It is high time order was brought to the ICT sector
The World Wide Web, an avenue for information. Digital media is likely to dominate the global and, indeed, the local scene up to the next century.
The digital revolution has taken the 21st Century by storm. Few saw it coming.
It is the engine that drives what has come to be known as the â€śknowledge economyâ€ť.
It is redefining lifestyles and how business and people relate.
It is driving down under traditional corporates that failed to change with times, while also creating new kids on the block such as Google, Microsoft, Uber, Facebook and M-Pesa.
Its pace of change is unprecedented. Those who were prepared for it are reaping big.
In the same vein, there are many who are being ripped off big time, knowingly or otherwise.
It is unlikely that the dominance of what some people loosely call information technology (IT), information and communication technology (ICT) or informatics will recede any day soon.
It is likely to dominate the global and, indeed, the local scene up to the next century.
Regrettably, most traditionalists are not conditioned to adopt to the fast pace of change.
While doing my Masters in Electrical Engineering at the University of Nairobi in the mid-80s, I had the first real encounter with computers, precisely desktops.
I was privileged to be among only two Masterâ€™s students the department was graduating that year, and before us, only one other student had graduated since the university started.
When it came to preparing our thesis, it took great effort for my supervisor to convince me to type it on a computer.
I would argue with him: â€śMy friend is a secretary and can type it for me; this is a clerical job.â€ť
He would retort: â€śThink digital.â€ť I would never be so happy that he, in a way, compelled me to start using computers as a personal companion, in the process propelling and launching me into this field.
The irony is that 10 years later, with the advent of the Internet, it was my turn to convince the good professor to â€śthink digitalâ€ť.
It was a nightmare getting him to adopt to and use the Internet, precisely then store-and-forward e-mail (electronic mail).
Ever since, I have witnessed the digital revolution take the world by storm.
On return in the early 90s from further studies in the UK and the US, we teamed up with other IT â€śprofessionalsâ€ť to revamp what was then the Kenya Computer Institute, and renamed it the Computer Society of Kenya (CSK), the label and character it maintains to date.
In a sense, it was influenced by the British Computer Society (BCS), which also, to date, mainly for historical reasons, maintains its name, even though it no longer deals â€śonly with computersâ€ť.
Incidentally, in the UK, there are now over 500 IT courses offered or recognised by the BCS that make one eligible for the â€śchartered engineerâ€ť title from the Engineering Council!
At the CSK, we asked: â€śWhat do we call ourselves?â€ť We were treading new, uncharted waters.
We had doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers, among other professionals.
We decided we would call ourselves â€śinformaticiansâ€ť, a term derived from the French word â€śinformatiqueâ€ť.
Unfortunately, the term has not gained traction because, perhaps, both the â€śprofessionalsâ€ť and government allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry to be â€śan IT expertâ€ť.
I have seen accountants, management scientists, doctors, engineers â€” and now even lawyers â€” masquerading as â€śIT expertsâ€ť.
While it might have been necessary in the early stages not to tightly regulate the sector, time has come when it must be professionalised.
It, however, wonâ€™t be easy because the people who call the shots â€” both in government and the private sector â€” are non-informaticians who have wrongly occupied spaces of the real experts.
Besides, the sector itself transmutes so fast that it is hard for most to keep pace.
MERITS AND DEMERITS
The good thing is that the fundamentals remain the same. That is to be expected of â€śprofessional fieldsâ€ť.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines â€śprofessionâ€ť as â€śa calling requiring specialised knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparationâ€ť.
Does IT/ICT, therefore, qualify as a â€śprofessionâ€ť or vocation? Yes, of course, it does.
But not so for some of the traditional pundits. I have come across some â€śengineersâ€ť who donâ€™t think so, and much less believe it is an â€śengineeringâ€ť.
Yet you canâ€™t today be an engineer worth the salt without ICT skills of one sort or the other.
Much worse, some, after acquiring a few basic vocational skills in ICT here and there, mutate fast to brand themselves â€śIT expertsâ€ť.
I want to posit that more than 50 per cent of Kenyansâ€™ lives and lifestyles are today driven by ICT.
If you are not talking of a â€śdigital governmentâ€ť, you are talking of a â€ścomputer whiz kidâ€ť.
And so are our national problems. If it is not a defective biometric voter system or erroneous transmission of results, it is ghost computer figures in Treasuryâ€™s financial reports.
If it is not mobile phones being used to spread leaked exam papers, it is computer errors being blamed by the examinations council, or firms spending billions to procure systems whose capacities are better delivered by mini-systems that are thousand times cheaper.
The list is long, and will get even longer with time.
Can you imagine todayâ€™s banks operating without computers â€” or a world without FM radio or digital TV?
I have kept souvenir letters of some major media houses who only 20 years ago did not think they needed Internet, but today draw most of their revenues from digital editions.
Yet, when problems strike, I donâ€™t see the real informaticians.
I only see a battery of eminent lawyers arguing cases in presidential election disputes, for instance, I only see auditors (not forensic scientists or financial engineers) talking about the Eurobond, and I only see management scientists being called forward to talk as â€śICT expertsâ€ť.
Where are the true experts? By the way, who said the chairperson of an electoral agency must be a lawyer?
In Zambia, he isnâ€™t. I think we credit our lawyers too much.
When the Kenya Diaspora presented its memorandum before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament, they raised the issue as much.
Did the committee have to be chaired by my two eminent lawyer friends, senators James Orengo and Kiraitu Murungi?
Later on, at an NGOsâ€™ forum on Election Reforms, Mr Orengo cracked a joke of â€śkilling all lawyers, as once advanced by Shakespeareâ€™s wifeâ€ť.
May be not to that extent, but perhaps it is time we had fewer jurists in our lives, and more technologists, instead.
As we prepare to have new electoral commissioners, and a technical committee to boot, I hope to see more informaticians and other â€śtechnicalâ€ť professionals in the two, and fewer lawyers.
This, especially for the latter committee; after all, isnâ€™t it appropriately christened â€śtechnicalâ€ť?
Despite everybody accepting how crucial ICT is to todayâ€™s strategic competitiveness, the professionals arenâ€™t calling the shots just yet.
For the first time, ICT professionals (or are they?) have been appointed to the Cabinet.
Even the ICT sector itself has all along been led by all and sundry, but informaticians!
Indeed, it was likely an unwritten rule that to lead the ICT sector, you had simply to be related, affiliated to or god-fathered by some previous powerful kingpin.
The hallmarks of ICT are accuracy, speed, transparency, cost-effectiveness and accountability.
Yet Kenya sorely needs merit, to make the next big leap â€” not the three ills, to borrow from a senior judge: â€śmediocrity, political expediency and ethnic bigotryâ€ť.
Further, one may ask: Where are the Kenyan informaticians themselves?
Most have taken a walk because quacks have been allowed to take charge. Every Kenyan is today an â€śIT expertâ€ť.
This is why I must laud the introduction of the â€śICT Practitioners Billâ€ť.
While I canâ€™t comment on its merit because I havenâ€™t read it, I support the principle to bring order to the industry.
Not surprisingly, the people supposed to be fronting it, are its most ardent opponents.
As they say, if you are not a shoe wearer, you canâ€™t know where it pinches.
I hope Parliament will seize the opportunity to engage the public, especially real ICT professionals, to appropriately amend and pass the Bill to bring a resemblance of order to this leading growth sector.
The digital economy has come of age, and too important to leave to chance!