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Cloud computing and connectivity in ASEAN

The 2015 deadline for the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) looms. The Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) envisions that the ambitious blueprint will transform the region into a single marketplace, one that is fully integrated into the global economy.

 With a few months to go before its slated completion, critics are sceptical of ASEAN’s ability to achieve its goal on time. The AEC aims to develop ASEAN as a single marketplace and production base, featuring the free flow of services and skilled labour, free flow of investment and freer flow of capitalthroughout all 10 ASEAN member states.

 A major factor for the AEC’s success is information connectivity. In recent years, progress has been made to connect the region better through projects such as the ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2015, which works to improve Internet connectivity for regional economic growth.

 Another connectivity project that enables trade flows is the ASEAN Single Window initiative, which integrates and expedites trade and cargo clearances throughout the ASEAN region by connecting countries’ National Single Windows clearing houses.

STEPPING UP THE GAME

ASEAN’s aspirations for a connected community are on the right track, but in a region where you have to run to keep pace, ASEAN will have to step up its game if it is to compete within the Asia-Pacific and globally.

In the recently-released 2014 Cloud Readiness Index (CRI) by the Asia Cloud Computing Association, ASEAN economies featured mostly in the lower half of the scoresheet, with Malaysia in eighth position, Thailand ninth, the Philippines 10th, Indonesia 12th and Vietnam in 14th place. Only Singapore scored relatively well, taking fourth place, below Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

In today’s knowledge economy, technology is a fundamental pillar for economic development. The results of the CRI, which measures how prepared countries are to maximise the opportunities in technological innovation, act as a barometer of the region’s ability to conduct business on the global stage.

While it is unfortunate that ASEAN countries featured in the lower range of the CRI scorecard, there is some good news, as some member economies have improved compared with previous years. Thailand and the Philippines rose four and two places each. In fact, between 2011 and this year, the Philippines has moved from the bottom of the table to 10th place, making notable improvement. Both Singapore and Malaysia also managed to maintain their positions of fourth and eighth place, respectively, since the last index in 2012, showing resilience and tenacity to keep their countries’ innovation policies fresh and up-to-date.

CREATING A DIGITAL FREE-TRADE ZONE

The results offer insight into how to fast-track ASEAN information and communications technology as well as cloud development to enable the next stage of the AEC and economic growth for the region.

One common characteristic of the leader countries is the presence of country-level policies supporting technology and cloud roll-out. Both Singapore and Malaysia, for example, continue long-standing traditions of developing and renewing long-term ICT masterplans. Singapore recently released a new Infocomm Media Masterplan for public consultation in March and Malaysia continues to work on its Digital Malaysia initiative, a plan to empower and advance the country towards becoming a developed, digital economy by 2020.

Similarly, on a regional level, there are ASEAN-wide connectivity plans that have been distributed across a number of initiatives, such as the ASEAN Broadband Corridor, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and the ASEAN ICT Masterplan.

With many ASEAN countries leapfrogging into the Internet economy with mobile phones and other smart devices, the next iteration of the ASEAN ICT Masterplan should look for common elements in each of these plans and combine them, creating a single, cohesive regional blueprint for ASEAN-wide information sharing and cloud connectivity. While obviously an ambitious project, this blueprint will be crucial for pointing the way forward for the region.

In addition, synergies with existing plans to enable trade flows through connectivity should be exploited. For example, the ASEAN Single Window trade initiative could be broadened to include data verification and sharing between companies and organisations by harmonising data exchange policies within ASEAN.

In this new economy where data is the new currency, enabling data flows and information exchanges is a critical capacity for ASEAN to develop if it wants to become a single marketplace. Starting a discussion supporting an ASEAN-wide data sharing policy for specific sectors (for example, healthcare, finance and banking) would greatly accelerate plans for developing a regional digital free-trade zone — a place for ASEAN’s knowledge economy to innovate and grow.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lim May-Ann is executive director of the Asia Cloud Computing Association.

 

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