Playing @ the Digital Game: Too Few Firms in Developing Countries Are Taking Advantage of New Technologies Which Can Help Them Export Better. (ITC Speaks)

By Badrinath, R. | International Trade Forum, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Playing @ the Digital Game: Too Few Firms in Developing Countries Are Taking Advantage of New Technologies Which Can Help Them Export Better. (ITC Speaks)


Badrinath, R., International Trade Forum


In this article, ITC focuses on what developing countries can do to shift their attention from the "Digital Divide" to the "Digital Dividend".

From the "Digital Divide" to the "Digital Dividend"

Recent information and communication technology developments, particularly the growing use of Internet, have affected almost every facet of modern life. Technology has brought both new challenges and new opportunities, leading to digital "haves" and "have-nots". Experts and analysts describe this phenomenon as a Digital Divide". It has been argued that this divide is often congruent with others such as the economic divide, the education divide or the health divide. But nowhere has the impact of technology been more pronounced than in the area of international business.

In an effort to bridge this divide, many institutions have conducted extensive studies, discussions and dialogue. The aim of this research and dialogue is to harness technology so that it makes a positive impact on development and poverty reduction.

For our purposes here, we will leave aside the analysis of the root causes of this divide or the measures to bridge it. Rather, ITC has focused on what developing countries, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), can do to gain the "Digital Dividend" -- by exploiting "Digital Opportunities" that have now become available.

Business views in developing countries

ITC's starting point was in-depth consultation with business communities in developing countries. We began by talking to business representatives and their public-sector counterparts to obtain the view from the playing field and from the sidelines. We held a year-long running dialogue with the key players over the course of 2000. We undertook surveys, consultations, analyses and practical research, posing such questions as: "Do you know about the digital developments under way? Do you know how they will affect you and your business? Do you know what you need to do?"

This dialogue helped shape the Executive Forum 2000 on "Export Development in the Digital Economy", held in Montreux in September 2000. At the event, 45 national export strategy-makers and business leaders from 24 developing countries and transition economies and 20 e-commerce specialists met for three days to deliberate over identified issues of major concern. E-mail discussions enabled a further 600 e-trade specialists and businesses from 86 countries to join the debate and share their views. This was further supported by the Executive Forum web site (http://www.intracen.org/execforum), which hosted ongoing consultations prior to and during the event.

A new game, defined by e-competency

The newly introduced "Digital Game", despite its apparent mysteries, dark secrets and technical complications, has nevertheless provided many interesting opportunities for exporting SMEs in developing and transition economies. These enterprises are concerned about being left behind due to technological and infrastructural weaknesses, as well as insufficient knowledge of recent technology developments and their implications for developing countries. At the same time, they are energized by evidence that governments and businesses in developing countries have managed to turn these developments to their advantage.

Let us take a closer look at some of these issues.

Technology has altered relationships between producers and consumers of goods and services; redefined the roles of intermediaries in the global supply chain; and generated both new opportunities and new players. New business models are emerging and there is pressure on existing business approaches to adjust to the new definition of competitiveness. The emerging key factor is e-competency. It is an entirely new ball game. And as with all games, only those with the full knowledge of the rules and who have been trained in the appropriate skills will be able to excel, in the playing field. …

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