July 22, 2013
Richard Heeks  defines e-Development as the use of electronic information and communication technologies (ICTs), like the Internet, as a tool to support development. He further advises that in undertaking e-development, ICTs must not be placed centre-stage, but instead, an integrated approach should be taken in order to achieve the development objectives. ICTs are to be seen as a means to an end and not the end themselves - the role of ICTs must be beneficial and cause little to no negative impact, such as job losses. As such, to reduce the risk of negative impacts, there must be thorough planning in the introduction of ICTs for e-development.
ICTs have been touted as tools critical to economic growth, as they have the potential “for operational efficiency, cost reduction, quality of services, convenience, innovation and learning in private and public sectors” . The introduction and growth of e-services is one of the opportunities made possible by ICTs. Loosely defined, an e-service is any service, whether commercial or non-commercial, provided through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The various channels that can be used for the delivery of e-services include the Internet (the main channel), telephone, call center, public kiosk, mobile phone and television . Examples of e-services are e-banking, e-business, e-commerce, e-governance, e-health and e-learning. Each e-service offers different products, but all offer similar benefits :
* Accessing a greater customer base
* Broadening market reach
* Lowering of entry barrier to new markets and cost of acquiring new customers
* Alternative communication channel to customers
* Increasing services to customers
* Enhancing perceived company image
* Gaining competitive advantages
* Potential for increasing customer knowledge
There have been many success stories in developing countries such as Nepal, India, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where e-development has resulted in economic growth. In 2012, India’s e-commerce market earned a whopping US$14 billion, more than doubling it’s worth of US$6.3 billion back in 2011 . The implementation of an e-government network “increased the transparency of government activities, enabled departments to share public data and enhance inter-departmental coordination, reduced government administration costs, and generally improved work efficiency” in Uganda . Such a move can help the government of Uganda improve their international image, which can increase their chances of securing investment. A recent study found that e-health in a section of Brazil enabled doctors to better follow their patients’ medical conditions, make earlier diagnoses, and allowed for significant cost savings. The study also showed that e-health has the potential to reduce bottlenecks at hospitals “particularly in communities where state-funded health-care costs are skyrocketing” . There are also stories of failed e-development initiatives, but these mainly due to lack of commitment on the part of the government to make better use of ICTs, encourage the spread and use of ICTs among the population, and pass and/or improve laws that seek to guard against cyber-crimes and increase user confidence.
E-development, if approached right, can result in improvements in standard of living, health, investment and employment opportunities in the Caribbean. In later posts, the region’s e-readiness and potential benefits from e-development will be explored, with insights in the various e-services and the implementation strategies that have been successful.