The CAN Info-Tech 2001 is creating a lot of interest as usual. This is one of the few trade events in Nepal that is a truly multi-audience platform-there's something on offer for businesses, consumers and the curious public. IT is an area of business where Nepali firms made breakthroughs relatively early in the last decade, and stayed ahead of other South Asian countries (except, of course, India). This is also perhaps the only sector where business dictates government policy and not vice versa.
The important question, however, is whether we have been able to make the best of the opportunities that we've been faced with. Do we still have a competitive edge compared to the other countries around us? Are we only looking at the domestic market pie or can we take a chunk of the global market? Are there fast-growing companies in this sector or is it just the number of companies that is increasing rapidly? Where are we and where do we want to be?
The nature of our industrial policy and problems with transportation mean that it makes more sense to keep the hardware sector focused on internal rather than global competitiveness and growth. The software and services sectors are areas of the IT industry than can and should be setting their sights beyond Nepal's horizons. The establishment of transcription and call-centre businesses, for instance, is an encouraging development. But again the issue is whether we have a competitive advantage and whether the volume of business coming our way is increasing.
Nepali business is always plagued with oversupply, and trampled backed by a herd mentality. Though there are a few big national players, there has been no movement towards their transformation into large corporations. Most companies here are generally associated with an individual, and this means their growth horizon shrinks. In order to have a high multiplier factor, it is important that existing players raise the entry barrier by corporatising their operations. Further, there have to be enough plans on the drawing board at any given time to generate human resources and so ensure business growth.
There's a common feeling that Nepali companies may simply not be able to compete with global players. What is really important here is looking at the entire gamut of IT businesses and finding the right niche for Nepal and its capabilities. It's just like replicating the carpet and pashmina niche in the crafts and apparel fields in the IT sector-there may be millions of global players, but there's always room for a hundred speciality players.
Nepal itself provides enough internal business opportunities, like the helicopter-service business (Here come the Flying Trucks, #24). The lack of good communication and transportation systems in far-flung areas of the country provides tremendous opportunities for business. For instance, getting apple producers in Marpha and traders in Birgunj networked together could move Mustang's apple trade into a different realm.
Health, development and education in Nepal face particular problems due to the terrain, size and settlement patterns and IT could potentially find unique solutions to such issues. The dissemination of information along with resource-sharing would be of tremendous advantage. The role of IT in development experiments could be very crucial.
Tourism is another area that can really benefit from an IT revolution, whether in terms of services provided to tourists or to operators. Mountain climbing would be safer and conservation efforts could be better understood, the spectrum of benefits is wide.
The issue is therefore to be able to understand our own core strengths and work them out vis-?-vis the domestic and international markets. It is not only about having the right laws but also about having IT vision for this country. Since the private sector is more pro-active in this area, this is definitely a space to watch. CAN you do it?
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