Interview: Faruk Eczacibafil
How can IT contribute to Turkey’s effort to become one of the world’s 10 largest economies by 2023?
FARUK ECZACIBAFIL: Studies conducted by the Turkish Informatics Industry Association suggest that Turkey’s growth rate could be higher than expected if both the public and private sector fully adopt information and communications technology (ICT) solutions. Some argue that greater ICT use could boost the annual growth rate to over 7%, though 6-6.5% might be more realistic.
In the public sector, there are several ways for the authorities to improve efficiency and reduce administrative costs through ICT. This would be especially beneficial to the health, transport and education sectors. However, we should not expect the state to implement further large-scale ICT projects in the next two years given the upcoming elections.
One major venture already under way in the education sector is the Movement to Increase Opportunities and Technology (FAT‹H) project, which will eventually bring tablet PCs and smart boards to students in tens of thousands of schools nationwide. FAT‹H entails a significant amount of investment risk for stakeholders given its ambitious scope and scale, and the fact that classroom use of technology has not yet been proven to improve learning outcomes. However, the FAT‹H project can also facilitate a positive shift in our school system towards interactive pedagogical approaches.
How effectively are local universities preparing students to work in an information society?
ECZACIBAfiI: Local higher education institutions are doing an adequate job; however, there is strong global demand for ICT specialists. In the near future, this may create a brain drain in Turkey as our young experts in the field begin pursuing job opportunities in Europe and the Gulf, where salaries are more generous.
When you consider the role of young ICT professionals, their involvement in start-ups and disruptive innovation comes to mind. Yet, dynamic ICT entrepreneurs are still highly concentrated in the Anglo-Saxon world. Turkish business culture is still scarred by our economic legacy of high inflation, which has instilled an anti-entrepreneurial sense of short-sightedness. Indeed, many of Turkey’s biggest firms are still managed by the old guard, which has been less inclined to make long-term investments in research and development.
On the positive side of the ledger, there is currently a large volume of venture capital flowing into the Turkish market. Over time, this will give our ICT players the funding they need to begin executing their business plans and commercialising their discoveries.
What regulatory changes are most needed to support growth in Turkey’s ICT market?
ECZACIBAfiI: There is still much to be done in terms of creating a business environment conducive to investment. Turkey’s intellectual property (IP) regime is very weak, which creates disincentives for software and product developers. Although weak IP protection is a problem in most emerging countries, it is not clear that the Turkish government takes this issue seriously. Local regulators, for example, seem hesitant to aggressively address IP infractions. This could be because Turkey does not produce a significant amount of original ICT products, and therefore has little stake in the game. Moreover, the government seems to take a sceptical approach to firms like Facebook, YouTube and Amazon, which do not necessarily make a large tax contribution to their home country governments, or create local jobs commensurate with their market share.
How can ICT reduce unemployment in Turkey, and does digitisation reduce job opportunities?
ECZACIBAfiI: The global market economy has entered a phase of immense creative destruction. In the past, this process has eliminated old jobs, but replaced them with new, higher-skilled ones – a trend I expect to continue in the coming years. Yet, for this compensation to take place, the government needs to further loosen the reins on private enterprise across every sector.
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