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Experts outline ICT growth challenges

Cambodia's Information and Communication Technology sector will see rapid growth over the next decade, but challenges remain before the sector can reach its full potential, according to experts.

Increasing government usage of ICT and improved human resources were two key hurdles that need to be overcome, according to private sector and government officials speaking at the Cambodia ICT World Expo on Friday.

Chea Manit, deputy secretary general of the National Information Communications Technology Development Agency (NiDA), called for a more networked government. Ministries often lack the ability to complete tasks such as sharing files and documents over a common network, he said.

Most internal exchanges involve hardcopy forms and letters, he said, though Google’s Gmail email service has gained popularity among government officials for other exchanges.

Chea Manit said he is trying to change this. He is testing a file-sharing network at NiDA with hopes of launching a pilot system for all of the ministries either later this year or in 2012.

Once that is in place, he said, he will try to add the ability for ministries to grant approval for different initiatives online rather than waiting for a signed form.

Chea Manit said he wants ICT to also better serve citizens as well. To that end, the organisation is implementing a system in all 24 provinces that allows Cambodians to register cars without coming to Phnom Penh. This should change a six-week process into one that takes only a day or two, he said.

“But,” he cautioned, progress  fostering ICT growth will only be made “step by step.”

Glenn Miller, chief information officer at internet service provider Ezecom, pointed to the quality of the Kingdom’s IT professionals as an issue, saying they were “extremely motivated but ... lack experience.”

Education is improving, he said, but there have not been enough jobs to help grow these workers’ skill sets. Still, he did see the days of overpaid foreign consultants as largely in the past.

“The body of IT professionals is getting really big now in Cambodia,” Miller said, “and I think that is why we’ve seen the IT sector really grow.”

Selinna Chin, managing director of the ASEAN division of market research firm International Data Corp, agreed with both Miller and Chea Manit, saying more electronic government services and a better-trained labour pool were musts.

She also called for a national regulatory framework, a higher rate of ICT literacy among the population and government support for an ICT industry that is linked to the rest of ASEAN.

“This represents a significant step towards ICT playing an integral role in the development of society and the economy, by heightening quality of life and economic contribution to national GDP,” she said.

Where there were challenges, the experts also saw opportunity.

Bill Merchent, CEO of AZ Communications, which operates internet service provider Online, said Cambodia does in fact have the infrastructure and human resources to grow its ICT capacity and attract outside investors to the Kingdom. He said he thinks the country could return to the prominence it enjoyed back in the 1960s in as little as 10 years.

“I feel really positive about what’s going on here,” he said.

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