UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
While the location of the means of production has traditionally been dictated by the availability of labor, raw materials, energy and markets, the current trend is to locate them where information is available in order to optimize availability of all the others. Information is transmitted through Telecommunication networks and processing is done using computers. Both technologies are based on electronics technology but it is only recently that the two have been viewed globally as part of one information machine and the unified Technology is described as Telematics and it has a growing influence on the way people work, learn and entertain themselves as they go about the business of making their lives better.
1 HISTORIC BACKGROUND.
Electronically based speech and data communication services originated in Europe and North America in the mid 19th century as Telephony and Telegraphy. It was introduced in Africa at the beginning of this century as part of the coloniolisation process. Initially services were only available for areas with colonial interest.
At independence, governments were determined to avail services everywhere. They started by controlling the service providers. They made the decisions as to where new services would be provided but due to other commitments, they could not avail the extra resources needed to support their demands.
It thus became increasingly more difficult for the service providers to meet their financial obligations and demands from the governments. Some of them fell for the temptations of continuously increasing the tariffs until services were no longer affordable.
More ingenious service providers looked into modern management procedures in order to survive and flourish. They indulged in optimizing the use of resources mainly the human ones by retraining, restructuring, reinvention and retrenchment. They also employed computerized management tools to optimize performance. These are the only organizations which stand a chance of making positive contributions in national development and it is fortunate that K.P.T.C.appears to be headed in that direction.
While business computing started around 1955, most of the large enterprises acquired computers for number crunching and scientific use. As their sizes grew smaller and the costs went down, their numbers increased up to a point where interconnecting them became viable. Rudimentary communications hardware and software started emerging but it was not until the emergence of the personal computers in the early 1980's there was an avalanche of new products based on Telecommunications and at reasonable cost that it became apparent that a global view of the two technologies would yield payoffs.
Being a consequence of the merger between Telecommunication services and computers, there has been some debate as to whether lack of requisite telematics services is a consequence of lack of economic development or the cause.
Proposing that it is a consequence is self defeating and that line of thought preempts aggressive searches for resources for provision of services that would have the greatest impact on economic development.
To understand how telematics can influence economic development, it would be prudent to consider that economic activities do not follow a set of rules or commands. It is networked systems whose individual components influence each other in many interwoven processes which are activated and controlled by information interchange.
Going by the argument raised above, it is clear that if information is not easily availed, then the various components of economic development will neither be properly activated nor controlled and the consequences are uncoordinated activity or chaos.
2.1 THE STATUS OF TELEMATICS IN KENYA.
Although it is most rational to have a global view of telematics, there is some justification to present a breakdown of the components that are used to build the global system in order to get a glimpse on the shortcomings, functionality and opportunity.
As at present, the following services either exist or should be available in the very near future.
The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) exists with a penetration of approximately 1%.
A Public Land Mobile Network (PLNM) with a capacity of about 2,000 lines exists and there are intentions to expand and modernize it to meet present and future customer requirements.
Direct Dialing International Telephone services have been available for some time.
Packet switched data services are also available.
VSAT services are gradually becoming popular especially with the banks.
ISDN should be available to a limited number of customers in the very near future.
Internet services are available although they have not been popularized.
There are positive efforts to provide broadband transmission systems using fibre in the cities and digital radios across the cities.
A liberalized environment is evolving with private sector participation in the provision of telematics services getting more visible.
Supplementary services are available to subscribers connected to stored programs controlled exchanges.
Most of the popular computer hardware and software is easily available from local vendors at reasonable costs.
Training on computers is gradually picking up although there are no established standards.
There exists a trained pool of trained and skilled engineers and technical backup staff.
2.1 OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE.
With all those resources mentioned above, there must be some opportunities that can be exploited for the benefits of service providers, customers and the whole country. These could include the following.
2.1.1 HEALTH SERVICES.
Health services provisions stand to gain from the availability of data communication services by maintaining all medical records in a centralized data-base if a patient shows up in any of the participating health facilities then their records can be retrieved quickly and proper diagnostics made.
Should the available facilities be expanded slightly, then it will be possible for several medical professionals to make observations during surgery and give their opinion in real time without being actually on site by using video conferencing services. Such facilities can also be used very effectively for training as is the case with the British system JANET
This is one area where the greatest amount of information is generated and consumed. Most of that information is in paper form which is very expensive and difficult to handle. Availing most of the useful educational material in a computerized form and availing access mechanisms to interested parties would present inestimable savings in terms of money and time. Popularity of such a system would be a benefit to service providers.
As it once happened with American Airlines, tying hotel booking facilities to airline bookings and coordination of all travel activities by using computers and telecommunications has the capability of putting competitors out of business. (if there is no uncle sam to rescue them).
2.1.4 RETAIL TRADING
The critical issues in retail trading is having all the products that the customers need, providing efficient customer services and maintaining as little stock as possible in order to improve the cash flow.
All this can be achieved by having a computerized point of sale system connected to a stores information system with access to key suppliers. All this are resources that are available for exploitation.
2.1.5 SECURITIES TRADING.
Limited application of Telematics in the securities market already exists. This could be enhanced by replacing the existing chalk board with an electronic bill board. This would allow for faster and more effective trading. With terminals located at far places, it would also save investors a lot of time and transport money.
2.1.6 BANKING AND INSURANCE.
Some of the Banks and insurance companies are already making effective use of telematics to improve customer services and hence their competitiveness. But there is a lot of unexploited opportunity since even simple issues like automatic telling are still not yet common leave alone home banking services and others.
2.1.7 AGRICULTURAL MARKETING.
This is one area where some of the greatest opportunities lie unexploited. A very high proportion of Kenyans get their daily bread from agriculture while everybody in the country including visitors is to some extent an indirect customer to the farmers. This is an area where most service providers have neglected.
2.1.8 GENERAL COMMERCE.
To reduce the cost of interchanging commodities and money, it is vital that transactions are conducted with minimum delays. this is because money has value attached to time and all money in business belongs to somebody who expects reasonable returns.
3 THE FUTURE.
In order to accurately predict the future, one would require a crystal ball unfortunately I have never learned how to use one. Here I will make an effort to give a perception of what I consider to be a reasonably accurate view of what in my opinion will prevail.
It is fortunate that nobody is still manufacturing outdated equipment implying that whether exploited or not, capability to offer modern Telematic services will always be built into the equipment.
It is also apparent that everybody is insisting on getting the most modern technology. and the systems of the future will be more homogenous because everything will be digital but the rate of development will demand continuous monitoring to avoid rapid obsolescence.
It would be rational to assume that although there is some differentiation on what particular services are provided by individual networks, with the introduction of ISDN and broadband communication systems, this distinction will cease to be relevant allowing for service providers to provide access only and subscribers will then decide what terminals they want to connect depending on their service requirements.
In Kenya, the trend appears to be towards providing the very best services possible, provision of the best technology is vital towards that end.
3.2 BUSINESS ASPECTS.
The essence of providing services is for people to use them. It normally happens that resources are never nearly enough and it takes special skills to ensure that those available are put to the most productive use. Measures should also be taken to avail all possible resources since for well planned systems, there is positive correlation between resources employed and the quantity and quality of the service.
In order to ensure that resources are utilized optimally, availability of skilled staff and computerized management tools is vital.
To avail new resources, new players have to be enticed and consistent and rational regulations to be put in place so that all players have a level playing grounds (In simple terms, aggressive liberalization policies should be followed).
Networks of the future will have a fundamental difference from today's networks. Data communications, video and other graphical applications are getting more and more prominent in the Telecommunications arena with a significant effect on the structure and capacities on the networks.
James K. Kyarie.
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