LAST Thursday the United States Embassy in Kampala (not Uganda, for some reason that is not relevant right now) hosted a chat on ICT in Uganda and invited a number of Ugandan ICT people into the tent.
That hashtag there occurred to me a few minutes into the event, and I chose it because we should be able to use it non-stop into perpetuity. That’s my policy on hashtags – the unimportant ones should have timebound restrictions such as the year, but the ones dealing with serious issues should be open ended and more all-encompassing.
You see, I don’t believe serious issues should be subjected to that short-term, brief, 140-character restricted bursts of discussion that Twitter facilitates.
“We live-tweeted (any issue)…” is useful for sharing information with the people who aren’t in the room, but hardly covers the issue extensively enough beyond the period of the tweet session.
Which is why I chose #ICTinUG, because the discussion that we had that day should not be allowed to end any time soon and must be had extensively by as many people as possible. The key question we tackled that day flowed along the lines of “What should the Uganda ICT sector look like in ten years’ time?”
The responses came in rapidly and generally revolved around the same general ideas:
More local content, better integration, a bigger pool of local skills and talent, more tech in rural areas, more regulation, more transparency, more cultural change, and “decongestion of the city because people will work more at home”.
And when that last one was announced my ears pricked up – I could NOT believe I hadn’t made the suggestion myself!
To start with, ten years’ time is too long for that one change to happen; in fact, I am already testament to the reality of that suggestion even now.
For years I have done my best to ensure that I have internet access at home, so that I can get more work done there rather than go into the office. Of course, the problem with this is the cost being so damn high that only a person of my reach and determination can afford it.
I’ll reveal the secret behind those achievements later, but today I’m thinking of the decongestion of the city by way of technology.
This is the reason, for instance, that I don’t leave home any time before a certain hour to drop my youngest at her school even though I am up and at my desk at home at 0645hrs as my wife drives out of the gate to drop the older children at their school. She must make it out of the gate on the dot of that time in order to get to school within thirty minutes, but if she is late by even two minutes she will spend those thirty minutes inching along with piles of other cars just a kilometre down the road.
I, on the other hand, will sit at my desk and plough through emails and documentation online until such a time as traffic will clear. On the most ideal evenings, I will be back at my home office desk much earlier than most people commence their daily practice of sitting in the homebound traffic and getting two hours’ more time into work efforts.
You see, for people like me work consists mostly of word processing and communicating the thought processes that go into work; and that communication is done by email and phone. Because of that, we find that we do not have to be sitting in an office building so many kilometres and sitting-in-traffic hours away from our homes. Within minutes of rolling out of our beds, we can be at work, sharing information or issuing instructions to colleagues located thousands of miles away.
To avoid that massive loss of time in traffic, though, bandwidth access costs must become much, much lower, and the service should be more reliable. On days that I choose to work entirely at home, for instance, all I need to make it unviable is an electricity outage or loss of internet access.
If that happens when I am in the office, the generator is powered up or our calls to our provider carry with them a certain gravitas that is only ignored at the peril of the provider’s account with us.
Besides that, when I work out of home my only other obstacle is the distraction caused by little children calling for my attention to the most nonsensical of details, simply because they can.
I’ve generally tamed them well enough, though, for this not to happen too often; whereas in the office I suffer even more serious distractions from workmates seeking non-essential help and people trying to have meetings for reasons of passing time, and it is harder to tame those!
There are many other reasons working out of home is much better than going into the office, and I have only technology to thank for that.
If more people worked at home, not only would the city be decongested, but a lot more work would probably get done and there would be lots more innovation as well. A lot of outsourcing could quickly follow based on ordinary principles of commerce – for instance, I don’t need my accountant to sit in the office every day in order to balance the books; if I have a trustworthy person recording the transactions, the reporting can be done off site.
The discussion should not end here, hence #ICTinUG.
And on that note, it is my serious hope that #ICTinUG in the next ten years actually does meet the expectation that more of us will travel less in order to get our work done, without necessarily turning our homes into offices for our workmates to move in to.