UAE leads region in IT, says report

A report says the Emirates continues to lead the Arab world in adoption of information and communication technology.

Abu Dhabi - October 9, 2008 - Humeed Almrzouqi (19) surfs the internet at The Warrior internet in Abu Dhabi October 9, 2008. ( Jeff Topping / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  JT001-1009-INTERNET 7F8Q3244.jpgJT001-1009-INTERNET 7F8Q3244.jpg
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The UAE continues to lead the Arab world in adoption of information and communication technology, according to the annual global information technology report (GITR) released yesterday by the World Economic Forum.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa stood out among the emerging economies covered in the report, with all but one ranked in the top half of the 134 countries listed in the report's networked readiness index. Most have improved their rankings consistently since the first report was released in 2001.
The importance of ICT in the Government's vision for the country was a critical part of the index. In the MENA region, the UAE was ranked third, and Qatar, ranked sixth. Both have sweeping ambitions to become technology-driven knowledge economies.
The GITR is produced in partnership with Insead, the French business school that operates a campus in Abu Dhabi. Professor Bruno Lanvin, an editor of the report, visited both Abu Dhabi and Dubai yesterday for its launch.
The Middle East stands out as the region having benefited the most from ICT advances over the last eight years," the report said. "ICT is increasingly seen by many countries in the region, notably the Gulf countries, as an essential tool to promote a structural transformation... and to modernise their societies."
But both need significant improvement in their educational systems and skills base to follow through on their visions, Prof Lanvin said. Availability of scientists and engineers in the two countries is among the lowest in the Arab world, with the UAE ranked 42nd in the world - one spot above Trinidad and Tobago - for the quality of its maths and science education. "You could say this is the next bottleneck, or you could say the right investments have been made in the right places," Prof Lanvin said. "The infrastructure and the environment has been built - now every cent that is invested in skills will generate huge benefits."
Previous investments in mobile broadband and a national high-speed internet network - currently being upgraded to a state-of-the-art optic-fibre system - mean the country can use the coming period of slower corporate investment to put the infrastructure to good use.
"We are entering an economic crisis, and we're seeing investment into technology infrastructure going down," said Prof Lanvin, who managed the World Bank's information for development program before joining Insead in 2002. "This is the best possible time to invest in skills."
Since its inception, the top end of the list has been dominated by countries from Scandinavia and North America. But the emergence of new technological economies in the developing world is the story that Prof Lanvin believes to be one of this year's most significant. "This is the year that will be remembered as the year that China overtook India," he said. "This is an indication of what is happening in the world. The biggest dynamics are not at the top, where there is remarkable stability. The real movement is happening behind that."