Towards Online Presence: Initial Steps
Outlining the necessary low cost iniatives to ensure Afghanistan moves online in an effective manner
Afghanistan has come a long way since the dark ages of telecommunications, when for a simple phone call people would have go to neighboring countries. Our growth has surprised many. According to the senior officials of the first telecom companies in the country, they were also not expecting this exponential growth for the mobile phone penetration in the country. Although there are serious questions about the quality of service, sustainability of the infrastructure and growth of the industry as a whole, the journey so far has no doubt been impressive.
In today’s world a considerable portion of the infrastructure as well as the delivery is dedicated to data services, and we are moving towards convergence, one device which should address almost all of the user’s requirements. In this kind of scenario people also expect the government to move towards online service provision, or at least have some sort of an online presence in the initial stages. Afghanistan, both in public and private sectors, has explored the possibilities of moving online, we have seen many services wholly provided online or at least strengthened by technology, particularly the Internet.
Nowadays, it’s common practice to apply for jobs online. Even government jobs are posted online, and usage of LinkedIn and other professional social networking sites are on the rise. People apply for scholarships through the internet, and there are even online professional exams that Afghans attempt to supplement their traditional education. We are moving online and the significance of online presence is felt in almost all sectors, though the speed of change in private firms is greater as compared to the public sector but the important component of behavioral change to augment physical service delivery with online delivery or presence is already happening.
Our challenges are unique. In my understanding, we need to take smaller but firm steps in the initial stages and start with low cost initiatives such as the following:
Apart from news channels/websites, Afghan content online is very limited particularly in local languages. It is common to see websites with content that is months old. The first step for online presence is to keep the content updated, though the question of how up-to-date the content should be, can be decided based on the purpose of the website. However, the common rule of thumb is that every time a reader visits the website he/she should find something new to offer. Also, many times policies and procedures may change but these don’t get reflected online by the organization. For instance, if an organization service delivery process is modified the first thing an organization should do is to put the new process online. Poor and outdated content is one of the main reasons people do not find online information authentic.
Dissemination of Content/Information
Although social media usage is on the rise, and many companies think having a social media account is enough for an organization, I think social media should not be thought of as a replacement for the old fashioned website, though it can be an excellent supplement which can drive droves of visitors to your website. Meanwhile social media accounts also limit access and information dissemination only to that particular medium. It is always a good practice to understand key channels of information distribution and keep them open, as your clients will always check these channels and your website first prior to contacting the organization physically.
In most cases anything put online is usually accepted by the organization, but it has been noticed many times, especially in public sector organizations, that anything you see on their website is not necessarily how it should work. Therefore it’s advisable to check the legal and procedural status of the websites prior to using online content or putting something online.
If I fill an online application for a service and email it to the organization, will my application be treated with equal importance as the application of a physically present applicant? For a country with limited resources like Afghanistan, investment in telecommunications infrastructure is always accompanied by questions of can we invest these resources somewhere better? For instance, in certain basic services. We have a long way to go before our basic services infrastructure is established and we can assign ample resources to telecommunication infrastructure, but it shouldn’t be that technology, and especially online service provisions, should be put on the back seat. We can start with low-cost initiatives and continually engage and encourage the community to go online prior to contacting an organization offline.