Nikkei Op-Ed Professor’s Take: Need for New Policy Focus on “IT Utilization”

Ichiya Nakamura, professor at Keio University, wrote for Nikkei Shimbun his following opinion on the necessity of IT utilization in Japan.

Japanese mobile users, especially Japanese youth, transmit more traffic over the network than those in any other country in world. Japanese mobile traffic averages 1092 megabytes per month versus a global average of 201 megabytes per month.

Yet despite these impressive numbers, the understanding of the value of information technology within Japanese industry and society is generally relatively low. There are three reasons for this. First, use of IT in government is limited. Second, recognition of the value of IT within industry is still inadequate. And third, appreciation of the value of IT within the general society is low.

This can be seen when Japan is compared with Singapore, which has high usage rates for IT in areas like online transactions, transportation, government administration and education.

This situation is the same for investment in IT. Between 1995 and 2009, IT investment in the US expanded by nearly 500%. Japan for the same period registered only a 200% increase.

Another figure comes from a recent McKinsey report. Over the past ten year, the US has stored over 3500 petabytes of information versus only 400 petabytes on the part of Japan. Individual transmission of data may be high in Japan, but this data is not captured and reused as “big data” for commercial application and to solve societal problems.

The fundamental problem here is government policy, which has focused over the past several decades on building out infrastructure, promoting broadcast digitalization and managing competition in the IT sector, with a particular focus on NTT. Yet the real challenges are elsewhere, e.g. the use of IT in education, the problem of protecting online content, the regulation of Internet use in elections, sales of medicines online and the controversy over introducing a national ID system. These are not problems of providing IT services; they are issues with the utilization of IT services.

The Abe administration has released its vision for promoting IT business in Japan. The goal is to make Japan the number one user of IT globally by 2020. This is to be done by incubating new IT business services, promoting IT as a key part of future disaster planning and realizing greater use of IT in public administration. But such proposals only have as much merit as their final implementation.

The record is not encouraging. Effort to introduce e-textbooks in the schools remain stalled. Despite the goal of providing one PC or tablet for every student, currently the ratio remain one for every seven students. There are some outstanding local initiatives, but there needs to be more focus and initiative from the national government.

The situation is the same with the problem of accessing “big data” held by national and local governments. Everyone appears to agree in principle, but implementation is bogged down by squabbles over who “owns” the data. The recent decision to allow use of the Internet in the Upper House election reveals the same pattern. There are still too many restrictions.

If Japan is to regain its role as an IT leader globally, these issues need to be addressed and solved through strong political action.

Source: Nikkei Shimbun, Morning Edition(Japanese)