In Bangladesh, more than 120 companies export information and communications technology (ICT) products worth nearly $1 billion to 35 countries. By 2021, it's expected that this will increase to $5 billion.
Indeed, the growing strength of the ICT Industry underpins the four vital pillars that will support Bangladesh's transformation to a digital economy by 2021 and a knowledge economy by 2041.
Announced in 2008 and officially launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2009, the Digital Bangladesh Vision identifies human resource development, connecting citizens, digital government and the aforementioned promotion of the ICT industry as critical to meeting these transformation targets. Here's why they are so important:
Human resource development
The government wants Bangladesh to be a gateway for the digital world and has started multiple initiatives to develop a skilled, equipped and digital-ready pool of talent. Our education system produces more than 500,000 university graduates every year.
And thanks to the introduction of several dedicated training programmes to get the talent pool ready to deliver value on a global scale, we have trained more than 65,000 Information Technology Enabled Services (IT/ITeS) professionals last year.
According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the second largest pool of online workers in the world. To further enhance skills, we have established specialised labs in all the 130 universities in the country. We are investing in frontier tech centres of excellence with global technology partners such as IBM, and we have a strong focus on training professionals in emerging technologies – the Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and analytics.
The next pillar is about connecting citizens, and Bangladesh is committed to ensuring 100 percent internet connectivity by 2021. We have already made good progress with currently more than 93 million internet subscribers and 160 million mobile subscriptions throughout the nation.
This has made Bangladesh the fifth largest mobile market in the Asia Pacific and the ninth largest in the world.
We have ensured seamless connectivity through two submarine cable connections with 1,700 gigabits per second (Gbps) and seven ITC connections with 400 Gbps. We plan to further enhance this by becoming an early adopter of 5G. By the end of 2019, we will provide high-speed internet connectivity to even remote villages.
In order to ensure a cost-effective space for companies interested in investing in Bangladesh, we are building 28 high-tech parks around the country, and we have a plan to increase this to 64. There is a focus on developing a thriving environment for partners and investors who are keen to take advantage of the opportunity that Bangladesh presents.
E-governance is the next step in driving the Digital Bangladesh engine forward. The government is proactively pursuing the digitalisation of all government portals, such as passport applications and visa applications, by the year 2023.
In 2014, we developed the National Portal which now houses more than 45,000 websites and services of different government offices. We have developed more than 5,000 digital centres across the country to help provide various digital services to citizens, while addressing the issue of a digital divide.
Our Bangladesh National Digital Architecture (BNDA), which ensures interoperability, won a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award this year, and the WSIS has recognised Bangladesh for different e-government or digital government initiatives for the past six years in a row.
We have established a Digital Service Accelerator to expedite and facilitate the e-services of all ministries and have issued more than 100 million digital IDs to our citizens – one of the highest volumes in the world.
Services are very carefully designed to ensure they are relevant to all three groups of Bangladeshi citizens: younger, tech-savvy generations growing up with technology; "digital adapters" who are middle-aged individuals who have adopted technology; and the minority who stay away from technology. The scale of digital governance in Bangladesh has a tremendous impact on the transformation of the nation.
Promotion of the ICT industry
The vibrant and rapidly growing ICT industry in Bangladesh is the fourth area supporting digital transformation. We serve clients in an array of domains, including financial services, telecoms and healthcare and drive the IT/ITES engine behind some of the world's most global companies.
The four pillars behind the Digital Bangladesh are strengthened by strong government commitment and support.
Bangladesh is experiencing nearly eight percent gross domestic product growth and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We are 34th in the World Economic Forum's Inclusive Development Index, ahead of many established nations. And by 2030, we will be the 24th largest economy in the world. The essential ingredient behind this growth has been a smart use of the ICT to spur progress in all sectors.
The writer is the state minister for ICT, the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.