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GSMA calls for whole-of-government approach to digital societies

Asia-Pacific countries need to take a whole-of-government approach and not regulate the telecoms industry in isolation to advance their digital societies

Asia-Pacific countries need to take a whole-of-government approach (WGA) to succeed in advancing their digital societies, according to the GSM Association (GSMA).

In its fifth annual report on digital societies in the region, the global mobile industry body said that by taking a cross-sectoral and cross-organisational view of digitisation policies, societies will benefit from productivity gains and cost savings by avoiding duplication of efforts.

In Australia, for example, the federal government has saved over $67m by using the same content management system to host 284 websites from 91 agencies, according to a Deloitte study commissioned by Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency to determine WGA cost savings.

The WGA approach extends to regulatory activities as well. Telco regulators, for example, tend to regulate the telecoms industry in isolation through spectrum allocation, without giving due consideration to the sector’s broader impact on the digital economy, said Julian Gorman, head of Asia-Pacific at GSMA.

“If you want 90% of your population to be digitally included, they need to have access to the internet,” Gorman told Computer Weekly. “But if you’re just regulating telcos and not looking at the bigger picture, that’s going to take a long time.”

Gorman said the GSMA has been advocating governments on the need to go beyond ICT regulation and look at ways to create a strong and sustainable digital economy with mobile communications as the foundation.

“And so, we don’t just engage with ICT ministers – we now often engage with ministers of finance and people who are responsible for the digital economy,” he added.

In adopting WGA, Gorman said governments would have a higher chance of success if they put oversight of the digital economy into the hands of a central authority, citing Pakistan as an example.

“Digital Pakistan as a vision came up in about 2017, but it was at the beginning of this year when the prime minister’s office took ownership of it before it was recognised as a priority for the nation,” he said.

Gorman said governments should also manage competing interests among different ministries. “ICT ministers often have to generate as much money as they can from spectrum, but that might mean retarding investments in the industry – which means you don’t get people on broadband,” he said. 

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“And in some markets, one of the telcos might be a state-owned enterprise and creating a competitive environment may not suit the owner of that enterprise. So, you need ownership of a national economy vision to get WGA right.”

Earlier this week, the GSMA inked separate memoranda of understanding with the governments of Malaysia and Pakistan, as well as the Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association (Pita), to help advance their digital economies.

Gorman said the agreements are a recognition of the role the GSMA plays in advocating for the mobile industry and digital transformation. In Pakistan, for example, the GSMA has a seat on the country’s 5G taskforce.

In some cases, the GSMA will also provide training and information in areas such as 5G, the internet of things and spectrum management, which are particularly important for small Pacific island-nations that have limited access to industry knowhow.

“Our partnership with Pita is about making information more accessible to them and bringing them into the global community to help them move forward at the same speed as bigger nations,” said Gorman.

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