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Opinion: Information Technology does not create jobs

Opinion: Information Technology does not create jobs

In this article, Ade Atobatele, CEO of Gboza and Technology Evangelist believes that information technology by itself does not create jobs but is simply a catalyst that creates environment for jobs to be created:

Information Technology does not create jobs. There I said it!

Railways create jobs, ship building creates jobs, construction creates jobs, electricity generation creates jobs. Information Technology, does not create jobs.

You can easily make the distinction. Shipbuilders, railways, construction companies, and electricity generation companies are just that, companies that pay salaries.

Information Technology is not a legal entity, and as such it employees nobody, and therefore needs to pay no salaries.

Information Technology is a catalyst that creates the environment in which jobs can be created.

The distinction is more than semantic.

The application of information technology allows the lowering of the cost of a transaction, usually related to time or money. In other words it makes things cheaper or faster to achieve. It even sometimes makes things easier!

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria

Information Technology creates economies of scale!

The economies of scale allow certain types of company to exist. Companies that would otherwise have had to employ an order of magnitude or more people to achieve what they currently do (can you imagine Facebook being operated using the postal system).

And that’s the dark side of Information Technology.

Information technology does not create a commensurate number of jobs, compared to how it would have, if the technology that makes it pervasive, did not exist. As such the wealth created by such companies does not go to many, but to the few.

As a recent McKinsey report highlighted, the future trade growth will be enabled by increased bandwidth, and the trade and knowledge transfer carried by that bandwidth. Bandwidth does nothing in its own right but enable, just as an oil pipeline does not power a car.

To paraphrase Ex-President Clinton, It’s the Technology, Stupid!

The renaming of the Nigerian Communications & Technology Ministry back to the archaic Communications Ministry, instead of forward, to the Technology Ministry, should have thrown up the first major red flag, that the powers that be were out of sync with the push towards the future.

Very much a case of you are what you eat!

[quote font=”georgia” font_size=”22″ font_style=”italic” align=”left” arrow=”yes”]The renaming of the Nigerian Communications & Technology Ministry back to the archaic Communications Ministry, instead of forward, to the Technology Ministry, should have thrown up the first major red flag, that the powers that be were out of sync with the push towards the future.[/quote]The main Nigerian policy thrusting organisations in the Communications Ministry are the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).

NITDA is tasked, among other things, with creating technology policy for the Federal Government, while USPF is tasked with taking telecommunications and applications delivered using telecommunications to the areas that may not be commercially profitable.

Both are funded primarily directly from taxation, rather than budgetary allocation.

Currently, I believe that the Communications Ministry is hamstrung, and using 20th century techniques to solve 21st century problems. Since it should be at the forefront of policy thrust, this is a little worrying.

There maybe two major reasons why this might be happening. The first is the perception that there is no enabling infrastructure in Nigeria, and the second being a misinterpretation of the Federal Character Law.

The Federal Character Law when applied to virtual services has no context, since all services provided are inherently accessible to all Nigerian citizens, at the same time.

As such the NITDA should be taking a two prong approach encouraging the deployment of as many catalytic government and private sector services as possible via the cloud, while also having a policy along with USPF, of finding or subsidising ways, to deliver those services to the rural areas.

One way to achieve that is to use existing infrastructure in the form of the Post Office, which fortunately is also a parastatal under the Communications Ministry.

The Post Office should regain its old glory as the place where local people meet, and there is tangible interface between government and the people. All government sponsored services should be available online, and deliverable, when needed, via the Post Office, which should host co-located telecommunications masts, where needed.

Before the 2015 election, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, technology related activities currently contributed just under 11% of GDP. I believe that that can, and should, should rise to at least 15%.

While the ‘Mobola Johnson led broadband plan was always going to be dead on arrival, it is not all doom and gloom as the GSM companies will compensate in the short term by rolling out LTE services in the next 18 months to urban areas, so the majority of handset owners will have broadband.

With data prices dropping like planes shot out of the sky (Glo is currently selling 48GB for N8000), we have some of the cheapest data costs in the world, and affordability is no longer an issue in urban areas. The only way is further down.

Figures from the NCC state that at least 56% of the GSM subscribers live in and urban, the rural rollout polices of NITDA/USPF should be able, over time, to deal with the remainder.

So its clear no that information technology does not create jobs. Information technology creates an enabling environment that creates jobs.

If the environment that I have laid out were implemented then the only other thing needed would be local content.

Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications
Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications

We need to create, as a catalyst, a platform that can host local content, created by local people, to solve local issues, but available nationally.
Using the facilities of the Federal Government’s ISP, Galaxy Backbone (another Ministry of Communications parastatal), enabling platforms should be hosted to allow the national distribution of educational, cultural, informational, and other virtually deliverable services, from the public and private sectors.

So rather than have two thousand companies employing five thousand people each, as was the wealth generation model of the 19th and 20th centuries, we should be looking to create a 21st century wealth generation environment where two million individuals and small companies are empowered to employ between five and two hundred knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers that can provide local content for local people and competitive solutions to compete abroad, using knowledge workers that were created by self study programs hosted on the same platform.

An order of magnitude or two more employed!

The world that has described is the difference between the now archaic 19th and 20th century models of preprogrammed timed deliver of services, and the 21st century wealth generation model based on delivery services on demand.

We can achieve this paradigm shift within a very short period of time. Most of the technologies are already deployed. What we need are government polices that direct, galvanise, and enable the polity to deliver.

We will democratise the movement of knowledge, and its subsequent benefits, by making it available to all Nigerian.

We can move Nigeria up the ranks in the areas of digital globalisation, and start to earn significant foreign income from delivering virtual services be they entertainment, financial, or even educational based. The opportunity is staring us in the face. Its ours to lose. Let’s not lose it!

The future is bright. The future is ours. God bless Nigeria!

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