Even before the Coronavirus pandemic engulfed the world last year — majorly upending the global economy — Information and Communications Technology (ICT) was rapidly transforming the rules of business. Thanks to its size and nature of products, the ICT industry, including telecommunications operators, computer and software producers and electronic equipment manufacturers, are playing a significant role in boosting economic growth.
This growth is fuelled by the ease of business in the workplace and convenience for the individual end-user thanks to the outreach of technologies that have spurred connectivity and a strong productivity base.
In 2020, China officially surpassed the US in its number of patent applications, with its spending on R&D climbing 10% to $378bn. China had also outstripped the US in putting out research papers in the natural sciences, according to data released in the third quarter of 2020.
A significant such story is that of Huawei, which despite a lack of level playing field in the West, especially the US, over geo-political considerations has not been able to stop its smart-solution, innovative march — pivoted on hi-tech accessibility and affordability — on a global scale. In 2020 alone, the company invested about $20bn on R&D, with $100bn to be invested in the next five years. It also launched 13 open labs in the world.
A Global Competitive Index conceived by the tech giant in collaboration with Oxford Economics that evaluated the scale of digital traction from ICT investment cites that every dollar invested in digital technologies in the last three decades added, on average, $20 to the global GDP. This is massive when compared to the non-digital investments that only fetched, on average, $3 to a dollar.

So how has ICT created a better and more convenient life at business and pleasure? Here’s a look at some of the transformational aspects.

Swift and accurate information process
The sheer scale of how much Information and Communications Technology is now a part of our daily lives is astounding although we probably never stop to think too much about it since we take it for granted. From the government sector to private entities and from individuals to institutions, almost everyone and everything is dependent on its enabling structures and systems. From the literal click of a button, you can transact end-to-end in comfortable environs with efficiency and performance at its heart.

Superior communication
It probably goes without saying, but just to underline the import, communication has never been easier, cheaper and effective thanks to ICT. While it makes life enjoyable for social media users in particular, its far-reaching beneficial impact is in the domain of business. ‘Far reaching’ therefore, is a literal explanation for the open source and private platforms the technology provides to keep employers and employees no matter how far in terms of physical space connected and thrive.

According to a report published by STL Partners, a major league consultancy, the new generation of connectivity — premised in the 5G application — can fuel GDP manufacturing growth by 4%. The technology will cut costs and unlock new streams for manufacturing, making it easier to track production in real time using far more data than ever.

This is probably, the most fascinating of all advances made possible by ICT. Whole economies are now interconnected — from private entities to states — and doing business at an unprecedented scale. In fact, it is well-nigh impossible to conceive of economy today, without unlocking the potential of doing business minus the constraints of time and space. Unsparingly, any entity worth its salt has an online presence trading goods efficiently and quickly.
Specific to digital economy, according to a 2019 study by IHS Markit, a London-based American-British leading source of critical information, 5G will enable $13.2 trillion of global economic output — 7.4% of global GDP — by 2035.

Job creation
With all the buzz around technology, is it any surprise that the demand for IT professionals is increasing by the day across the field and globally. There is now greater emphasis on computer learning system analysis, Big Data, software and hardware development and web applications. Significantly, emerging economies are more invested in ICT than ever before — understandable given the near and long-term future. The IHS Markit study predicts that the global 5G value chain will enable 22.3 million jobs by 2035.

Improved healthcare
Tele-medicines, electronic health records and health grids have made quick inroads make public health both easily accessible and affordable across distances. This has been especially true in the post-Covid-19 era where the entire range of services had to be revisited given the present and clear danger of infections. While ICT had already enabled improved healthcare, the virtual healthcare applications have gone a long way in connecting people to do the needful to look after their individual health. This is likely to grow further. STL Partners predict that 5G-enabled use cases globally could enable healthcare professionals to treat more than 850 million extra outpatients per year in 2030, while also making available more than 4 million extra bed days for use in hospitals.

One of the areas where ICT has made a major impact, especially in the post-Covid-19 era is education. Whilst traditional methods of teaching had already largely given way to scientific learning courtesy information and communications tools, the virtual environment set up that replaced physical learning in classrooms deemed impossible by many became a reality. And while physical learning will not become passé anytime soon — and probably shouldn’t for various reasons — the “impossible” has been taken out of the equation thanks to systems enabled by technology.

News dissemination
The business of news, above all, has been revolutionised. Never before in history has dissemination of news in real time been more apparent. And while news coming out from known capitals has always been par for the course, it is now standard to have it from locations around the world, which would have been considered taboo in terms of accessibility and censorship under authoritarian regimes. Smartphones are now the weapon that do not become the first casualty of truth — thanks to accessibility enabled by ICT.

The ultimate benefit of ICT is the shrinking space. Last year, because of the prevailing Covid-19 situation, we were forced to work from home — an idea, which seemed pretty common sense, but guess what: I had already pitchforked the idea as a smart solution at least half a decade earlier with my management whilst envisaging where information and communications technology was headed. The eventual resort — even if it was borne out of a necessity — did not come as a surprise. In less than a couple of days, we had a conveniently arranged smart system up and running at home enabling remote working just as efficiently, if not more, at the physical office — minus all the noise!

We are in the midst of a technological revolution in which AI, 3D printing, virtual reality and other technologies are converging. No industry and economy on the planet will be able to progress without it. Considering the undeniable importance of ICT for economic growth, policymakers would do well to build an environment that helps government and private entities reap the benefits by removing the barriers affecting demand.
It is however, instructive that in order to derive the benefits, policy action must entail making effective use of ICT in supporting GDP such as e-commerce by SMEs and e-governance by public administrations.
Ultimately, in our current digital society, being connected is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in our professional and personal lives. With openness, collaboration, and shared success between individuals, private and public sectors, ICT organisations, and any relevant party, we can build a healthy ICT ecosystem that benefits everyone.

•The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
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