Technology: The need for the Bhutanese IT industry to identify its niche in the global market, as it moves forward, was raised by some of the representatives of IT companies from 14 countries that are currently attending the second annual Bhutan International IT and Training event being held in Thimphu.

The event serves as a platform for Bhutanese and foreign IT companies to discuss possible areas of collaboration.

With this year’s theme focusing on IT and industry, it also provides an opportunity for the government to tap into foreign opinions on how it can utilise IT, for not only industrial development, but also good governance or e-governance.

It was pointed out by foreign representatives that Bhutan’s strong points were good English and artistry skills, and strong cultural roots, among others.

It was recommended that Bhutanese IT companies try to capitalise on the large Indian market by coming up with more creative or innovative products, as there is huge demand for innovation there.

Economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, speaking at the start of the event, said that Bhutan was embracing ICT (information communications technology) in several areas and that it was, at the same time, attempting to create legislation that was friendly to the industry.  He pointed out that there were a few colleges that already offered ICT degrees and that an “entrepreneurial zeal” among IT graduates was beginning to emerge.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk added that the IT and training event was timely as Bhutan was at a stage where it was exploring how ICT could support democracy and improve the economy.

He said that Bhutan’s economy was not in good shape with a GDP of USD 1.5 billion and an annual growth rate of 2.05 percent.  He added that the current account deficit was 24 percent of the GDP, which was alarming, as a deficit of even five percent abroad would be enough for an economic crisis to be declared.  He also pointed out that the World Bank had said that it was difficult to do business in Bhutan as a result of excessive legislation, inaccessibility to credit and difficulty in obtaining business licenses, among others.

However, lyonpo said that, to improve its economy, the government was committed to embracing ICT and was looking at how Singapore has leveraged ICT for its economy.

On e-governance, Lyonpo said that the government must be willing to come under the scrutiny of the public and allow its actions or inactions to be criticised.  He said that social media was such a medium that allowed citizens to be empowered and interactive with their government.  He added that he was regularly criticised on social media.

Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji, also speaking the event’s opening, explained Bhutan’s three-stage approach in prioritising ICT development to become a knowledge-based society that “learns to learn”.

Stage one was taking the required infrastructure, specifically the national fibre optic network, to all 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs.  He added that, besides also working on updating laws to incorporate aspects, like cyber crime and data security, the government was also aware that ICT was about people and that it had trained around 100,000 Bhutanese through the Nu 2 billion Indian government-funded Chiphen Rigpel project, which ended this year.

The second stage is transitioning to an e-government, which is underway.

The third stage, Dasho Kinley Dorji said, was moving from an ICT road map to ICT master plans for specific areas.  He said that ICT master plans for industry and employment would be launched shortly.  He added that it was hoped that the government could also draw from the expertise at the event to explore how ICT could be used within the GNH development philosophy.

The Bhutan ICT and Training Association (BICTTA) organised the event, in collaboration with the department of information technology and telecom, and ASOCIO, a regional association of 23 countries, including Bhutan.

BICTTA president, Tandin Wangdi, said that ASOCIO would assist the Bhutanese association with the development of a road map to enable the IT private sector to grow, and in developing policies and accessing expertise.  ASOCIO will also be providing it with a consultant for free.

ASOCIO chairman, Bunrak Saraggananda, said that Bhutan already had strengths that could be exploited like IT graduates with good English skills.  He pointed out that ASOCIO had many projects but lacked human resources and that they could use the graduates.

Saraggananda’s company in Thailand already employs two Bhutanese, one as a software tester and the other as a documenter.

BICTTA and ASOCIO are currently working on an exchange program that will see up to 35 Bhutanese going to work in Thailand as software developers, testers, and engineers, among others.

The two-day event, which saw 40 delegates from 14 countries attend, ends today.

By Gyalsten K Dorji