Competitive markets

Business opportunities abound as technology and services converge

  • 12 December 2008

A workshop featuring an interactive exchange of experience on the social and economic benefits of digital convergence has underscored how “light touch” government regulation is the best way to enable small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to make the most of new business models.

Hosted by ICC’s Business Action to Support the Information Society and the government of Finland, the workshop saw government, business, technical and civil society representatives discuss ways to enable those wishing to take full advantage of the Internet to do so. It highlighted practical examples where innovation and entrepreneurship are serving small businesses in emerging markets.

Herbert Heitmann, Chair of the ICC Commission on E-business, IT and Telecoms and Head of Global Communications, SAP, moderated the exchange and called on panellists to use examples to illustrate what policies and approaches were proving effective in extending the reach of the Internet and its benefits.

Speaking to over 50 workshop participants, Helani Galpaya, Director of Research and Chief Operations Officer, LIRNEasia, Sri Lanka, said: “The opportunities of the Internet are greater than the risks”. Ms Galpaya described how entrepreneurs – like a Sri Lankan selling tree huts – were using Internet and mobile technology to access information to be more efficient and to reach more customers. She noted that governments have an important role in ensuring competition and interoperability, which helps increase accessibility to the Internet, but she advised them to be careful not to hamper the market. Contrasting examples of subsidized Internet centres that folded when funding ran out with private initiatives whose innovative service offerings drew customers, she concluded: “Most successful models are business-led.”

Panellists agreed that governments should set a good example and not allow regulation to get in the way.

Jyrki Kasvi, Member of the Finnish Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Parliament’s Committee for the Future,told participants that farmers in Finland were the first profession to be completely networked because online services allowed them to focus on farming their land instead of fighting for subsidies or services. Mr Kasvi said the role of governments was to provide affordable, user-friendly and easily accessible public services to facilitate business. He suggested that more governments open access to public databases to allow small companies and entrepreneurs to test out their ideas, or to foster public-private cooperation on some services – such as providing weather information to fishermen.

Summing up the workshop Mr Heitmann said: “Demand is clearly creating lots of opportunities for SMEs to play a role in this space.” He reiterated that providing content creation and development of applications was a market more SMEs could tap into, given the right tools and framework.

Natarajan Sivasamban, Global Head, Telecom, Media and Entertainment Practice, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India, highlighted how his company was innovating to provide lower cost access to customers using the means they have rather than waiting to get broadband access. TCS has created a device that can be connected to a landline or mobile phone with a small infrared keyboard to offer customers a simplified entry to the Internet. “Technology is bringing unique opportunities to improve lives,” he said. “It can only get better.”

“Digital convergence beyond technology: socio-economic benefits, SMEs and public policy” took place during the third Internet Goverance Forum in Hyderabad, India on 5 December.