ICT role in SME sector growth

THERE IS hardly any iota of doubt that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has a key role to play in driving innovation and competitiveness for small businesses and the IT sector itself. But at the same time equipping the labour force with the right skills and providing access to high-tech infrastructure are still major grey areas especially in Pakistan that need a serious review to fully tap the ICT potential. Though presently, huge investments have been made on ICT especially in the manufacturing and service sectors stirring revolutionary trends of doing businesses, yet there is still a considerable variation across the business sector in terms of technology use, with companies, that have invested in IT, enjoying a competitive advantage over those which still have not. The prospect of moving towards the elusive ‘paperless office’ fits neatly with the green agenda, but even then undeniably there exists a strong perception as well as lack of confidence among business managers, who are yet to be convinced of the benefits of the technology. Experts suggest that public administrations should adopt electronic invoicing systems but positively with accelerating a wider acceptance. In Pakistan the real problem, badly affecting the SMEs, can be the low level of access of rural areas population to the broadband as compared to urban areas. This disparity is often seen as an issue of social equality with a digital divide between urban and rural populations. And this can be a potent hurdle in creating a million jobs that can be created through investing in broadband infrastructure. Keeping up with rapidly advancing technologies has proven to be one of the greatest challenges of Pakistans quest to becoming a knowledge economy. Equipping the workforce with the right set of skills to embrace ICT requires sustained investments. Another greater barrier to entrepreneurship in the ICT sector is also the general lack of business training available to technologically savvy citizens, which needs to be handled strategically in order to develop the SME sector on sustainable grounds. There is a broad consensus that SMEs are key to future job creation and that ICT will be an essential driver of future innovations if Pakistan wants to become a knowledge-based economy. The major barriers to optimal use of ICT are limitations to broadband roll-out in Pakistan and a workforce in need of training on how to embrace emerging technologies. Although, broadband is there but trained workforce is missing in SMEs. No this multiplies the concerns and the government of Pakistan needs to take number of initiatives aimed at updating ICT skills, including the establishment of a task force on competitiveness in the ICT sector and the launch of a communication on e-skills.

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