With a theme of advancing economic development worldwide, the 19th annual Global Forum met this week in the U.S. for the first time since 2002.
Called "the Davos of IT," Global Forum's annual themes often track world trends in the information and communication industries. Attracting invited participants from 28 countries, this year's talks focused on the theme, "ICT for an Empowered Society: A Smart and Innovative World."
Japan, for example is pursuing a "Smart Cloud" development strategy. It takes as given that there is a foundation of advanced infrastructure, and is now targeting applications with greater user participation and market uptake.
Yasuhiko Taniwaki, of Japan's Global ICT Strategy Bureau, notes that by next March, Japan will have 90% penetration in fiber-to-the-home, and 98% of subscribers will have 3G mobile devices. "So we have the broadband infrastructure," he said, and the challenge now is to increase uptake from the current 60% use of broadband services, when in fact Japan effectively has 100% availability.
In contrast, the United States is still working on a national broadband policy. Former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, now Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Services (RUS) program, used the conference to reinforce his agency's Nov. 9 announcement that it will partner with the FCC's continuing development of the national broadband plan. The RUS program will add value by its long experience and database of information on rural communications deployment, he said.
Numerous questions arose in the conference about the FCC’s way forward in policy, after the midterm elections. FCC representatives, including Chairman Julius Genachowski, said policy initiatives already announced will continue.
Potential conflicts on network neutrality or spectrum reallocation were not emphasized, so those issues continue to loom unresolved in the United States policy arena.
Europeans, however, are incorporating communications policy as part of advancing the region's development. A new "Europe2020" economic initiative counts information and communication technology as one of its seven pillars of support. In May, the European Commission released its "Digital Agenda for Europe," with the vision "Every European Digital."
The "Digital Agenda" includes a heavy emphasis on research and development investment. Europe lags in information and communications R&D at 17% of total ICT spend, compared with the United States at 29% of ICT spend. Government innovation and support for R&D need new investment, and new intellectual premises, the Europeans argue.
Francisco García Morán, of the European Directorate General for Informatics, introduced his organization's new initiative on "Interoperability Solutions for Public Adminstration." Funded at 164 million euros for the next five years, its purpose is to coordinate eGovernment framework, policies and law, services, and generic tools across the EU's 27 member countries.
Europe now leads the world with six of the top 10 eGovernment countries. The "Digital Agenda" seeks to develop eGovernment actions support the EU's policy of allowing any European to be an entrepreneur, to work, to study, to retire, in any European country.
Concerns about shortcomings in R&D have also led the Global Forum to focus on new approaches and intellectual ideas for innovation. The largest session in the conference was titled "Open Innovation: Strategies and Policies," with 13 speakers.
Following the approach of California-Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough, Europe's Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group identified five key elements in the new innovation process:
2. Collaboration involving partners, competitors, universities, and users
3. Corporate entrepreneurship, corporate venturing, start-ups and spin-offs
4. Proactive intellectual property management: to buy and sell intellectual property and so create markets for technology
5. Research and development (R&D): for competitive advantage on the marketplace
However, session chair Bror Salmelin, of the European Commission, said the open innovation movement needed to advance beyond the Chesbrough foundations:
"We would like strongly to communicate a more modern view on open innovation. We need to go far beyond, towards crowdsourcing, co-creativity and collaborative open innovation ecosystems," Salmelin declared.
In that spirit, for the first time ever, the Global Forum introduced a new session emphasizing female technology engagement called "Global Network for Empowering Women's Innovation and Entrepreneurship."
Its keynote speaker was the U.S. State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer.
She was followed by a panel of 11 women leaders from public organizations and international companies, including Verizon, Microsoft, HP, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the FCC, AT&T, among others. Session moderator was attorney Thaima Samman, president of the European Network for Women in Leadership.
Verveer cited research that in developing regions, a woman is 21% less likely than a man to own a phone. Women are two-thirds of the untapped market in mobile telephony. Now mobile equipment operators are working to cut in half the ownership gap.
This initiative is encouraged and assisted as appropriate by USAID and the U.S. State Department. The State Department has also launched "Tech Women", an international program bringing female technical professionals to the U.S. for business-to-business internships.
Encouraging girls early to go into technical careers was seen as critical. This is the "pipeline behind the pipeline" for technical talent, as the panelists termed it.
Linda Zecher of Microsoft said the number of women majoring in computer science now has dropped about half. There are fewer girls taking science classes at lower education levels. Some reasons may be that girls perceive teachers favor boys in science classes; girls don't see science as "cool"; some girls won't settle for grades lower than "A" for any class, so they avoid hard science classes. To counter the trends, Microsoft for example has a program called "DigiGirls," a mentoring program to help girls early in their educational experience to orient themselves toward technology careers.
The 2010 Global Forum conference was held at George Washington University. Sylviane Toporkoff, president of Global Forum, and a founding partner of sponsor ITEMS International, said the next Global Forum will be held in Asia or in Europe, with the city still to be announced, in fall 2011.
Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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