5 minute read

Day 2 was slightly less enervating regarding the blatant Microsoft plugs (only about 40 direct plugs, compared to the first day, where I lost count)

Edward Granger-Happ presented on NetHope, a consortia or co-op of NPOs and NGOs to share consulting and support service around ICT to maximize the ICT impact while minimizing the costs - NPOs are mission and not profit driven, and rarely is the mission technology-related. This led into the next panel on Making the Case for ICT4D.

The panel hit on some of the promises and challenges in ICT projects. Samia Melhem, from the World Bank's Global ICT group and chair of the eDev thematic group argued for horizontal services in eGovernance - shared networks and servers as well as epayment processor that all government agencies could use. Clearly, an obvious, cost-saving approach. The 900 lb gorilla of course being what platforms these could be, and what things could be shared and collaborated upon with NPOs - why not OSS? It never ceases to amaze me the continued lip service to the importance of sharing and collaboration, but using technology built on commercial, anti-sharing platforms. I'll skip my normal rant, but I spoke with Edward Granger-Happ afterwards; and he argued that NGOs should focus their limited tech budgets on 80% solutions and be happy with what comes out of the box. I respectfully disagree. Open Source solutions may only be 75% there "out of the box" but are capable of much more customization without a hard requirement for cash to develop. Admittedly, and Edward's response, MS technologists are cheaper and easier to find than OSS experts. That however is partially a self-fulfilling network effect, and partially a problem of not knowing the OSS culture and where to look for support. There was an infuriatingly choppy remote panel presentation via MSN's video chat feature (Seriously? Use Skype. Please.)

Microsoft Research presented the lunch plenary; and it was one of the least Microsoft-fanboyish presentation of the conference. He focused on solid research and outputs in Indian ICT projects, and summed up his thoughts on ICT4D in three points - a reminder to put the D before ICT; realizing that there are many different forms of ICT4D at many levels, and to calculate the opportunity costs of going with a technological solution instead of other solutions (as he did in one project where posters came very close to a video training project at a lower startup cost).

The sessions in Day 2 inevitably began to revisit the same themes - the need for more patient money, the need for scalability in solutions, and the need to focus on development before ICT - a note that resonates clearly with me. I was cheered to hear a microfinance supporter voice concerns about the need for regulation and risk management in mobile banking.

Overall, I don't think I'll attend the conference as a full-day immersion next year, if at all. By the end of Day 2 I was weary of the one-sided Microsoft solutions being presented, and it overshadowed some of the genuinely good presentations during the conference.