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    Putting E to Work


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2004 

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    A fundamental question for firms today is,"How can 'e' help me compete?"

    From agriculture to industrial products, consumer goods and professional services, information and communications technologies (ICTs) matter. Firms can apply them to save costs when they conduct market research, organize export processes, and manage payments and customer relations.

    Recognizing the potential of ICTs is one thing; applying them to boost the bottom line is another. Faced with a sometimes bewildering choice of e-business solutions, small exporters need to know which applications will boost visibility, improve efficiency or enhance products. They cover a wide range: developing a web site; using business-to-business e-marketplaces; using mobile phones to manage supply and distribution chains; and more.

    ICTs also open up new opportunities to export e-related products and services, such as computer components, software programming and back-office services. But unless they're informed and competent in using ICTs, firms can't take advantage of new opportunities.

    In developing countries, where Internet connections are often limited or expensive, it can be a major challenge to develop an e-culture and apply "e" creatively to trade.

    Putting "e" to work for trade doesn't happen automatically: countries need to manage the process. They need e-trade strategies that go beyond the issue of connectivity and address business realities like trust, costs and industry structures. They need the essentials such as access to finance, roads, transport and energy.

    With those foundations in place, ICTs can help developing country firms bridge the digital divide and leapfrog growth.


    • E-readiness. If a country is e-ready in terms of its population's culture and skills, it's more likely to apply ICTs successfully to trade. Governments need to invest in e-literacy drives, for example, by switching to e-government services.
    • E-trade strategy. Governments should implement a legal and regulatory framework that promotes, rather than blocks, e-trade. Export strategy-makers need to adopt an e-business vision and practical plans to help the business community take up "e", starting with advocacy to raise awareness. To move from awareness to action, exporters need technology applications that work in their local environment and opportunities to learn from others. When integrating "e" in business, they may not need the most expensive technology - just the most appropriate.
    • To move to e-competence, exporters need training and information about e-business skills and issues such as trust and security.

    How ITC Can Help

    • ITC helps demystify the ways ICTs can be applied to increase exports, working with exporters and those who support them. Through contributions to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), ITC helps bring the voice of exporters in developing countries into the information society. ITC is using recommendations from the WSIS Action Plan to redesign its e-related programmes.
    • "E" at ITC. Exporters can increase efficiency and sales with tools such as Internet auctions for gourmet coffee, online market analysis of winning export sectors, e-procurement training for suppliers of relief items, online export readiness diagnostic tools and more.
      ITC provides information on e-trade opportunities with programmes such as regional e-business forums and has produced over 70 articles on "e" in its magazine, Trade Forum.
    • The E-trade Bridge Programme, currently in 27 countries, integrates many of the tools above to help create e-competitive firms and build capacities in the institutions that support them.