines Department of Budget and Management, explained that security was not a major concern because most data were already publicly available. Sensitive information including those related to national security and private data should not be put in the public cloud, added Moya.

Charles Ross, editor of the report, said: "Organisational challenges have overtaken security concerns for governments in Southeast Asia as they seek to deliver more and more services digitally. Governments in the region have an opportunity to stand at the forefront of smart-government development, but only if it addresses real challenges related to employee and citizen ICT skills, and insufficient infrastructure."

Skills development would be essential to support the development of "smart societies" and ensure local products could be built to address local challenges, the report noted, adding that this was an area many Southeast Asian countries still struggled with.

"The lack of human resources is a big barrier," said Ilham Habibie, chairman of the Indonesian National ICT Council. "Technology cannot be implemented by itself. In other words, people, processes, and ICT together lead to high effectiveness."

Unwillingness to share data

The EIU report also highlighted the reluctance as well as lack of ability to share data across government agencies as an obstacle to this sector's adoption of ICT.

Bambang Heru Tjahjono, director-general for informatics applications at the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information (KOMINFO), pointed to the need for coordination and communication between government institutions.

Poon King Wang, director of theLeeKuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), also highlighted the challenge of enabling different datasets to work together in terms of standardisation and interoperability.

The report noted that a lack of agreement on common data formats, for instance, could have a negative impact on cloud initiatives that needed common systems and databases to succeed.

Louis Casambre, ICT executive director for the Department on Science and Technology in the Philippines, said: "Siloed legacy systems that can't communicate with each other are a major challenge. The public sector must take a 'whole-of- government' approach because citizens just want government services and don't care which government organisation is offering it."

Surprisingly, though, only 20 percent of respondents in Singapore--which was among global leaders in ICT adoption and development--believed the government was "very effective" at implementing new technologies. In comparison, 57 percent of their peers in Indonesia and 40 percent in the Philippines thought likewise.

Across the region, 33 percent believed their government was effective at implementing new technologies.

According to the EIU report, the surprising finding indicated the challenge of meeting the needs of a tech-savvy population."Singaporeans, long used to near-unlimited internet access and robust services, likely have far higher expectations of their government than users in less-developed markets, for whom mere connectivity is often a major leap forward," it noted.

Chan Cheow Hoe, Government CIO at the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, explained: "People in Singapore are sophisticated at using e-services and expect more from the services. The challenge going forward is that all the basic work has been done and we have to meet greater expectations."

Asked to highlight the most important technology trend for organisations, 37 percent across the region pointed to cloud computing, while 27 percent cited big data and analytics and 25 percent said Internet of Things.

Moya noted: "At present, cloud computing and cloud hosting are number one. Cloud is important because it enables us to deploy systems quickly, allows us to test systems early, and lets us offer online services to the public 24 by 7 without having to increase personnel and resources."

Overall, 90 percent agreed the greater use of cloud by the public sector would improve efficiency.

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