Imagine Goni Miah, a farmer in the farthest rural corner of the country working on his farm. In his very affordable, locally manufactured smartphone, he uses an application developed by a local start-up tech-farm that analyses the field's soil type, fertilisation, irrigation, and pesticide needs.
The countrywide access to high-speed internet connects the homegrown app to a cloud-based solution and provides all necessary information to Goni Miah. He gets expert advice, direct access to raw materials, pesticides, weather forecast, and even access to marketplaces and sells products at the best price.
Sounds too far-fetched? Not in my opinion. All the ingredients are already there to make this happen. This scenario is just another possibility in Bangladesh's near future if we play it right to become a data-driven economy.
The future now belongs to those institutions and the economies with the mindset and aptitude to embrace data, build direct connections with users by understanding the behavioural data, and turn information into insights to help them make correct decisions. Finding and utilising accurate data at the right time is the crucial differentiator for both organisations and economies.
Data has become the primary driving force to success for the global economy. AI and Big Data are already in practice to help data-driven decision-making, predictions, and modifications in our lifestyle by making it better and more manageable.
Bangladesh is already one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We are catching up with the developed world over the last 15-20 years. But in order to make sure that we continue to outpace others, we must build on our strengths which is our youth dividend and put in policies and strategies to turn our economy into a knowledge-based, data-driven economy.
Automation and digitisation can increase productivity and profitability for the nation and bring our country closer to the developed nations of the world, but focusing on creating the infrastructure and policies to fast track the transition towards a data-driven economy will keep us ahead of the pack.
Digital disruption has already started to occur across most sectors in the country, especially with the current onset of the pandemic. In the present scenario, digital disruption taking place due to pandemic can play an instrumental role in fast-tracking and transforming industries into being data-driven sectors.
On the other hand, digital disruptions create a situation in which many traditional jobs with traditional skill sets are becoming redundant, primarily due to automation. And there will be a massive surge of new jobs in various digital and other areas.
We are already in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it has started to usher in a paradigm shift in the job market worldwide. This will require the need for specialised skilled forces. It creates new challenges for the government, educational institutes, and businesses as the time has come when traditional skill sets need to be replaced by upgraded expertise.
According to a report published by the World Economic Forum in 2019, Bangladesh is a young nation with around 65% population being under the age of 25. In that case, youth upskilling will play a vital role in reading our economy with the right ready resources.
The government alone cannot undertake this massive task, and different organisations from their places need to come forward to contribute towards tackling such challenges and creating youth capital. For example, Grameenphone, with structured programmes like GP Explorers and GP Accelerator, towards youth upskilling for years, training them with industry experts, and preparing the young population for the future employment market and entrepreneurship.
Besides upskilling, the economy's heterogeneity and intricacy will create new markets while making the existing ones crumble as technology will ease the barriers. Innovation will impact every industry, and organisations nationwide have to stay competitive and relevant.
Organisations need to adopt data analytics to understand consumer insights. Data analytics will have the capability to record and analyse even the tiniest interactions of consumers. This information will help companies change, build their brands, introduce new technology, and increase business framework accordingly. It is vital for companies nationwide to adapt to new technologies and have an open mindset for future innovations as, ultimately, all of these will affect the economy to adopt the data-driven system quickly.
SMEs (small and medium enterprises), which play a critical role in Bangladesh's economy, sometimes lack the knowledge of opportunities in international trade, changes in technology, and skilled resources and tools. However, data-driven attention to customers and hyper-local presence can favour SMEs over large corporations. The combination of cross-border data flow and data analytics will help organisations (small or large) transform their operational activities and boost the economy.
Data is a powerful tool that can drive a modern economy; however, unconnected, unsecured, and disjoint data will create more harm than value to a nation or organisation. Also, the issue of unprocessed data occurs when governments and organisations have limited capabilities to analyse and utilise it.
Thus, for Bangladesh to grow into a data-driven economy, it is also necessary for the nation to have the infrastructure and policies that will capture valuable data in different connected databases, keep it secure while being accessible, and analyse it to help the country and organisations make informed decisions. Both public and private have to work together to develop a robust system that will be accessible, efficient, and drive economic growth.
Bangladesh has already outperformed most South Asian countries in adopting ICT in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index 2018. The government and the organisations have recognized the vitality of growing the ICT sector, and they are heavily investing in it.
Internet users have multiplied nationwide, and the government, along with multiple telecommunication companies, are heavily investing in building a robust ICT industry. As a connectivity partner to digital Bangladesh, Grameenphone has recently transformed 15,500 BTS into 4G towers, providing 4G connectivity coverage nationwide. Moreover, the government is also working with other partners to bring 5G connectivity to Bangladesh.
Thus, I am hopeful, Goni Miah, the farmer, working in the field with the help of 4G internet, local app, and local smartphone, will unleash not only his but the nation's possibilities as well.
Solaiman Alam is the Chief Digital & Strategy Officer at Grameenphone LTD
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.