Last Friday morning (7th July 2017) National Guidance and ICT Minister Hon. Frank Tumwebaze interacted with powerful young minds at the Leo Africa Institute forum held at Serena hotel Kampala. The discussions revolved around new disruptive Innovations that keep evolving as technology evolves. “There is power in harnessing ideas of young talents,” the Minister said. Below are Remarks I made at the official opening of the forum.
REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF ICT AND NATIONAL GUIDANCE AT THE Le’O AFRICA ECONOMIC FORUM – 7TH JULY 2017
ON THE THEME: ‘ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF DISRUPTIVE INNOVATIONS ON GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA’
All protocol observed;
I thank the organisers, Mr IVAn Rugambwa and his team of board members of LeoAfrica Institute for Organizing this forum and for inviting me to share on the subject so dear to my heart; That is innovation and the potential it holds. Today we are talking about what is called “Disruptive technologies and their impact to growth and development”. It’s important that we always simply these ICT terms coached from tech labs and environments so as to be understood by everybody such that we don’t speak to ourselves only as ICT practitioners and innovators. If governments are fully to commit to and support ICTs and the associated innovations, the leaders must be made aware of the associated benefits to GDP growth, employment creation and the societal transformation potential ICTs hold. The good news for you ICT practitioners and Innovators is that now, ICT has been able to find its right place on the political agenda of countries and continental bodies. Initiatives like Northern corridor countries Projects ICT cluster and Smart Africa solely championed by our Heads of state is testament to the fact that now governments appreciate the power of ICTs and are committing to supporting them. This is how the digital divide you innovators cry about will be narrowed and therefore bring about inclusion. When there is inclusion, the market and demand for ICTs widens and thus creates opportunities for you the innovators. Even ICT challenges like Cyber insecurity which is currently threatening government systems is a blessing in disguise. How? It presents challenges and opportunities at the same time for you innovators to solve a problem by building resilient and digital tight solutions that will defeat hackers and all other cyber crimes. Remember you cannot innovate a solution for a non-existent problem.
The theme for this forum is well thought out and couldn’t have come at a better time than this, when the role and impact of ICTs is increasingly taking root in African Countries, Uganda inclusive.
A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually unsettles or upsets an existing market or value network, displacing established players, products and alliances. By their very nature, disruptive innovations transform existing products or services that have been historically expensive, exclusive and complex into much simpler, affordable and accessible products/services to a wider consumer base.
Some of the innovations that we have already experienced include; the printing press which overtook the medieval control of knowledge by scribes in monasteries, mini steel mills that disrupted integrated steel mills, desktop computers and now laptops and Palmtops that disrupted the mainframe computing machines which were enormous and occupied large spaces, cellular/mobile phones which disrupted fixed line telephony and smartphones and tablets which are currently giving headache to desktop computers and laptop manufacturers. Kodak for instance has had to reinvent their business model with the emergence of digital cameras and smart phones which displaced the traditional roll film cameras. Even what is cutting edge technology today will be disrupted by new innovations of tomorrow.
These innovations have and continue to expand markets by eliminating access barriers, create new jobs to cope with growing demand for new products. In their emergence, they may appear inconsequential and therefore not a threat to the existing technologies (possibly a reason why they may struggle to attract Capital investment and managerial attention in institutions) and by the time existing players think of reacting to this disruptive wave, it’s already too late. They are always smart solutions to daily or future societal challenges.
The emergence of over the top services (OTT) like Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook etc. have not only eliminated barriers posed by traditional means of communication but also enhanced the idea of a global village through social networking. Mobile financial services (Mobile Money, Airtel Money, Mpesa etc) have not only led to ease of transacting business but also created opportunities for many. Many traditional banking institutions are now integrating these services into their systems to cope with the demands and pace of society. Surely, no one expected Facebook, whatsapp, mobile money, the internet etc., to be part of our everyday lives that we now feel incomplete without.
Now we are talking of having all government services accessed online (e-government). In time, there will be less and less human interaction yet we remain closer through virtual spaces.
In the field of transport, Uber and safeboda are new innovations that have meant cheaper, convenient and safer travel and block chain technologies are already being adopted as we move towards a cashless society. Even outside the ICT sector, we have seen rolex chapatti a Ugandan innovation become part of everyday fast food menu and has spread beyond Ugandan borders.
When we talk of assessing the impact of disruptive innovations therefore, it’s hard to imagine the starting point. They are now part of us; usual is no longer appealing and our minds are open and always anticipating more.
Policy implications on government:
With the ever advancing innovations, we can’t only think of positives. As you may already know, there have also been cases of cyber insecurity i.e. cyber stalking, hacking and in some Countries, some critical infrastructure has been left vulnerable. As government therefore, we have a role to play in encouraging innovations but also protecting both the innovators and consumers/unsuspecting citizens. We are charged with creating a conducive environment that will spur innovation but also protect intellectual property as well as ensuring that these innovations turn into successful businesses.
As government, it is our duty to promote quality relevant education and skills development that promotes creativity, lower access barriers through extensive infrastructure that will not only lead to universal access but also lower the cost of access to networks and services, put in place a conducive legal and regulatory environment that promotes free enterprise, protects investments and protects consumers AND finally seek and promote regional cooperation to expand markets, seek investment capital and influence the global agenda. I am glad to note that in all these fronts, Uganda is on course.
Currently, ICT Innovation in Uganda is primarily in smart apps done by youths partly because this area has the lowest capital barrier. Though it is done by enthusiastic youths out of personal initiative, government is systematically stepping in to organize, coordinate and support initiatives through the Innovation fund. Our focus is on direct support to innovators as well as linking up innovations with process managers and private capital to turn ideas into marketable products. The potential in innovation is immense.
The question and challenge remains, how do we take advantage of this innovation eco-system to create products that will outlive us and be able to use the same to create opportunities for many people out there just like the current mobile financial services and Uber? Where are we innovating and do our innovations solve societal challenges? Are we creating relevance for ourselves in this dynamic ICT led era?
Recently during one of our meetings, someone raised an important point – Sometimes people create great solutions to non-existent problems/challenges. This to me points to limited Research about our needs and challenges both today and for the future.
If our innovators want to remain indispensable therefore, there is need to understand the needs and challenges of society, innovate solutions that will go beyond expos to transform how we live. If you must innovate in an area where there are already multiple players, demonstrate superiority with remarkable improvements. Otherwise, society is big and the world is even bigger, let us look beyond what others have done, look at today’s challenges and anticipate for tomorrow so that we create products with room for improvement and let us look beyond our borders to innovate solutions that will be consumed internationally.
As I conclude, I assure you that the potential for disruptive innovations is immeasurable and as government, we are ready to be the first consumers of solutions that address societal challenges as we move towards promoting local content.
I thank you for listening to me.
Frank K. Tumwebaze, MP
MINISTER OF ICT AND NATIONAL GUIDANCE