The Role of ICT in Building a Knowledge-based Society
Sherif H Kamel Associate Dean, Executive Education School of Business, Economics and Communication The American University in Cairo, Egypt Abstract Emerging information and communication technology (ICT) is setting the pace for changing, competitive and dynamic local and global markets, representing an invaluable vehicle for business and socioeconomic development and introducing new forms and structures of organizations that are no longer affected by geographical or time barriers. Egypt, as a developing nation, with an economy in transition, has realized the potentials of ICT since the 1960s and has increasingly invested in building its ICT infostructure and infrastructure during 1980s but it was in the late 1990s that ICT was put on the national agenda as an enabler for socioeconomic development and gateway to the knowledge society. Building the ICT infostructure and infrastructure will realize quantum leaps in the development process if they are coupled with a vision that engages and empowers different stakeholders in the society including the government, the public and private sectors and the civil society as well as different interest groups irrespective of their location whether urban or remote, gender or background. Moreover, it is important to emphasize that ICT could contribute to development if different building blocks are provided including an informed society, an agile environment, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a dynamic and resourceful financial mechanism. Introduction Egypt, through its ancient history that extends over 3000 years BC has witnessed massive information flows through different means since the era of the Pharaohs. Walking through history, life and development along the Nile was paralleled by a different type of an information society. This included inscription on Rosetta stones and papyrus papers and the establishment of the library of Alexandrina, which was considered in ancient Egyptian history, the first largest and famous library worldwide and the gateway for knowledge creation and accessibility (Kamel, 1998a). During the middle ages, Arabic manuscripts became one of the most common means for information and knowledge dissemination. In the modern age, paper printing and publishing started in Egypt during the 19th century witnessing the publishing of the first journal in Egypt in 1826. A few years later in 1830, Egypt witnessed the establishment of the first national archive system (Kamel, 1998b). However, in the 20th century and prior to 1985, a number of characteristics identified the status of information in Egypt. It was perceived of being rich in data but poor in information; known for accumulated bureaucracy through red tape; computers were viewed as ends and not means and there were islands of innovation with no bridges (El-Sherif and El-Sawy 1988; Kamel 1998b). Moreover, the focus was on technical issues and not decision outcomes; there was poor multisector coordination and no synergy between information and socioeconomic development strategies; and a clear case of brain drain. This growing situation and given that ICT in developing nations was gradually becoming a necessity for socioeconomic development (Press, 1999), there was a need to take proactive measures and build the required information
infrastructure for Egypt. The strategy deployed had to have a two-tier approach where society with its different stakeholders can contribute in shaping the infostructure, which in turn will effectively contribute in the socioeconomic development and growth of the society (World Bank, 2006). Table 1 demonstrates the development of the information society in Egypt during the 20th and 21st century (Kamel, 2007). Programs Open Door Policy Economic Reform Program Information Project Cabinet of Ministers (IPCOM) Information and Decision Support Program (IDSC) National Information and Administrative Reform Initiative Egypt Information...
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