IT potential: Make use of idle talent

About 200 outsourcing IT companies are registered in Nepal. The IT Park could be an ideal place to set up shop for them. The flourishing IT firms would use the IT Park if the government were to provide basic facilities and bring about policy reform

Computers and information technology (IT) have revolutionised our current world. Developed countries are investing heavily in such industries as they see high economic returns from them. Sad to say, the country’s only supercomputer and super brains are found lying almost idle.

CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, had gifted a supercomputer to Kathmandu University in June 2018. It was established in the IT Park at Banepa under the management of KU. But this supercomputer remains in a miserable state: idle without business and sitting in a creaky building. This supercomputer has the capacity to process huge amounts of data instantly. It has eight terabits of RAM and 1.5 petabits of storage, which is nearly as powerful as 2,000 modern PCs.

The government should utilise the supercomputer, IT Park and talent of Nepali scientists. The IT park, which covers 255 ropanis of land and equipped with ultramodern technology like fiber-optics, went out of business a decade ago after a few companies, like Javra and IBM, left the place. The park area was nearly deserted until last year a supercomputer was installed. But both the park and the computer lie idle.

About 200 outsourcing IT and communication companies are registered in Nepal. The IT Park could be an ideal place to set up shop for such companies. The flourishing IT companies would use the IT Park if the government were to provide basic facilities and bring about policy reform.  The government has posed some confusion in the operation modality of the IT Park. The government should lease it out to reliable private companies and add the needed infrastructure that was planned in its second phase, such as buildings for banks and IT-based educational institutes.

CERN has donated supercomputers to many other developing countries like Pakistan, Egypt Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines. It is put into high use in most of these countries. In Pakistan, together with the CERN-donated supercomputer, a number of modern supercomputers are now used, which were developed by them.

The government and private sector can use the supercomputer in many ways. It can be used in developing a weather forecasting system. In our region, weather prediction is very challenging due to the country’s geo-topographical location. We are affected by tropical and alpine weather as well as by the Himalayan topography. We need more reliable weather forecasting for floods, droughts, and cold and heat waves. For the protection of our Himalayan snow, which is the future of our rivers, hydroelectricity and tourism industry, we should understand our weather conditions, research and needed policies.

Our cities are growing, and so are our crimes and traffic problems. In the Kathmandu Valley, CCTV cameras are installed at many locations, accessible to the metropolitan police, and this has improved their capability in maintaining security. However, not all cities have such facilities, and not the whole of Kathmandu is covered by cameras. Now, if we were to install such facilities in all the existing cities, ‘on the spot’ analysis of such visual impressions - as during road accidents – would help. For such quick analysis, the Police Department can utilise the supercomputer.

In the current world, information is considered power and prosperity. Social network is used extensively all over the world, including Nepal. Mobile phones are in the hand of every Nepali. Big data that roam Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, email and Google search as well as banking and vital information centres can pose a big security threat. Such problems can also be handled more efficiently using a supercomputer.

Migration and population growth pose big challenges for making settlement plans and public policy. Every 10 years, the CBS conducts a population census, and due to its huge data size, analysis is done outside the country using supercomputers. The CBS can use our supercomputer for census data analysis and for other huge surveys like the NLSS and NLFS.

After the parliamentary vote counting, it takes weeks to get national level results. Similarly, SEE results are always late and at times have mistakes. The Election Commission and Examination Board can use the supercomputer.

Private sectors like the share market, FNCCI and universities can make use of the computer. We can share our public data, stored as time-series, which can be assessed by international agencies like the FAO, UNDP, UN Population Division and Unicef.

Science and technology are a low priority of the government. Nominal budget is spent in this sector. In the current budget, following the past trend, only 0.43 per cent has been allocated under the heading of ‘Communication and Information Technology’. At least 5 per cent should be allocated for science and technology. We lack modern science labs in universities. The high potential of the IT sector is shown by private outsourcing companies that see turnovers worth billions of rupees every year and provide jobs to thousands. The government should understand this power of the IT Industry and step forward to facilitate the private sector and invest in infrastructure, IT research and education.

Satyal is a professor at the Central Department of Statistics, TU