Successful digital economy requires evidence-base
The Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) initiative is the template for the design and implementation of the digital economy for Nigeria.
This paper explores the foundational elements of the DE4A and posits that the success of the Nigerian digital economy depends in large part on the evidence-base underpinning the implementation as well as the scientific rigour with which the various stakeholders participate in the many projects constituting the programme of change. Many questions are asked, to aid in building the evidence-base for the digital economy. To answer the questions, there will need to be many surveys and research studies by academia, industry and government agencies. The huge amount of work required for success of the DE4A initiative becomes apparent, particularly considering the relatively short time-scale for implementation that the initiative entails. IIM-Africa alumni and members specifically as well as the Nigerian public in general have essential roles to play in this national duty.
Introduction Good morning, President/Chairman and Members of the Governing Council of the Institute of Information Management Africa (IIM-Africa), distinguished Alumni, distinguished Inductees, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I feel greatly privileged and deeply honoured to address you on this august occasion of the 10th IIM-Africa Conference, Induction and Investiture Ceremony.
This year’s theme of “Effective Data and Information Management: Key to Success in the Digital Economy” is particularly apt in the light of the intense focus of policy makers, the public and private sectors and supra-national organisations on the very urgent need to actualise the establishment of Nigeria’s Digital Economy, in line with the DE4A initiative. The DE4A initiative seeks to harness the intellectual resolve, goodwill and sheer determination of the African Union and Multi-Lateral Organisations like the World Bank and many United Nations Agencies to embed the digital economy in all 55 countries on the African continent within the next 10 years. This is without doubt an extremely ambitious target. But it is doable if the implementation is left more in the hands of professionals and technocrats, once the enabling environment has been laid out by policy-makers in the various countries as well as the collaborating multi-lateral partners. I note that the politicians have had their moments in the limelight talking the talk; now is the time for the doers to actually get the job done. And for that, evidence is required. Evidence in the form of best practice in other parts of the world becoming inputs into the design and implementation of projects and programmes. Evidence in terms of the outcome metrics of the project life-cycle as well as the impacts on people’s lives.
Technology and the Law of Evidence
If technology in our current context is science or knowledge put into practical use by human beings to solve problems or invent useful tools, then by that very definition, rigorous verification and repeatability are at the core of the beneficial solutions underpinning modern life as we know it. The same evidential rigour must therefore be applicable to the digital economy. Much as in legal proceedings where evidence is sine qua non, technology would quickly become unsustainable or even ineffective, where robust evidence is partially or completely absent. In practice, any deviation from the individual and societal discipline of basing plans, actions and reviews on solid evidence will invariably run foul of the Law of Evidence in Technology. The penalties that society pays for such violationsare usually very steep and are best avoided, by adopting the right approaches as much as possible.
Evidence-Based Data and Information Management (DIM) in the Digital Economy
The World Bank has identified five pillars, i.e. key foundational elements, of the DE4A:
1. Digital infrastructure
2. Digital platforms
3. Digital financial services
4. Digital entrepreneurship and
5. Digital skills
To put these in perspective, these digital economy elements can be grouped into two: the enabling environment and the outcomes. The enabling environment consists of elements 1 -3 i.e. “Wires”, Valued Added Software Systems, Digital Financial Services (DFS) and Software as a Service (SaaS); while the outcomes are elements 4 and 5, i.e. Business Activity and Competencies to support business and safeguard the integrity of the enabling environment. To establish and operate each pillar of the digital economy, evidence-based data and information management is absolutely essential. But to adequately appreciate this critical fact, the natures of data and information need to be explored very briefly. Data is a discrete package of facts or statistics. Each data packet is, in essence, neutral; in the sense that it is application-agnostic. It may not even be applicable to solving any existing problem or we ourselves may not yet know which problems to solve with it. Looked at in this way, data is not unlike raw energy in nature which can be deployed in any number of ways that may be good, bad or ugly. But to deploy data, it must first be turned into information. Information on the other hand is where the magic happens. While data may exist by itself, without any reference to anyone or anything else existing, information is always in reference to human beings. It is our understanding (even if currently basic or primitive) of facts provided by others or learned about something or someone. In neuro-scientific terms, data as such is mostly processed in the “logical” left brain (the left cerebral hemisphere) while the connections between the elements of information and the pictures or patterns that emerge are the forte of the “intuitional” right brain (the right cerebral hemisphere).
Data and information management (DIM) have to do with the acquisition, storage, processing, application and reporting of the data or information. For each of these five aspects of DIM, there must be best practice from the experiences of others in similar situations, technical or technological possibilities and outcome metrics that together constitute the evidence-base.
Building the Evidence-Base for Digital Economy Success
An easy approach to this important exercise is to take each element of the digital economy and tease out the evidential requirements of data and information in relation to that particular element. The relevant questions include, among many others:
How many people live, work and play in a particular area? In the whole country? If estimates must be used, how and when were those estimates or assumptions validated?
What is the aggregate demand for existing, additional and future digital services in an area? How many people, businesses, government agencies and NGO operations will the services support?
What is the nature of that demand? Is it expressed by the population or is it merely implied or assumed? Is it short-term or long-term?
What is the variability of that demand within the various verticals?
What is the rural/urban split of the customer base? What is the general differential of the offerings between the two locations?
What is the view of the target customers about digital services? Do they envisage the value it can add to their lives and operations or is there an education gap that must be actively bridged?
How much consolidation of platforms and activities is the customer base ready or ripe for? How much complexity can the various segments of the population happily handle or accommodate?
Which pricing structure is the customer base familiar with or willing to accept?
Can price elasticity be incorporated as an element of clientele segmentation?
What does the regulatory and enabling terrain look like? What are the missing pieces and do policy-makers have the appetite to do the needful in the time-scale necessary for success?
What and where are the education gaps that policy-makers have and how can those be remedied?
What are the general educational needs of the digital services customer base? What level of priming do they need to appreciate and subscribe to digital services?
What is the availability of gadgets and equipment for accessing digital services by the population? Are those gadgets and equipment affordable? What does “affordable” look like?
How do the entrepreneurs view digital services? Do they see a benefit or catalyst for their own business activities or do they see an unnecessary cost or burden?
What is the proportion of business people open or eager to exploit opportunities presented by digital services?
Where do the youths sit in relation to the provision of digital services? Are they only comfortable using the technologies or are they eager to seize on the potential opportunities inherent in the digital economy?
Is there a youth educational gap in particular? Are they keen to use their own initiatives to bridge some of that gap? What help do they need from government, industry and the non-profit sectors in this regard?
What are the statutory, regulatory and policy requirements for managing and safeguarding the digital economy ecosystem? For example, what version of the European Union’s GDPR would Nigerians find workable and acceptable? How should the technology multinationals be regulated here? What evidence is there for beneficial “light touch” regulatory regimes? Where should the line be drawn in the battle to hold social media and the facilitating platforms accountable?
What is the projected outcome of the establishment of digital services in the economy? What is the expected value added? How much GDP growth is to be expected and when by?
These and many more questions need to be answered to build the evidence base for the digital economy. Some of the questions may already have generic answers within the academic research community and the current development narrative of the country; but there will be need for much more fine-grained and robustly validated surveys and censuses. This represents a huge challenge as well as opportunity for the alumni and membership of the IIM-Africa as well as the rest of the IT community and the country at large.
President/Chairman and Members of the Governing Council of IIM-Africa, distinguished Alumni, Inductees, ladies and gentlemen. There is much work to be done to ensure the success of the digital economy in Nigeria and indeed in the rest Africa, if the 2030 target of DE4A is to be met. All hands must urgently be on deck, to manage the various constituencies and ensure the delivery of the desired outcomes.
It is my hope that our distinguished alumni and general membership will rise to this national challenge, in the knowledge that if our country does not become a digital economy by 2030, not only will we have only ourselves to blame as we are left behind by the rest of Africa and the world, but our children and their children will heap blame upon us too, for squandering the opportunities inherent in these times!
Let the work begin in earnest now!
Badmus delivered this paper at IIM 10thYear Anniversary, 2020 Annual Conference & 24thInduction and Investiture Ceremony of the Institute of Information Management Africa (IIM-Africa) on, recently.
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