At the same time I was left with a sense that even in pursuit of tech objectives, techies appear to hold a generally low opinion of policy makers to the extent of neglect.
While I agree that governments often tend to do things that count for imprudence (hence my Future Ministry recommendation), the reality of the matter is that while we may not want anything to do with policy makers, the policy makers have everything to do with us and our tech goals.
I think this is a healthy and realistic mindset to carry about particularly for tech investors and entrepreneurs hoping to scale.
Technology needs to confront policy at both the domestic setting and international level.
In order to meet their goals, techies must necessarily seek opportunities to work with and influence policy makers rather than pursuing a strategy of inherent negativity towards them.
Policy shapes development strategy
It’s fairly easy for developers, designers, coders and tech investors to overlook the fact that government is still responsible for society and the territory upon which it has jurisdiction.
This is not only because government must, but also because society, for the most part, expects and constantly calls for the government to play this role.
Consider the cumulative volume of public calls out there for POTRAZ to reign-in mobile operators concerning billing and network quality issues, for example.
I picture a talented but nonetheless ignorant coder spending nights on end developing a solution only to confront the reality that it can’t be deployed or scaled for another five years due to policy or lack of it.
The smart thing is to not allow your negative feelings towards the policy maker or the regulator to cloud judgement. If you do the ultimate outcome is that you won’t get anywhere just like policy makers themselves are literally going nowhere. They are here to govern and policing they will.
By all means, unjust and unfair policy practices must be challenged and we have seen this happen but that must not be personalised.
Success in tech has involved the government
In a public address, Strive Masiyiwa, the founder of Econet talked about the road to launching EcoCash saying,
One of the key early preparatory work that we had to do was getting the regulators and the policy makers to buy into this and it’s a major issue.
He also added,
We needed to ensure that the policy makers and the regulators understood what was happening, why it was happening [and] what were the benefits.
He further said that they then met with influential individuals that mattered most from the “the Police to the Generals” to calm their nerves, as it were, concerning his plans.
What has become of EcoCash needs no explanation. The opposite could easily have been true and could still come true depending on Econet’s attitude today and in the future.
Many people remain unaware, and I bet many techies too, that despite the hype about Alphabet and Facebook internet drones, its not a done deal as yet.
Aquila drones are nowhere near deployment until the American government and others sway the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a 150-year-old high stakes intergovernmental organisation with 193 sovereign member states.
The ITU firmly controls frequencies that Alphabet and Facebook desperately require if their respective projects are to go anywhere at least in their current form.
That is not all, there will probably be similar changes needed to international air and space law to accommodate cross territorial navigation in the stratosphere the kind sought by Alphabet and Facebook drone technologies.
Amendments to multilateral treaties is no easy walk in the park. It’s a bruising game and not for the timid especially for such a competitive area.
Being smart companies as they are, they jointly reached out to their government seeking support in solving this major huddle.
Policy makers are a “necessary evil”
The point of all this is that policy makers are a double edged sword. While one can elect to kick them, they are necessary and effective partners in protecting the interests of tech companies and techies can choose to leave such opportunities on the table to their peril.
I concede that 21st Century developments have eroded the role of government in an unprecedented manner.
However, entertaining an attitude that policy makers should play second fiddle to techies and confuse it with reality is mistaken.
Rather the attitude should be techies can cooperate and work things out with an old-fashioned – but nonetheless in charge bureaucratic system.
Rest assured, policy makers will resist an erosion of their relevance even though some techies have erroneously wished for this.
The fact is society is getting spooked by the speed of tech advancements across the board. General public opinion is that tech is moving too fast and this doesn’t help the situation either.
It indicts tech while emboldening policy makers. It only makes government involvement stick around for much longer and techies to increasingly deal with policy makers more and not less; one of the reasons there should be louder calls for a dedicated Future Ministry.