Do you feel elated that Qatar has moved 5 places up to be the 25th most networked ready-nations in the world? Before you answer, remember that this piece of news is based on hard facts gathered and analyzed by the Global Information and Technology Report 2010-2011. Honestly, being ranked 25th out of 138 developed and developing countries in the world is not an easy task but we have made it out of sheer will and sweat. But is this ranking enough for us to sit still and gloat about our achievement?
Recently ictQATAR released Qatar’s ICT Landscape Report 2011 too and the findings, not surprisingly reflect those of the GITR 2011. The report showcases strong growth in overall ICT usage and penetration rates. It found that increasing number of households is now connected. It also found a fantastic array of penetration of computers, mobile phones, Internet, and broadband connectivity. But at the same time the figures also show that there is much that can be done by SMEs in the country to adopt technology to enhance their online business.
Figures for companies that have online business are really dismal. So are the figures for online transactions by consumers. It’s a vicious cycle if you ask me. No online consumers, so SMEs don’t feel any pressure to buck-up their online presence or facilities. And vice versa. Would you buy something online if there were reliable, dependable options available? I would.
Having said that it seems like we are on the right track to boost our rankings in the future. It’s encouraging to see that the relevant agencies and organizations are already addressing some of the concerns. Earlier, Gulf Times and other newspapers carried a report about Qtel‘s breakthrough research into the growth of SMEs. The study which looks into Qatar’s commercial environment shows that 60% of companies are looking to invest in services that support a high quality of customer service. For customer acquisition and retention, Qtel is working with many local companies to provide wireless Internet hotspot access, which can help generate an increased speed of 50% per customer on average in restaurants and cafes where the Internet is available. These steps, to me, will help us forge ahead.
Then there is the question of real penetration among the transient population of Qatar – the blue collar workers. Again, there are individuals and organizations that are mapping out strategies to bridge existing gaps to provide the right technology and skills to bring ICT to this huge proportion of Qatar’s population. What are the main needs or requirements of the transient workforce here? The two main needs are related to their families back home in their countries of origin – sending them money and communicating to them regularly.
Another comprehensive study by Social & Economic Survey Research Institute titled – Migrant Labor Workers in Qatar: Demographic Profile, Employment and Working Conditions, Remittances, Quality of Life and Future Outlook – has some figures that should inspire us to take initiative. The study shows that only 36% of the migrant population uses bank transfers to send money back home. There is a huge potential here to entice the rest of the workers to use technology to do the same.
Vodafone Qatar has already initiated a mobile money transfer app for workers in Qatar. Called, Vodafone Money Transfer, this app allows workers to load money onto their phone and then send it to their families anywhere in the world.
ictQATAR is embarking on a collaborative initiative that could give the much-needed push to improve our rankings. Patsy Quinn, E-Inclusion Section Manager in ICT & Society division of ictQATAR elaborates, “This initiative would engage low skilled, migrant workers, residing in labor camps with limited access to technology, content or services, low skills, low levels of literacy, through partnership with one or more employers in Qatar and provide them with support to communicate with their families, engage with online services and develop financial and digital literacy.”
So how can we up the ante and move the nation higher up in the ranking? We as the people, business owners, entrepreneurs, and youth of the country must fully integrate the use of ICT among individuals and institutions. We need to leverage the three fundamental characteristics of ICT:
- its ability to spread across all economic sectors;
- its ability to constantly improve over time; and
- its ability to facilitate new approaches and solutions
Once we have ensured that the above are done, there is no stopping Qatar from reaching the top. If Singapore could do it, so can we.