Not Yet A Network-Ready Nation

In the news-packed past few weeks, an IT report from the World
Economic Forum was largely ignored in India.

The WEF’s Global Information Technology Report is an annual
survey of over 100 countries’ ‘networked readiness index’. It benchmarks
countries on their national ICT strengths and weaknesses, adding up three
indices that measure ICT environment, readiness of key stakeholders, and their
use of ICT.

Asia’s giants did poorly, in the report co-authored by Insead’s
Soumitra Dutta. Among 122 countries surveyed, India dropped four places to #44,
and China dropped nine steps to #59. (Denmark topped the list, followed by
Sweden and Singapore. The USA slipped to #7, after beating Singapore to the top
slot last year.)

India has fared well on some counts. It tops in ‘availability
of scientists and engineers’, and is in the top 10 on quality of math and
science education, quality of business schools, state of cluster development,
foreign technology licensing and Government prioritization of ICT. It’s also
strong on market competition and success in ICT promotion, the latter a likely
result of the few of successful e-Gov projects that many Indian states have
embarked on.

Infrastructure is the killer. India is down to around rank 100
in PCs, electricity production, TV sets, phones…even in speed of new business
registration (the MCA21 project hasn’t yet made all that much of an impact).
India has the fourth-largest mobile phones base in the world, yet this survey
puts it at #107 on ‘mobile subscribers’: the problem here is of course that
of ‘penetration per capita’.

China, too, has similar issues. ranked below 90 on Internet
servers, sophistication of financial markets, tertiary education, ease of new
business registration, PCs, and phones (including mobile availability).

The report has four key case studies of the dramatic impact of
ICT: on Estonia, sub-Saharn Africa, Japan, and China. Estonia? That inspiration
for the savage-run Elbonia in Dilbert is #20 in the survey.

Another reason India and China rank so low is that the survey
does not measure (and that was not its objective) business competitiveness, as
suppliers to the world. That is actually a good thing, for in the long run,
business growth depends on ICT absorption, and we can tend to get over-awed by
our exports success stories. That fact alters things a lot. For instance, the
report ranks India high on talent pool parameters (#1 in availability of
engineers, etc). But this talent pool is and will be the biggest challenge
facing India’s services-driven exports economy.

Overall, everyone won’t agree with the report and its
parameters. But it does give a picture of relative positions-and progress,
likely to be very slow for India on this report’s index and ranks.

Prasanto K Roy

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