Recent years have witnessed an explosion of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). ICTs are now the buzzword in both the technology and business worlds. The rapid expansion of enabling infrastructures has led to an unparalleled use of ICTs in the corporate and business sectors. These ICTs have allowed companies and businesses to strengthen their environments, offer high-end products as well as state-of-the-art services, and also reach out to hitherto unexplored markets. The impact of ICTs in the business world has been well documented and discussed.
There is also a parallel surge in the use of ICTs by organizations that serve and work in the developing world. Conferences such as the WSIS laid the foundation for a more in-depth look at how development organizations, both in the North and in the South, are using ICTs. The synergy between infrastructure and knowledge creation, the development of Intranet and Extranet applications, content and information management, partnerships between social capital and technology, amongst others, are now approaching the forefront as important research, development and professional themes and agendas.
Organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) and others have begun to invest a significant portion of their time, money and effort in these technologies to strengthen their operational functions and outreach. Many organizations in the South are following suit.
ICTs are also gaining popularity in some of the least developed countries. However, this rapid diffusion of ICTs in the Development Sector necessitates a careful study in how effective ICTs are/have been in translating the agendas and themes into practicable actions and results.
A few research questions follow.
How well have new ICTs been institutionalized in Development Organizations?
Are these new technologies mere appendages or are they integral parts of the organizations?
What are the primary uses to which they are being put?
What are the key benefits that accrue from new ICTs and what are the main stumbling blocks to their successful implementation?
Technology, once hailed as an enabler, is fast becoming a necessity. It is often argued that this boom in techno-products, services and professional cultures is leading to a further marginalization of organizations that do not have the wherewithal to ride the 'technology wave'. However, it might be important to pose the question: Is this boom a mere passing wave or should all organizations, large and small, in the North and in the South, pay more heed to new ICTs?
Will the bubble eventually burst or is it here to stay?
Extending the technology theme, we can also see a parallel development – that of new expertise and skills in new ICTs. This expertise is becoming a critical skill in most organizations and the products and services they offer. Large organizations are holding symposia and conferences to make sure that they are not left behind in this new paradigm. Is this a chicken and egg scenario?
This proposal aims to study the value of, impact on and use of new ICTs by development organizations primarily in the developing world. The key focus will be on the impact of these new ICTs on organizational mandates, operations and environment as well as outreach and competitive advantages.
As earlier established, there is a need to critically study and research the effectiveness of these technologies.
Are the benefits of ICTs for Development Organizations similar to those that accrue in the Corporate Sector?
Will new ICTs be the next big enabler?
What are the key outputs?
A study of the impact of ICTs on development organizations also requires an evaluation of the socio-cultural dimensions of these organizations along with the 'values' that new ICTS enhance, support and strengthen. Do these dimensions hinder or help the sustainable use of new ICTs? What are the barriers and the catalysts?
The center of the debate on new ICTs in recent years has been on people and technology as opposed to people versus technology. Do development organizations invest as much in people and in expertise to support ICTs? Is there adequate involvement or do these technologies work with minimal people interaction?
What are the key foundational principles on which these technologies spin?
The study aims to evaluate the intrinsic as well as extrinsic capabilities of new ICTs in helping Development Organizations reach and engage in the 'cutting edge'. The findings will be useful for both the Development Sector as well as the Corporate World in further augmenting the study of new ICTs and, thereby, enabling a more secure and productive use and impact.
(Research proposal on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs - Summary and Revised)