It took us centuries to get here. Having gone through pockets of social, economic and political advancements, it is prudent to pinpoint the drivers of change and how consciously they were implemented. In the words of Winston Churchill “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.
Throughout the developmental stages of the world, certain catalysts engendered unprecedented growth in many nations who responded swiftly to rhythms of change by recalibrating their steps. Unfortunately, some others never took the time to embrace the transformational trend to progress. For the latter, the future is not bleak. What is required is a determined nation – individuals, organizations, private and public sector – coupled with relevant policy interventions to come up to speed with the occupants of the fast-moving train, fueled by digitization.
The systemic drift from manpower as the primary means of production to industrialization and then to the digital revolution, spanning from the 1950s till date has witnessed an overwhelming adoption and explosion of digital computers, digital record keeping and communication technologies. The use of basic farm tools by peasant farmers gave way to mechanized agricultural systems, producing better yielding farmers during industrialization. In this digital revolution, thanks to the emergence of smart farming and the mobile phone through which farmers can easily access information on weather alerts, agronomic tips, market prices among others – productivity continues to grow. No wonder the sector remains the engine of many thriving economies as exposed by their gross domestic products (GDPs).
Central to continuous success is the important role of accurate data for improved forecasts and decision making. However, due to the archaic mode of data collection in most developing countries, which is fraught with voluminous amount of paper, avoidable errors, huge costs, more labor hands etc., most projections turn out faulty and ill-informed. Interestingly, the reality is yet to dawn on the addictive collectors of paper-based data. Either they lack information or are just slow to the demands of modernization. They are the group the communications scholar, Everett Rogers labeled as laggards in his 1962 Diffusion of Innovations theory. They may respond slowly to needs of change, but like time, the fast-moving train is unstoppable.
The accurate measurement of growth, exceptional service delivery, benchmark for accountability, monitoring and tracking of businesses, smooth projects evaluation, statistical analysis among others whirl around digitized data systems. Data is easily accessed, retrieved, searched, updated, classified and electronically archived in these systems. Millions of data users create billions of bytes of data daily as part of their data needs and processes. It is the reason why unforeseen disasters like floods, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides etc., do not pose any threat to digitized data since it can easily be recovered. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) which is an agency created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Belgian government estimates up to over 5,900 global disasters from the year 2000 to 2015. One can guess the quantum of essential data lost worldwide as a result of disasters. If this does not prompt you to safeguard your data by going digital, nothing else will; perhaps you do not value your data. If you really do, it is never too late to join the fast-moving train.
Digitizing data is not impossible, because others have done it. It takes attitudinal change and willingness to adopt innovative ways of doing things. The education must be intensified and applications for digitizing data must be simplified to attract those who are not technologically savvy. A good recommendation for a data collection tool is Insyt, built by Esoko , a pioneering tech firm.
The campaign for digitization can best be driven by governments through deliberate but sustained policies and programmes. This can be rolled out through services like passport acquisition, electronic birth certificate, electronic driver licenses and other essential public transactions. Undoubtedly, this approach can be any country’s best bet in blocking loopholes within its tax collection systems and financial sector to rake in revenue for the country.
According to Forbes, digitization added $193 billion to world economic output resulting in 6 million jobs. In the same year, digitization triggered an additional $16.5 billion output and created nearly 380,000 new jobs in the Middle East and North Africa. Ghana’s digitization drive also deserves a mention with the level of commitment exhibited with their paperless economy policy agenda. Data from the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), indicates the Authority has unprecedentedly generated about GH¢12 billion from import duties this year. This is as a result of the country’s paperless port system implemented under the tutelage of the current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Earlier this year, the President was named among the 2018 top twenty list of the worlds’ 100 most influential people in digital government by Apolitical, a solution focused and global network for governments.
These economic successes can be replicated on the strength of any digitization centered economy with a robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) structures. This is not rocket science! It is not magic! Even though a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Capetown, Professor Francis Nyamnjoh is of the view that ICT shares connection with “juju” – an African traditional belief and spiritual practice. The Professor who was speaking on the theme “African digital cultures: Emerging research, Practices and Innovations” at the 2nd Biennial Africa Regional Conference however fell short to back his claim with empirical facts and evidence. Ironically, ICT has not gained roots in its supposed hub of predominant “juju” practices.
The underlying problems have to do with inadequate or lack of technical know-how, huge infrastructural deficit, brain drain, weak financial muscle among others. Until we tackle it head on and now, our quest to join the fast-moving train will remain a mirage. It requires systematic research, dedication, commitment and capital injection. All and sundry must come on board now else the fast-moving train of digitization would be long gone leaving behind a crowd of dust of misery and stagnation. Let us act now!