ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is the powerful United Nations agency governing ICT (Information Communications Technology) with over 190 governments and 700 corporations/organizations as members. Does what they think and do matter to you? Houlin Zhao the new secretary general wants to work with you.

They host the major ICT events throughout the year with the most current one this week being the Geneva second conference preparatory meeting (CPM) for the forthcoming World Radiocommunication Conference which are held every three to four years.  They are examining preparatory studies on the regulatory, technical, operational and procedural aspects of the agenda of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15), which will take place in Geneva, 2-27 November 2015—which involves updating the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum as well as geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits.

What could potentially be controversial to the industry is that they also are involved with what will happen on governing the Internet.

The ITU will be hosting the WSIS 2015 (World Summit on the Information Society) in May involving multistakeholder implementation activities, information exchange, creation of knowledge, sharing of best practices in all major areas of ICT. Ultimately this impacts you whether you work in a small/medium business (SME), large enterprise, government, education, non-profit.

To get an essence of the Houlin Zhao, I am sharing portions of my conversation with him. I discern subtle differences from his predecessor Dr. Hamadoun Touré. My long conversation with Houlin revealed a deeper engagement with industry and outreach programs. Do you agree? In addition, Houlin did address the question of IT professionalism which resonates with CIPS and IFIP IP3 of which CIPS is a founder.

Q: What are your specific goals for the ITU in 2015 and for the next several years?

A: “The ITU set up a strategic plan for the next four years so my main task is to implement those strategic plans. ITU, as the specialized UN agency responsible for IC telecom, our commitment is to connect people in this connected world.”

Q: How can global companies align with the ITU?

A: “Without ITU’s contribution of international standards we may not have the same telecom services today. We know that with the standards we also need a very good environment, so ITU takes on the task to facilitate market development with fair competition – a favorable environment to invest and to encourage investment. Also today no technology can be really effective and efficient without proper spectrum co-ordination and we are very proud that ITU is still considered the only competent place to take care of the world spectrum co-ordination issues. I think industry needs ITU and ITU also relies on the industry for implementation of new technologies and we all benefit from this co-operation. ”

Q:  In what ways can the ITU benefit small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in a way that is different from the benefits for large enterprises?

A: “I see the new potential and it is clear to me that it is very beneficial to work with them and help them and try to find a way to strengthen their power so that they can grow up very quickly and become stronger. I firmly believe that with the development of SMEs and the local entrepreneurs (with their economic power and with their new ideas), the country, and the region will benefit from their contributions. If we offer them the opportunity to have a bigger chance to network in different countries or even different regions I feel that they may become much stronger more quickly than we could think about. I would like to see if ITU could work with our members to create a new environment to facilitate their interaction among themselves, to facilitate them to get access to the rest of the world and also to show their potential to the big companies for potential partnerships with the big guys (or even partnership among themselves would also be very good for them).”

Q: What do you see as some ICT opportunities for government, industry, and academia?

A: “ITU is the specialized agency for the United Nations and we have governments as our members. We see the very important role that governments have to facilitate ICT and technology development. I don’t think that anything can be really successful if the government is not supportive of development. Government roles include policy making roles, regulation roles, and facilitator roles. ITU also has a long tradition of working with industry members. They are very active in ITU in all activities including standardization activities, in spectrum co-ordination activities, market facilitating activities – they are almost everywhere and we are very pleased with our co-operation with them. Academia is a new area we started to work with. I found that they have a lot of advanced technology projects in their laboratories or their research areas and some of them are very close to our standardization-making process project at ITU so it would be useful to bring them close to us, to bring the academic family close.”

Q: How might ITU promote, within its many activities, professionalism in the practice of ICT?

A: “In order to reach the maturity of our technologies and also reach the maturity status of our market we really need our experts, engineers and teaching meccas to show their maximum proficiency and professional skills. It’s quite important for us to look at this issue and try to work with our members to increase those skills and proficiencies.”

Q: You were the keynote for IFIP WITFOR 2009 in Vietnam at the invitation of Leon Strous, IFIP President. How do you further plan to work with organizations like IFIP?

A: “We have developed a lot of co-operation with many partners relative to ICT technologies and services, but it’s still not enough. In many countries in the world, we have associations for engineers, associations for teachers, associations for professors, associations for researchers, etc. These kinds of associations I think are one of the areas we have to take the opportunity to co-operate with because they have very high expertise and they have a lot of experience and a lot of strategic views for the future of our ICT technology development.”

Q: I sit on the practitioner board of the ACM and chair their professional development group. What benefits can the ITU offer to ACM and its members?

A: “For such kinds of computing associations there must be a lot of ideas and innovations and I think that it will be useful for us to try to co-operate with them to make our co-operations beneficial to both sides.”

Q: What added notable story (something amazing, interesting or amusing) or closing thoughts you wish to share?

A: “I am really excited with the challenge of my job starting at the first of January of 2015. In the areas I visit, quite a number of areas are still not covered by mobile phone signals and some countries still have their telephone penetration less than 30 percent today. You may not believe that exists, but this is true and in some areas communication is still very difficult. In some villages in the African continent the villagers within 40 kilometers walking distance share one communication center where they can come to see the so-called internet or the laptop. There is still a lot of disparity and I think it is really important for us to work together to try to improve the current situation.”

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