Interview: John Chambers
What business segments typically have the highest demand for ICT solutions in emerging markets?
JOHN CHAMBERS: Just like the rest of the world, we are witnessing a strong demand for ICT solutions across all business segments in emerging markets. There is not one niche or industry that stands out from another. This is primarily because intelligent and innovative use of technology is increasing productivity, reducing overall costs and helping to transform businesses irrespective of their position in the marketplace.
Countries that prioritise national networking readiness will gain a relative advantage. Thus, the most significant opportunity and challenge for the MENA region is to leverage broadband as a platform for socioeconomic transformation, i.e, using the network to improve lives, empower citizens and make businesses more competitive. Businesses and individuals do not exist in isolation. We live in a hyper-connected world, and the global economic downturn validated that notion. We must learn from these experiences and realise that there are fantastic opportunities for those who are ready to embrace them. This is why, in emerging markets in particular, governments are increasingly focused on upgrading national technology infrastructure to drive innovation that can touch every citizen.
How can ICT solutions help improve public sector productivity in the MENA region?
CHAMBERS: The network is the platform for creating sustainable solutions for public safety and security, infrastructure, transportation, utilities, health care and education. This platform will be crucial for driving public and private sector productivity in the region.
An economy that is built on intelligent technology can help organisations and individuals to work efficiently and collaboratively no matter where they are located. Moreover, there is growing recognition in the MENA business community of how public-private partnerships can support the execution of major projects that lay the foundations for long-term development. While the private sector will play a major role in driving growth, the government and the private sector must work together, now more than ever.
To give an example, health systems globally have been challenged to meet increasing demand for quality services. In many parts of the MENA region, patients in both urban and rural settings often have limited access to health care, particularly when they require specialty services. Health care workers are under similar pressures because more is needed from them in terms of information sharing and collaboration within the national network of health care facilities. To address this challenge, in 2011 the government of Jordan and Cisco launched a regional health clinic that uses Cisco’s care-at-a-distance technology to bring patients and physicians at Al Mafraq Governmental Hospital in the north-east together with specialists at Prince Hamza Hospital in Amman for health care consultations. This first implementation of Cisco’s HealthPresence solution in the MENA region shows how technology can bridge treatment gaps between urban and rural areas.
In your opinion, what role can the ICT sector play in reducing unemployment in the region?
CHAMBERS: We are witnessing the next wave of productivity growth fuelled by the internet and centred on a combination of networked technologies, video and social media. To sustain this growth, governments and companies in the Middle East, which faces a dramatic youth bulge, must put job creation at the forefront of their agendas. In particular, policymakers in the region must focus on producing enough workers qualified to design and maintain the ICT infrastructure needed to operate in the global, technology-driven economy. Currently, many developing nations around the world are having difficulty finding the local human resources needed to maintain IT-based systems. Ultimately, success will depend on how effectively public authorities can work with private businesses to create knowledge-based and ICT-driven societies.
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