Four Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Big Development Breakthroughs

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1 Four Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Big Development Breakthroughs A new generation of digital breakthroughs holds the potential to deliver important social benefits, but only if we adopt technology in new and different ways. By Sara Agarwal & Parag Khanna The future ubiquity of mobile communications and the Internet offers a critical platform for economic growth, social equity, and massive advances in the way education, healthcare, and other public goods are delivered if developing countries can bridge the digital divide. International Data Corporation predicts worldwide ICT spending will grow to more than $3.8 trillion in 2015, with spending in emerging markets growing at a clip of 7.1 percent. The World Bank, other donors, NGOs, companies, and industry coalitions are collaborating through the Information Communication Technologies for Development initiative known as ICT4D, to help countries leapfrog to the latest or next technology standards. But four key technologies already exist to improve services including healthcare, education and transportation. To really maximize the social benefits of new investments and partnerships in ICT, developing country strategies need to focus on how to make the best use of these existing tools and services and innovate the way those technologies are adopted. Reforming procurement, mainstreaming technologies across programming, building local workforce skills, and deploying innovating financing are all critical ways to make leapfrogging in ICTs a sustainable reality. Four Technologies with Big Development Potential: Cloud, Social, Big Data and 3D Cloud Computing With cloud products, low-income countries can standardize and digitize basic services such as document and workflow management in a wide variety of settings, while outsourcing more complicated processes. By tapping into shared infrastructure, governments can shift from the sunk costs of capital expenditure to the adaptable costs of operational expenditure, thereby paying for only the services they subscribe to and consume. Spending can focus on leasing or licensing technologies rather than acquiring expensive hardware and backend systems that cost more upfront and require skilled technicians to maintain.

2 In the Indian state of Karanataka, Hewlett Packard s eprocurement System now handles the full contracting process in a single online portal that reduces the potential for corruption and cut the selection period from four months to one and a half months. In Turkey, where each municipality is responsible for its own public transportation, transport software company Kentkart deployed a cloud-based real-time General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) system that allows all passengers with smartphones to view the live location and arrival times of buses and metros. Social Computing Real-time communications and postings on social media comprise a vast set of data that can be analyzed to provide early warnings on critical public concerns. Twitter feeds have provided indications of impending food shortages. Applications such as Google Flu Trends analyze search terms to estimate and geo-locate flu outbreaks, enabling governments to improve delivery of flu vaccines. Social connections can also enable the crowdsourcing of key data such as volunteer-based mapping to monitor deforestation or assess damage from natural disasters. Big Data Big Data goes beyond social computing to interrelate and find correlations among data. Beyond achieving efficiencies through cloud computing, big data informs decision-making processes to help countries optimize policy and social welfare.

3 In Abijan, Ivory Coast, Orange Telecom launched a program called Data for Development that used 15 million anonymized mobile phone call data-points to correlate commuting patterns to public transportation schedules. The results were used to redraw the city s major bus routes, reducing congestion and cutting commuting time. GE s new artificial intelligence software is being deployed in India. The software uses historical geo-location data to predict disease risk, which can help determine where to best locate future hospitals. 3D Printing One of the most exciting new areas of technological innovation with profound implications for developing countries is 3D printing (formally known as additive manufacturing), which allows geometrically complex objects to be fabricated using 3D model data and material printing devices. 3D printed matter can be used to make everything from product prototypes to replacement parts for industrial appliances. Small-scale manufacturers and entrepreneurs can now produce items that would previously have required a much larger upfront investment. TED fellow Marcin Jakubowski recently launched the Global Village Starter Kit that collects blueprint and designs for agricultural tools that can be 3D printed and used by farmers wherever the kit is deployed, reducing the cost and time required to replace worn or broken tools. In basic healthcare, 3D printers are being used to make hearing aids, enabling large-scale treatment of hearing loss at more affordable prices. Overcoming Hurdles to Adoption Developing country governments are under pressure to improve public sector service delivery amidst resource and capacity constraints. Breakthroughs in low-cost, high impact technologies can bridge market failures in infrastructure provision, enable more effective and equitable provision of education and healthcare, and create new models for reaching the poorest citizens. These digital breakthroughs hold the potential to deliver important social benefits, but only if we innovate how new technologies are adopted. What then can be done to accelerate the adoption of these technologies across societies in emerging markets? MODERNIZE PROCUREMENT APPROACHES: The World Bank recently tendered a request for 3500 computers for the Ukrainian government. But after consultation with the private sector, the government decided a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) offered a better and more cost-effective option by substituting for in-house data service centers. The World Bank s existing procurement

4 rules, however, did not allow for this switch to this system. A two-part procurement process inviting feedback on the tender to determine the best solution prior to the second phase of actual procurement would help bring innovation into future procurement processes. CROSS-FERTILIZE ICT SOLUTIONS INTO DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMING: Donors tend to stovepipe technology programs, missing opportunities to mainstream low-cost ICT across programs, which would spread the benefits of these new breakthroughs. society and share insights with their national clients. This is a good first step, but such practices must reside within developing country governments themselves as well. With donor support, governments can set up innovation officers whose main duty is to spread innovative solutions across public services areas. The World Bank has launched an Open Development Technology Alliance to leverage the broad base of ICT knowledge residing in companies, governments, academia and civil ENHANCE WORKER TRAINING IN ICTS: Fully leveraging the benefits of new technologies requires training people in the management of operation of IT systems, analytics, and engineering. Investment in vocational education that links learning institutions to the labor market is especially relevant in developing countries. The private sector can play a critical role in spurring the creation of more market relevant educational modes. ADOPT BLENDED FUNDING MODELS: The challenge of financing the adoption of innovative technologies can be addressed through blended funding models that deliver both economic and social returns. Business sales to governments could incorporate pay-per-use models that require little to no upfront government investment, if backed by development organizations willing to absorb some of the risk. Even the more expensive featured technologies such as cloud computing can incorporate these approaches. Impact bonds are a new model in which private entities (whether companies or foundations) invest in complex technologies aimed at broad social benefit, and collect financial returns from governments and donors when the results are demonstrated. HOW TO GET FROM HERE TO THERE

5 The private sector is deploying a wide variety of approaches to spur economic development through widespread access and adoption of ICTs, from Microsoft s 4Afrika Initiative to Cisco s Networking Academies, to HP s eprocurement Systems that enable e-government offerings at low cost. Hardware and software breakthroughs such as the four discussed here make it possible for developing countries to switch to a more modular and cost-effective strategy for leveraging technology for development. But effective adoption of this spectrum of technologies in developing countries will require an all-of-the-above approach including innovative approaches to procurement, integration of technologies into development programming, education to enhance market-driven ICT skills, and long-term financial models. If the stakeholders collaborating in the ICT4D focus on advancing these approaches, developing countries can indeed catch-up and keep pace with global technology standards. About the Authors: Sara Agarwal is Director for International Finance Organizations at Hewlett Packard. She has worked for Microsoft in Africa and at the African Development Bank Parag Khanna is Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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