Feature Article of Wednesday, 10 November 2004
Columnist: Obeng, Thomas Kwaku
Are Ghanaian Firms and Institutions Leveraging ICT ?
Are Ghanaian Firms and Institutions Leveraging the Information and Communication Technologies?
Today?s world can be described as ?relationship-driven; network centered; technology enabled; and information-intensive. The innovativeness and continuous upsurge in information technology advancement is changing the world we live in with such alacrity and lightening speed, rendering and shortening the life span of firm?s cutting edge technological advantage. This leads to a situation where technology becomes so obsolete without full recovery of the assumed benefits. The long-heralded ?Information Age? finally became a reality which has given birth to the network economy.
As happened in the past, developing nations miscalculated the enormous impact of the industrial revolution which changed and shaped many countries in Europe. The Industrial revolution has been described as the most far reaching and influential transformation of human culture. History has it that the industrial revolution transformed Great Britain between 1750 and 1830, from a largely rural population, making a living almost entirely from agriculture to town-centred society engaged increasingly in factory manufacture. The consequences of this revolution irrevocably changed human labour, consumption, family structure and even the very soul and thoughts of the individual. This revolution was more than a technology and as a result, Europe moved from primarily agricultural and rural economy to a capitalist and urban economy, from a household, family-based economy to industry-driven one.
The industrial revolution that changed the fortunes of the British, and which later affected other European economics, and then Russia and Japan in the first half of the 20th century made these countries powerful in both economic and social sense.
It is increasingly becoming a phenomenon that at a certain point in the history of humankind, something unique takes place, contributing to the advancement of man. The industrial revolution left in its trail a total transformation of countries which were ready, conscious and vigorously sought for it. Almost, all developing countries especially those in the sub-Saharan African of which Ghana is included could not get on board with the wheel of industrial revolution and this opportunity eluded us in a brightest day light. As one door closes another opens. Then comes the computer age which started in USA in the 1960s and still we did not see the light of this opportunity too. We continued and pay less attention to the numerous benefits it promised. The 1990s to date has also witnessed yet another revolution-the Information and Communication Technology. Many countries are now moving very fast to get on board, this new revolution that can almost change everything on the face of the earth. The upsurge in the adoption of information technology for the conduct of today?s operations by firms and government institutions is making it possible for them to have cutting-edge competitive advantage over those firms and institutions that have not risen to the challenge.
Proponents of the application of ICT in both business and government operations argue that it enables firms to be efficient, effective, accessed to wider market, reduced operational costs and they are able to relate more with their customers in a profitable manner. Even though others may argue that it is another management fad, the reality is that companies such as Dell Computers, Amazon.com and Tesco have been extremely successful in their operations with this new technology. In fact, ICT has come and it is with us and will stay forever with much innovations and advancements as man is always finding much easier way of solving problem.
A big question then arises and that is ?are Ghanaian companies and institutions both governmental and non-governmental taking full advantage of the Information technology?? Have Ghanaian firms? business processes been re-engineered in line with modern technology and are employees been given adequate training to cope with new dimensions in business and the world at large? Certainly any attempt to find answers to the above questions will be in the negative. It is abundantly clear that despite the numerous talks and conferences held to sensitise businesses and institutions in Ghana about the importance of ICT and how it can bring a great change in the conduct of business operations, about 90% of businesses are adamant. How can Financial Institution operating in this globalised and hypercompetitive marketing environment do business in the brick and mortal way at this period? Most of these banks are still using the traditional means with its huge operational cost. A cursory look at all the rural banks located both in the urban and rural areas shows that none has a website and even majority do not have email address. How they are able to communicate with their customers is anybody?s guess. Is it by snail mail or what? Whilst admitting that the Internet penetration is very low in Ghana, firms have to proactively develop their information technology infrastructure so that through education and the benefits that will generate we create the interest for the customers. It is very disappointing that none of the Polytechnics- a tertiary institution, can boast of a functional website which can be accessed to learn more about what they offer. The question is how can these institutions market and project their image internationally. It is important to recognize that we operate in a wider place called the world and we are in competition with a lot of businesses and institutions and so developing competitive advantage is very crucial. It is argued that the new information technologies enable firms and businesses to position themselves in a more competitive manner.
It is not only those mentioned above that are suffering from ICT myopia but many governmental institutions as well. In Ghana today, employees, normally referred to as ?Messengers? travel over great distances just to deliver a common document, which could be delivered electronically at a much-reduced cost and even at no risk at all.
We have to realise that we are in the globalised economy, being driven by technology, where competition is intense both at home and abroad and firms/institutions should recognize the enormous pressure brought upon them which you cannot sit on the fence and look.
We cannot afford to maintain the ?status quo? by ignoring the signals of the day because we are living in the world where technology wears the ?pants?, dictating the direction of world business and government operations. The traditional ways of conducting business with its outmoded process and gross inefficiencies should give way to modern technological innovations. This is very important in our developmental efforts because the old ways of doing things have failed us and cannot enable this nation to leapfrog in the economic development process.
What do we see about the district assemblies as at today? Majority of them have up to date no intention to develop their own website and have email address? They are still not awake to reality. How are they able to market their district about the potentials there? These are critical concerns we must address and that is why the initiative by Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly to develop a functional website with so many links is very welcoming but long overdue. The assembly has seen and recognised the enormous impact this could bring to bear on their daily operations.
Firms should therefore have a second look at their current business operations; identify the digital gaps in the business process for re-designing. The much talk about e-government, e-parliament, e-business, e-learning etc should be given a real meaning in our part of the world.
Even though ICT infrastructure is not adequate in Ghana, I still believe that firms can take advantage of the existing situation and make their operations more efficient, dynamic, global and responsive to modern trends. It is worth mentioning that certain companies are really taking advantage and making very good use of information technology. For example Spacefon, which is one of the successful private companies in Ghana in telecommunication sector owns its success to the prudent and vigorous pursuit of adopting technology not just a support tool but as strategy that define the entire business process. Management of Spacefon fully understands what technology can deliver even at a great cost. Technology enables a firm to deliver superior value proposition to customers, competitive prices and maintain profitable long-term relationships with partners. Spacefon has now become a benchmark in the Ghanaian economy and it is important other firms should learn their process.
Let me end by saying that if we fail to take advantage of any available opportunity, ultimately that opportunity will become a threat. The opportunities availed by the industrial revolution and computer age which we failed to take advantage of underscore our current economic dispositions and which over the years acted as a threat and prevented us from seeing a real take off in our economic development process. If we fail again to heed to the call of this new technology and conduct our businesses in our own traditional ways, then we have already lost the fight for sustained business growth, competitiveness, efficiency and profitability.
In this respect, such a move will require top management greater involvement in the process and IT should be given a top priority in business strategies. Failing to have this strategic perspective of ICT would not serve any good in the long-run. Also, government must recognize that ICT is a new way of business life and must work hard to develop the ICT infrastructure so that business can take advantage of and make their businesses flourish and compete on a global scale. Government can also consider by giving tax holidays to companies and other incentives to firms that pursuer and adopt this new technology because in the end they will become effective, efficient, expand their operations, earn more profits, employ more people and contribute to the economic recovery process.
ICT changes almost everything and the time for government and Ghanaian firms to act modernise their business operation is now. The 21st century firm cannot afford to stand aloof and watch others pursuing and making very difficult choices yet rewarding business strategies. We should learn to challenge our business processes all the time and we should never be satisfied with our performance because our competitors are not known. Technology will continue to dictate and move the world especially in business arena and the earlier we embrace it to transform our businesses, the better for the long-term sustainability and profitability of firms in Ghana.
Thomas Kwaku Obeng
Sweden. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.