Helping businesses close the digital divide


KUALA LUMPUR: Businesses in this region cannot afford to be caught in the technology gap if they want to prosper in a technology-driven economy, and software giant Microsoft Corp wants to help narrow the divide.

John Galligan, regional director for government relations at Microsoft’s legal and corporate affairs division, said many small and medium businesses (SMBs) do not have proper access to technology, which puts them at a disadvantage against their larger rivals.

“Without technology, they cannot benefit from information systems and the insights these provide, that may help them make better business decisions,” he said.

He was speaking to Bytz on the sidelines on an Asean SME (small and medium enterprises) working group meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Galligan said broadband Internet has become a social necessity and in some countries, a basic human right. Governments also realise that the Web can help empower its citizens; that it is not just for hosting online services that improve reach and efficiency.

He said technology such as cloud computing and social media help open up opportunities for businesses to collaborate and expand. Running a cloud-based business, for example, allows the company to gain access to new services, as well as lower operational costs.

“Cloud computing has evolved from being a platform of hosted applications to one where businesses can really run and develop their business,” he said.

Galligan added that cloud computing also levels the playing field for many businesses, by offering enterprise-like capabilities for an SMB budgets. These capabilities also allow SMBs to better deliver to the enterprises that engage in their services.

“The cloud lowers the barriers to quality IT solutions that give small businesses an edge in the competitive business world,” he said.

Social media networks, he said, can be a boon to small businesses where they can cluster together for business tenders.

“Social media is not only for catching up with friends. It can also bring together various small businesses in an area which can then go as one entity to offer services to larger organisations.

“After all, SMBs are the largest providers to large enterprises,” he said, adding that this ability to band together for objectives is very enticing.

However, he said Asean’s geographic features may be a hindrance for good Internet infrastructure and propagation — the main ingredients needed in a cloud-run business.

“It is harder to deploy fibreoptics in archipelagos like Indonesia or the Philippines because you can’t bring fibre to the premises like you could on large land masses, like with Australia and the United States,” Galligan said.

He said alternatives such as satellite access and WiFi hotspots are expensive to deploy and use.

But one solution that may be able to provide the necessary Internet connectivity and narrow the digital divide is delivering web access through unused TV spectrum or white spaces.

“Since digital TV became en vogue, broadcasters do not require the wide spectrums they were initially allocated. There are white spaces that can be used to provide Internet connectivity where there is none,” he explained.

Galligan said this technology is on trial in the United States, where it is hoped it will help with the network congestion in that country, following the rising popularity of mobile connectivity.

Although the technology may not be able to provide speeds fast enough to download a 30-minute TV episode in minutes, it is sufficient for basic Internet functions, such as e-mail and casual websurfing.

“The challenge then would be getting spectrum owners to auction off their allocations because it is a valuable resource with which they can use to supplement their income.

“Then, there are also the various regulators to work with,” he said.

Galligan said Microsoft will continue working with governments to push this technology and come up with a catalogue of devices for it.


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