I know that many people are preoccupied to give you much advise on any possible topic and especially foreigner’s are busy with sometimes ridiculous input. I am since 1993 in Asia and Thailand in different jobs and I have always been careful to understand different point of views before speaking out. My professional background focused me since 1993 on digitizing Asian and Thai companies, and government agencies.

When I came to the region my team and I helped accelerating setting up the Internet and adoption in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Indonesia and continued afterwards to support many organizations with driving better technology, automization, and more.

Since the Internet and mobile explosion, it doesn’t matter anymore whether your business is in Silicon Valley (45% foreigners in the workforce), Jakarta, Berlin, or Bangkok. The differences are within the companies and organizations and how they drive and accelerate change. I see excellent examples in Thailand who are world class and – as you imagined – the opposite. In that good examples aren’t only Bangkok (Agoda’s predecessor was founded in Phuket for instance).

Yet, the government has more then ever a responsibility to make access to the digital economy available across the nation and to all its people. A high 4G auction fee might limit geographic availability and quality of 4G broadband nationwide. It also doesn’t say anything about the fibre based broad band to cell towers, cities, and homes across the country. Even in Germany, a special law had to be provisioned to ensure high speed broadband availability across the nation, to ensure also remote and rural areas are being covered.

I keep traveling to rural areas for to support NGOs or work related over the years and saw people connecting in cities and villages with smart phones playing and working. That’s what it should be, but just more of it.

Digitization changes the way IT Departments, R&D, and innovation work. Today the old approach of engaging IT vendors and consultants, who have driven technology world is diminishing and organizations increasingly take ownership on their own in working with Free and Open Source developments, startups, large technology and cloud companies.

This also must reflect on a government deals with technology and the agenda a government sets for the country.

What questions need to be answered?

  • How to ensure digital uptake across the country?
  • How to align the education system across all degrees and studies into digital?
  • What is the level of continues improvement in education and national digital development?
  • How can network providers be incentives to provide nationals high speed, high quality, and reasonably low cost broad band?
  • How to get the workforce ready for an increase in digital and robot technologies – preventing droves of unemployment?

So the government is ask to consider the following themes:

  • Better digital infrastructure (network, broadband to the home, devices for the poor …)
  • Improved education (skilled labor force advancing people ahead of automation and robotics (aka white color job killer)
  • Digitized Government to citizen and corporate interactions (mobile/internet based digitization of transaction also removing overheads of all sorts)
  • Champion digitization nation wide (R&D Centers, new technology adoption, public private partnerships…)

In a small country you can of course have a cabinet meeting and drive decisions into the front line on the same day, but I don’t want a Prime Minister or chancellor to start coding, I want him or her to run the country (hope he/she is busy with that!). but I also wouldn’t want a bureaucrat to decide the fate of technology.

Someone outside of the traditional technology, research and development, or administrative environment should be leading digital policy and strategy development. It must be someone who is excited about technology and has touched and delivered it in the past.

The United States – being a large federation – has used that principle well and so did Germany, amongst others. It must be someone who inspires and isn’t busy with running a Ministry.

Countries such as Thailand should appoint a national Chief Technology Officer – a CTO.

What should a national CTO do in my view?

1.) Advise the Cabinet on Technology matters as a Subject Matter Expert

2.) Set Technology policy for the nation and advise policy makers (Education, Transport, Communications, etc.)

3.) Define the technology strategy and guidelines for the State Organizations and State Enterprises

4.) Drive Research & Development of Technology relevant to the nation in combination with Universities, local and global Corporations

5.) Champion a startup and education culture around adoption of digital technologies

6.) Educate on technology trends and practices, including the adoption and development of Free and Open Source Software in the country

All of this without bias for vendors and consulting companies – not excluding them, as they are part of the ecosystem.

This is as much a public relations functions, as it is a serious contributor to evolve digital adoption across the nation – the role and person needs to address both. This is crucial.

The metric for national CTO could be:

  • Number of technology startups and digital centers outside of the capital
  • Amount of Technology Courses across educational facilities in the country
  • Times quoted in global media outlets
  • Number of open source developers
  • Digitized processes for Government to citizen and company
  • Number of Innovation & R&D initiatives as public private partnerships

The dimensions of this role can be debated for a long time and I think the first CTO appointed will have to scope it out and make the role. However, I do believe this is would be a very desirable step for the country.

(Opinions are my own).