In the last decade having been thrust into the innards of various technology based businesses it has become apparent that a key factor in maintaining industry frameworks and sustainable profitability is the constant engagement of industry publics to ensure big picture alignment. These publics range from suppliers, customers, competitors and most importantly government. As we shift to a knowledge based society, we become a prime market for solutions that help achieve this objective. These solutions can be home grown or from outside our borders. A key differentiator in the season and opportunity we are in compared to days gone by is simple. We have the knowledge and talent to add value to homegrown solutions without the need to import. Unfortunately, government policy since independence never quite catered for such a time as this and we must move swiftly to ensure that local enterprise is well taken care of and protected. At all the recent major stakeholder meetings with His Excellency the President in attendance, keen to engage and with his generals tasked to give explanation, timelines or other important feedback, there was not a whiff of the ICT agenda, despite the value proposition from ICT cutting across all conceivable sectors. This calls for consistent, informed and knowledgeable lobbying.
How not to do it
The interwebs present a stage where leaderless revolutions play out, often to mixed outcomes that are a higher percentage of fail than win. In the same breath, local technology based businesses can not resort to social media and picketing in an attempt to drive an agenda. This is both unsustainable and ineffective and soon dies down as it lack the dynamics and funding of NGO type activist operations. It is also risky as a business could possibly be earmarked and made an example of, and it will be off to the dead pool leaving a predictable hush among those left, who will opt to play the hand that they are dealt.
The way its done
Government is engaged through well defined frameworks and processes that call for dedicated and focused efforts, often by way of a secretariat or other such body. Granted it takes times to achieve an outcome, understandable due the innate nature and structure of government.We only need to look at Silicon Valley to see that the “big boys” of tech know this and have well oiled lobbying vehicles to make sure that their agenda never leaves the table unless the desired outcome or a comfortable compromise position is delivered. Business and politics are inextricably intertwined.
During 2012, technology firms spent upwards of $132.9 million on federal lobbying, led by Google’s expenditures totaling just shy of $16.5 million — a huge increase from the $5 million the search giant spent during 2010, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Google’s team of dozens of in-house and hired lobbyists cover issues ranging from immigration reform to cybersecurity to patent protection and copyright laws.
The body that presents an industry position must be well setup, adequately funded, with deep networks and clout to boot. The manufacturing sector has been successful in their member representation, and for this reason KITOS was assimilated into the Kenya Association of Manufacturers under a newly created strategic unit. Membership is paid up, determined by the size of your business in turnover. The ICT unit at KAM is already actively engaging government publics – the ICT Authority on procurement and growing local as well as international trade, the August House on the Public Procurement and Disposal (Amendment) Bill, 2014, the national treasury on ICT budget proposals, and the Public Procurement Oversight Authority.
Any serious technology based business would be well advised to join and be part of the conversation as it happens.The dividend will be worth it and outcomes win-win for both industry and country. Over the next two weeks, I hope to offer a deep dive into some numbers that show the baseline opportunity for a well intentioned and well orchestrated ICT agenda, unbundled and viewed separately from the issues on women, youth and the disabled.