IT Weekly Middle East Newsletter 3rd April 2005

Last week saw the leader of a major technology firm make a plea for government to pay more attention to technology issues: the US government that is.

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By  Peter Branton Published  April 3, 2005

Editor's Letter|~||~||~|Last week saw the leader of a major technology firm make a plea for government to pay more attention to technology issues: the US government that is. Speaking at a keynote address in Dubai, Craig Barrett, Intel’s highly-respected chief executive officer, caused laughter when he suggested he would like to “borrow for a few years” General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and UAE defence minister, to show the same leadership in the development of technology in the US as he has here in the UAE. Barrett, who steps down as Intel chief executive in May after a seven-year tenure, is one of the industry’s greatest advocates in the importance of research and development and investment in technology, frequently criticising his own country’s lack of expenditure in these areas. He was in the region last week to promote the uptake of technology — and ultimately drive sales of Intel’s products of course. But, as he quite rightly pointed out, it is only through investment in technology, and information technology in particular, that nations can hope to compete in the global digital economy. “The pace of innovation is not slowing down and business and government leaders around the world are quickly realising that to be competitive, they must embrace ICT to fully participate in these new opportunities,” Barrett declared. “The GCC needs to invest in ICT as the next natural resource.” Any measurement of how the Middle East is doing in making that investment would suggest there’s room for improvement: PC penetration is still very low, as is internet usage, with overall investment in IT low compared to the growth the region is seeing in other sectors. Another factor which Barrett didn’t touch upon in his speech in Dubai last week is that software piracy rates in the region are still high compared to more developed economies. This has arguably had a knock-on effect, with local software developers reluctant to invest in developing products it would be hard to make revenue from. Yet there is also a lot of hope for the future here in the region. The Middle East has a large percentage of its population under the age of 25, a workforce hungry to learn the right skills and governments that see the importance of IT development to their economic well-being. The UAE is generally heralded as a leader in this regard, but one could also point to Jordan’s efforts to develop its IT industry. Barrett’s visit also threw the spotlight again on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ‘PCs for Homes’ initiative, which appears to be bearing fruition. This ambitious scheme could see as many as one million new PC users over the next five years, with the government working with the private sector to make it possible for people to buy their own PCs cheaply. Intel itself has also been active in supporting educational initiatives in the region, including working to translate vast stores of educational content available online into Arabic. Worldwide, Intel has been very active in the promotion of the use of ICT in schools, not just to teach IT itself but as an aid to learning all sorts of subjects. As was said earlier, these efforts will help Intel sell more products, so they are not done entirely without a measure of self-interest. But they are being done and being done here, which may ultimately prove to be all that matters. ||**||

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