altA group of 13 international economics lecturers and students from core Vi member, the Belarus State Economic University (BSEU), gathered at the Minsk UNDP offices March 19 for a videoconference presentation of UNCTAD’s Information Economy Report (IER) 2012.

This year’s edition of the report, dedicated to the software industry and developing countries, was presented by Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) section Chief, Torbjörn Fredriksson, leader of the IER team.

"With the growing role of software in more goods and services, it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries to have the capacity to adopt, adapt and develop software to suit their specific needs," Fredriksson said, introducing the topic.

According to the IER, the software sector presents a number of opportunities for developing countries. Characterized by low capital entry barriers, it can generate employment, particularly for the skilled youth, increase export revenues and serve as a source of innovation and increased productivity in the economy.

However, developing and transition economies lag behind developed countries and developing Asia in total ICT spending. They only use a small proportion of their ICT budgets for purchases of software and information technology services, a situation which the report argues should be changed.
Although a number of developing countries, such as India, China, the Philippines or Singapore, are important exporters of software, "we should not focus too much on the export side of the software industry," warned Fredriksson. "We should also think about fostering local demand for software."
This is now increasingly possible thanks to the "mobile revolution," the demand for software by social media and the growing role of free and open source software, he explained. The advantage of encouraging local demand is that it provides opportunities for local business development, promotes local learning, creates local value added and provides solutions tailored to the language, culture and needs of each country.
"In most countries which have been successful, governments have taken a very pro-active role in promoting the software sector," he said. “They have frequently adopted national software strategies, and established consultations between the government, the private sector, universities and software developers.”
The IER recommends that governments strive to support access to affordable ICT infrastructure, education of the workforce, an adequate legal framework for intellectual property rights protection and electronic transactions. They should also leverage their role as major potential customers for local software developers through public procurement systems, for example.
The overall goal, as Fredriksson put it, is "to help as many developing countries as possible to move from being passive adopters of foreign technology to developers of relevant local applications."
In Belarus, the 2010 strategy for the development of the information society "contains a number of elements relevant for the development of the software industry," Fredriksson noted.
The country’s strategy called for both the establishment of a high technology park oriented at exports, and the increased use of locally produced software and hardware at the national level.
The presentation triggered a number of questions from the audience on various topics, including: the criteria for assessing the success of technology parks; the impact of insufficient intellectual property protection; the export vs. local market orientation of certain countries; expectations about the future place of transition economies in the global software industry; methods to establish the origin of IT products issuing from global production chains,; problems related to security and standardization issues in cloud computing; and UNCTAD's national ICT policy reviews.
"The presentation was very valuable for our students, as it helped clarify issues in a field which is not so very well known," BSEU’s Vi member coordinator, Alena Petrushkevich, commented."I will definitely include this topic for discussion in the course on international economics of our Master's programme."
For more about the topic, read the Information Economy Report 2012.