[Viewpoint] Coordination lacking in IT blueprint

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[Viewpoint] Coordination lacking in IT blueprint

A specific action plan for the information technology promotion project of the Lee Myung-bak administration has been announced.

According to the plan, 142,000 professional IT jobs are to be created through investment of 5.2 trillion won ($3.9 billion) over four years. Moreover, the government aims to effectively cut costs by 13.3 trillion won every year by improving service and administrative efficiency for citizens and businesses.

The IT project reflects the government’s commitment to solving unemployment, a critical national issue, through informatization - building up an information-based economy.

Before Seoul announced the project, United States President Barack Obama proposed a blueprint to address unemployment and overcome the economic crisis by investing $30 billion in building an IT infrastructure, creating 940,000 jobs.

However, we need to look closer. While creating jobs through promoting information technology is important, it is only an incidental effect of informatization.

More important is a clear awareness of the ultimate value and purpose of promoting it.

So far, Korea has positioned itself as a leader by investing in IT infrastructure, and was ranked sixth out of 192 countries around the world in the United Nations’ electronic government readiness ranking.

But the situation is changing.

For example, the United Nations’ evaluation criteria are expected to give heavier weight to two-way communication with citizens, convenience and utility, and less to infrastructure.

If we continue to build information systems exclusively as we did before, Korea might fall from the top ranks of IT leaders.

Whereas the conventional idea of national informatization was driven by suppliers and systems, the future direction, content and investment should shift to the users, its use and integration in their daily lives.

Information technology is now more than just a technological field. It is now a core strategy for national development and is a means of reform to ultimately provide various convenient services to citizens while keeping administration effective and democratic.

It is fortunate that the Lee Myung-bak administration has set this as the basic direction of IT promotion.

Still, concerns remain.

For the national information technology promotion action plan to go beyond rosy blueprints, there are a few prerequisites.

First of all, sufficient financial investment to implement the project is desperately needed. The United States has set aside $30 billion, about 3.81 percent of the total economic stimulus package of $787 billion, for the IT industry.

Korea plans to spend 336.1 billion won, 1.16 percent of this year’s supplementary budget of 29 trillion won, on the IT industry.

In the longer term, a strategic approach is necessary to overcome the national economic crisis and prepare for the advent of a knowledge- and information-oriented society.

Secondly, a national mediator to coordinate the national information technology promotion plan is notably absent. Since the dissolution of the Ministry of Information and Communication, authority has been divided between different agencies.

The Korea Communications Commission oversees the information communication network, and the Ministry of Knowledge Economy is in charge of information and communication industries.

Digital content is under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security handles electronic governance, information protection, and the information culture.

The absence of a control tower is a frequently mentioned issue.

If the National Assembly passes the currently pending revision of the Basic Law on Informatization Promotion, the Informatization Promotion Committee under the Office of the Prime Minister would be upgraded to the National Informatization Strategy Committee under the Office of the President.

The new committee needs to play the role of mediator to harmoniously facilitate policy measures scattered across government agencies and to support and assist the implementation of the plans by each agency.

Moreover, each government agency carrying out the projects should agree with and faithfully follow the action plan.

Each government agency will be executing its part of the plan, and if it is not enthusiastic about implementation, all the blueprints might prove to be in vain.

Therefore, if the president and the heads of the government agencies express their interest in informatization, working-level officials and bureaus in charge of the projects will be greatly motivated.

I hope this investment campaign by the Lee administration succeeds.

*The writer is a professor of public administration at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Chul-ho
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