IT in the Developing World - the Good, the Bad, and the Unknown
Information technology is incredibly important for the modernized world of high-speed communication, instant information, and big data. Not only does IT help businesses and individuals complete everyday tasks with remarkable efficiency, it also has a profound effect on the economy by reducing prices of goods and services, and creating new products that stimulate growth.
As beneficial as technology is to parts of the world with advanced governmental and economic infrastructures, what role does it play in regions that are still developing?
IT can create opportunities for economic, social, and governmental growth.
In the past, technological advances were difficult for developing countries to adopt without the necessary resources to invest in equipment, labor, and training. Now, technology is leapfrogging previous obstacles. For example, cell phones are giving people around the world access to long-distance communication and internet services such as mobile banking, without the need for landlines, desktop computers, or local banks.
These capabilities are providing new tools for workers to improve their businesses. Food production is one field that has shown incredible improvement and potential through the application of technology. Drones, GPS, and advanced communication have optimized irrigation, pesticide and fertilizer use, natural disaster response, and supply-chain management. Advancements such as these can allow farmers to grow their business and enter global markets. A study found that fishermen in Kerala, India have increased their profits by 8% by using mobile phones to learn of price differences in nearby markets. Access to loan systems via mobile technology have even allowed subsistence farmers to move out of the agriculture industry entirely and into more lucrative businesses.
Improved communication systems also lead to better political systems, according to a study by Suffolk University. The result of the study found that as the use of information and communication technology increased, government corruption decreased. Advanced communication also has the ability to expose social injustices and to encourage socio-political progress.
IT can also emphasize educational obstacles that keep developing countries from the global stage.
While advancements in technology have the potential to yield better business opportunities in developing nations, they could also stunt economic growth if the focus on IT is simply consumption-based. In today’s global economy, innovative production as well as consumption is crucial to gain a competitive edge. Unfortunately, IT has a bias towards skill, education, and modernized capabilities. Reaching these criteria is costly, especially in low-income areas that do not already have systems in place to provide workers with these necessary tools.
Developing countries traditionally have economies driven by manufacturing and agriculture. Compared to these two industries, skills required for IT development are not easily transferable, instead taking years of education to develop. For a country like Bangladesh, with just 19% of the population over 25 years old having completed primary school, it can be extremely difficult to gain the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. One strong point for developing countries is that their low labor costs could offset their technological disadvantages. However, data shows that high-level production costs still outweigh any labor advantages.
IT may be too new to tell.
Overall, it is safe to say that IT can help make life for people in developing countries more efficient, productive, and progressive. However, given the barriers to entry in such a fast-paced, high-skilled industry, technology has the potentially equally to prevent developing countries from competing in the global economy. With the adoption of modern technology around the world still relatively new, it may be too early to fully understand IT’s net impact in developing countries.
Dani Rodrik. 2018. “Will New Technology in Developing Countries Be a Help or a Hindrance?” World Economic Forum. October 9, 2018. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/will-new-technologies-help-or-harm-developing-countries/.
Jensen, Robert. 2007. “The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector.” 122 (3): 879–924. https://doi.org/10.1162/qjec.122.3.879.
“Bangladesh Uis Mean Years Of Schooling Of The Population Age 25 Total.” n.d. Accessed June 25, 2019. https://tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/uis-mean-years-of-schooling-of-the-population-age-25-total-wb-data.html.
Jamshed J. Mistry, and Abu Jalal. 2012. “An Empirical Analysis of the Relationship between E-Government and Corruption.” 12 (May): 145–76. https://doi.org/10.4192/1577-8517-v12_6.
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