Information and communications technology has come a long way in support of small and medium enterprises in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With the shift of the region towards a digital economy, various technologies, government policies and support mechanisms are becoming more accessible for SMEs. One such initiative that helps make this possible is the Asean ICT Masterplan 2020 that aims to promote digitalization through policy innovations, awareness raising and enabling electronic and other better modes of transactions and payments for SMEs.
At the De La Salle University Center for Business Research and Development, we recently conducted research about the current state of ICT developments in Asean and the challenges and opportunities these bring. By examining the various ICT policies and regulations of the different Asean member states, we came up with three thematic categories that differentiate the level of ICT development among these states.
Sustained digitalization: Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia
Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia are among the most advanced in the Asean with regard to the application of ICT among SMEs, which is why their approach is more on sustainability. With Singapore being the most digitally-connected country in the world according to the 2016 Global Information Technology Report of the World Economic Forum, it’s no wonder why it is leading the digital movement in Asean.
Brunei and Malaysia, on the other hand, are two other Asean states with comprehensive ICT sectors of their own. Brunei has many e-government initiatives taking place, including the Digital Government Strategy which focuses on six key areas. Meanwhile, Malaysia has undergone a rapid transformation of its ICT sector and relies on technologies such as computing, big data analytics, open data, internet of things and enterprise architecture, among others, to develop its ICT framework. It is also one of the few countries to have a structured National Big Data Analytics Roadmap.
Road to a knowledge economy: Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia
As the subheading suggests, the four countries are on the way to streamlining digitalization in their respective states and transitioning towards a knowledge economy. With several policies and programs already in place, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are at the cusp of advancing their ICT sector forward. The rising middle class and young population of the four countries—which we know as being tech-savvy—are also among its main advantages. With a digitally literate population, the countries can find it a little easier to advance their ICT sector.
Among the main challenges are developing these countries’ ICT infrastructure further, enhancing nationwide broadband access and improving the information literacy of its people. The population may be young and have higher incomes, but a good percentage is still digitally illiterate. While the four countries are advancing towards a digital economy, several adjustments must be made to address these challenges.
High potential ICT development: Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR
These countries are among the youngest to begin integrating ICT in their policies, frameworks and initiatives. While they are just starting to develop national ICT policies, Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR must cope with several challenges including the lack of ICT infrastructure, government support, technology transfer, international exposure, quality assurance, legal frameworks, standardization and business practices.
This means that while plans are still being built, these countries must work doubly as hard as compared to Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. With the help of the Asean community, transitioning towards a digital economy may become easier for the likes of Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR.
One of the possible directions to address the current digital divide in Asean is the exchange of knowledge and experiences in terms of ICT policy-making. Activities ranging from competitions to expositions, for instance, can help policy makers and other key stakeholders gain a better understanding of the existing ICT landscape in the region. These can help them benchmark and adopt innovations in their respective ICT sectors.
Ian Benedict R. Mia is a research and technical assistant at the De La Salle University Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD), and is a junior fellow of the CBRD-Social Enterprise Research Network. He is taking up his Diploma in Entrepreneurship at the same university. He is passionate about social enterprises and aims to start one of his own someday. Contact him at [email protected]