Sometimes, innovation can be easier than implementation. Many top spending organisations face challenges arising not from lack of access to new technology, supporting policy, nor inadequate budget, but problems stemming from technology acceptance.
I met Puangmanee Chaiseree, CFO from Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), Thailand during GovCFO Summit 2012 held last month in Chiang Mai, and listened to her recount a simple but very important problem she faced: she termed it “Peopleware”.
The OBEC every year receives the highest annual budget among all agencies — THB 300 billion (US$ 9.5 billion), or up to 12.5 per cent of the total fiscal budget. It is responsible for the government’s One Tablet Per Child scheme, a mega-project that involves giving free tablets to all first graders nationwide just this year. A total of 600,000 staff and over 30,000 government schools nationwide under its sphere have made the OBEC one of the largest agencies within the Thai public sector.
However, the huge size and budget come with significant downsides.
“We can make teachers into accountants, but we cannot transform them into technologists — especially in the remote areas,” she revealed.
Bridging the urban-rural technological divide in a country like Thailand is difficult. Infrastructure is as inadequate as the level of computer literacy in the rural areas. Only thirty per cent of the population or about 20 million people have access to the internet.
“Infrastructure is a problem, but not as serious as the low level of technology acceptance that our staff have in remote areas. Giving them advanced equipment and software, but failing to teach them how to use these, ends up wasting the budget sometimes,” she said.
A CFO like Chaiseree has worked out ways to make the staff at remote schools make use of the same technology as teachers sitting in Bangkok — especially when their students are given new technology like tablets, and their schools will soon be equipped with broadband access as prioritised by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
What can the government do to encourage its staff to accept technology and make the most of it?
A solution occurred to me on the second day of the event when Porn-uma Morya, Deputy Provincial Comptroller General of Chiang Mai, handed me an internal newsletter of the Comptroller General’s Department under the Ministry of Finance. In it was an announcement of a successful financial project that won the Thailand Public Service Awards organised annually by the Ministry of Finance.
I could see how proud she was of this success, although the project is not directly from her division in Chiang Mai. This is the value that most organisations need to build in this era.
Morya told me that each division will come up with a project every year, which it will submit for selection to the Department’s executives before being nominated for the MOF’s Awards.
This is not a bad idea to follow!
Incentivising people has proved to be a success — through money, but especially through fame. People will naturally pay more attention to potential returns on effort: while technology makes their life easier and helps them complete their work faster, a celebrity status among their colleagues is an additional bonus and the icing on the cake.
Building value doesn’t cost much money for the agency, while the gains are massive and easily sustainable.
Laurence Millar, our editor at large and former GCIO from New Zealand has some suggestions to solve Chaiseree’s problem.
First, convince the principals of each school: give them clear and if possible repeated explanations of why technology acceptance is needed, how teachers can save time using ICT and pay more attention to teaching.
Second, provide series of trainings to ensure local teachers are able to optimally apply the new technology when they are back in their schools.
Last, and most importantly, incentivise them through awards and other schemes to make them put effort into learning, and highlight their successes to make teachers from other schools want to emulate them.
It’s not just about putting technology in place — the government needs to make sure that people use it, which makes all the difference in the world!
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