Bangladesh has tasted many firsts in the information and communication technology sector in the outgoing year. Among those, $800 million export earnings in the sector, the launch of emergency helpline 999 and a visit by Sophia, the world's first robot citizen, set the pulse racing. Bangladesh also observed National ICT Day for the first time this year. The ICT Division took a slew of initiatives throughout the year to inspire the youths to play a role in building a 'Digital Bangladesh'.
By the end of the year, State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak broke the good news that the annual export earnings in the sector neared $800 million, which was only $26 million when the Awami League came to power for a second time in 2009.
The government plans to bolster the sector's growth through policy improvement within two to three years, push annual export earnings to $5 billion and generate 2 million jobs by 2021. Sheikh Hasina Software Technology Park in Jessore began its journey to take the fruit of the sector's expansion to the southwest region. Fifty-five firms, two of them Japanese, have been allotted spaces in the park. A floor has been kept only for start-ups. The government believes the software park will be the key to raising the export earnings in the sector.
Sophia swings by
Robot Sophia came to Bangladesh to join the annual ICT expo Digital World in Dhaka in the first week of December. Biman Bangladesh Airlines announced Sophia's membership in its Gold Loyalty Club. The Hanson Robotics creation can converse with humans. Among others, the humanoid robot spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the ICT expo.
Bangladesh observed National ICT Day for the first time this year, on Dec 12. The government gave out the National ICT Awards 2017 to eight people and six organizations for their exceptional contribution to the growth of the sector at a maiden event celebrating the day.bdnews24.com Editor-in-Chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi received the special recognition for turning the first online newspaper of Bangladesh into an influential internet company revered for its news services by its audience around the world.
The government also officially launched the 999 emergency helpline after trialling it for a year on National ICT Day. Police, fire service and ambulance services are available from any phone (mobile or fixed line) by dialling the number 999. Prime Minister's Adviser on ICT Affairs Sajeeb Wazed, popularly known by his nickname 'Joy', inaugurated the helpline services.
Inspired by the successes in 2017, State Minister Palak has planned something new for the next year. "We want to set up an institute - 'Centre of Excellence' - to create manpower of around 6,000 with special skills," he told bdnews24.com. The government is setting up 28 IT parks throughout Bangladesh besides 'Sheikh Kamal IT Training Centre'. He hopes these would help them create 2 million IT jobs by 2021. He added that the government was planning to set up over 1,000 WiFi hotspots nationwide next year to allow wider access to the internet.
The other side of the coin
There were some bad news in the sector as well. The Internet Service Providers' Association of Bangladesh or ISPAB alleged irregularities in a move to award to two firms a government project, 'Info Sarker-3', for proving 2,600 unions with high-speed internet. The association, however, later said it was a 'misunderstanding' and apologized. Despite rise in export earnings, technological service and outsourcing company Accenture left Bangladesh. Analysts, however, said it would not affect Bangladesh's outsourcing market, but stain its image.
The writer is a journalist ----------Shamim Ahamed
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