Limited uptake of new technology has had an impact on economic development in Kuwait, according to a recent report.
In its “Growth and Jobs in a Hyper-connected World”, released in April, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said that despite some advances, Kuwait is finding it difficult to fully utilise the economic potential of ICT and is not keeping pace with others in the region in the race to get connected.
Kuwait is ranked 62 out of the 144 countries covered by the WEF study, the same ranking as in 2012.
“Stable at 62nd place, Kuwait continues to lag behind in the region in terms of leveraging ICTs, with low levels of both social (85th) and, especially, economic impacts (125th),” the report said. “Despite a very sharp rise in ICT uptake in terms of internet users (26th) and households with computers (38th), as well as internet access (44th), the country still suffers from a shortage of skills (71st). This shortage, coupled with a low capacity to innovate (113th) and an environment that is less business friendly (71st) than those of other GCC states, result in the low economic impacts.”
According to Anas Merza, CEO of Kuwait’s National Technology Enterprises Company, a subsidiary of the Kuwait Investment Authority, the inability to maximise the economic benefits of ICT is, in part at least, the result of the low priority given to information technology in the workplace.
“Businesses sometimes hesitate to invest in ICT unless there is a sense of urgency. However, this is changing as vendors work to make buyers more aware of the benefits of next-generation solutions,” Merza said in a recent interview with OBG.
Hasibat Information Technologies CEO Mazen Ishbib agrees, saying one of the biggest challenges facing Kuwait’s high-tech industry is to sell the idea of ICT to businesses, even before the product or service.
“They have no idea that there is a system out there that can make their lives easier,” Ishbib told OBG. “To implement a new system you must first understand the culture, second come with a convincing angle and third make them feel the urgency.”
Nonetheless, both Merza and Ishbib noted that they expect the private sector to begin to embrace technology in the near future, with the greatest uptake likely to occur in finance, health, energy (both conventional and renewable) and aviation. These and other sectors will increasingly need next-generation ICT if they are to stay linked with their partners and keep pace with their competitors.
Meanwhile, in the public sector, vendors are facing some of the same challenges. In a 2012 report published by the London School of Economics, researchers Hendrik Kraetzschmar and El Mustapha Lahlali found that Kuwait’s e-government service development has been slowed by lack of cross-agency cooperation on e-services delivery, and observed an overall reluctance by civil servants to change the way ministries interact with the public.
These issues will be increasingly important as the GCC member states move to create an integrated e-government platform to facilitate intra-regional trade, in part through the efforts of the Ministerial Committee of GCC E-Government, of which Kuwait is a member. The committee met in Bahrain in March 2013 to move forward on its plan for multilateral e-government services, and Kuwait will host the next meeting, scheduled for March 2014.
In the meantime, Kuwait can regain its competitive edge in ICT development by promoting its e-government services as well as doing more to encourage high-tech firms to set up shop locally. However, while the government can promote greater understanding of the economic benefits of information technology solutions, it may be up to service providers themselves to provide the hard sell needed to restart Kuwait’s climb up the international rankings.