READY FOR A CONNECTED FUTURE
POWERED BY VISION, QATAR'S FORWARDTHINKING ICT STRATEGY IS PROPELLING THE COUNTRY INTO THE HYPER-CONNECTED DIGITAL ERA, CREATING A SOLID FOUNDATION UPON WHICH TO BUILD A KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY.
There couldn’t have been a better time this year to cast a spotlight on the country’s burgeoning ICT sector. As Doha gears up for QITCOM 2014, which is back after a hiatus, heartening news reaches our shores. World Economic Forum’s Global Information and Technology Report 2014 was published recently and Qatar’s commitment to bringing the power of information and connectivity to each and every individual and organisation within its borders has been validated in its pages.
The most striking of the evaluations presented in the report are those that highlight the government’s push to help permeate good and cutting-edge ICT practices across various sectors, both vertically and horizontally. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of ictQATAR and HE Sheikha Dr Hessa Al Jaber, Qatar ranks first among the Arab states and 23rd globally (out of 144 countries) in the Networked Readiness Index. This index examines how prepared countries are to fully exploit the opportunities offered by the digital age in three areas: general business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT; readiness of government, individuals, and businesses to use and benefit from ICT; and the actual societal, environmental and economic impact of ICTs.
Qatar scored very highly on several factors like the government procurement of advanced technology (and how these decisions foster innovation) in which it ranks first globally, the effectiveness of law-making bodies (in which it ranks third after Singapore and Finland), mobile network coverage (Rank 1) and the laws relating to ICT relating to e-commerce, digital signatures, consumer protection, etc. in which it ranks 6.
According to the report, “Qatar remains stable at 23rd place and leads the rankings in the Arab world. In the past year, the country has continued to improve and upgrade its ICT infrastructure and uptake, thanks to a decisive effort led by the government’s strong vision that has identified ICT as one of the key industries that will diversify the local economy and boost the productivity of all sectors. Qatar is among the top 10 in the world in terms of Internet users and households having access to a computer and Internet connection, which has become almost universal and has helped to achieve very high social impacts. Economic impacts, while improving, could be higher. Technological innovation remains modest, and just a quarter of its population is employed in knowledge-intensive jobs. Continuing to address some of the weaknesses in its innovation system, which is quickly evolving and strengthening, would result in a higher technological potential.”
Recognising this, HE Dr Al Jaber said in a statement that “as we shift to a knowledge-based economy, much work remains to be done, including implementing the National Broadband Plan, accelerating our e-government efforts, supporting an open and competitive ICT sector, enhancing our cyber security and safety, and empowering our people with the ICT skills to thrive in the digital world.”
Nevertheless, the report serves as a great preamble to kick start the third edition of QITCOM, which will run between May 26 and 28 at the Qatar National Convention Center. The first event since the new Ministry of Information and Communication was established, QITCOM 2014, hosted under the theme ‘Innovating Today for the Future of Qatar’, will feature keynote speeches, talks and panels from global thought-leaders, scholars, businessmen and academics, in addition to exhibitors introducing the attendees to the next generation era of ICT-led innovation. Several signature events like the Innovation Theatre, Appathon, B2B Matchmaking, Tech Zone and more are in the offing, but more details on speakers and panelists have yet to be revealed as
we go to print.
But Rinal Chaaban, Manager of QITCOM did announce to the press recently that “more than 80% of the space dedicated to the exhibition has been booked. “We anticipated from the very beginning that QITCOM 2014 would achieve exponential growth and we feel even more optimistic now that the exhibition space is more than 80% booked,” she said.
The hope is that efforts like these will trickle down to the bottom to drive more investment from the private sector into tech ventures. Given the country’s excellent ICT credentials and infrastructure, the concentration of world-class institutions and the natural drive of its citizens towards creating a business from scratch, the country ought be a fertile breeding group for technology companies. There is a concentrated effort by entrepreneur groups and incubation centres to change the traditional mindset around investments in the country and open people’s eyes to the risks and rewards of putting your money on an idea. Investment arms of many banks and venture capital firms are thinking about or have already started to allot funds specifically for ICT-related business ideas, though at the moment their major gripe is about lack of entrepreneurial experience in the country.
As the first generation of tech entrepreneurs start and sell successful ventures, they will be able to act as mentors to the next cohort, aiding them with their unique perspective on creating a thriving tech business in the Middle East. In our educational institutions the accent on entrepreneurship is obvious. Business plan competitions, career fairs, startup weeks – these kinds of events are beginning to see more participation and enthusiasm from youngsters brimming with ideas and know-how. In the meantime, the government and private players must continue to nurture this talent while encouraging and supporting the first crop of entrepreneurs, for they are the springboard to the tech revolution