In the emerging global economy, e-commerce and e-business have increasingly become a necessary component of business strategy and a strong catalyst for economic development. The integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in business has revolutionized relationships within organizations and those between and among organizations and individuals. Specifically, the use of ICT in business has enhanced productivity, encouraged greater customer participation, and enabled mass customization, besides reducing costs.
With developments in the Internet and Web-based technologies, distinctions between traditional markets and the global electronic marketplace-such as business capital size, among others-are gradually being narrowed down. The name of the game is strategic positioning, the ability of a company to determine emerging opportunities and utilize the necessary human capital skills (such as intellectual resources) to make the most of these opportunities through an e-business strategy that is simple, workable and practicable within the context of a global information milieu and new economic environment. With its effect of leveling the playing field, e-commerce coupled with the appropriate strategy and policy approach enables small and medium scale enterprises to compete with large and capital-rich businesses.
On another plane, developing countries are given increased access to the global marketplace, where they compete with and complement the more developed economies. Most, if not all, developing countries are already participating in e-commerce, either as sellers or buyers. However, to facilitate e-commerce growth in these countries, the relatively underdeveloped information infrastructure must be improved. Among the areas for policy intervention are:
- High Internet access costs, including connection service fees, communication fees, and hosting charges for websites with sufficient bandwidth;
- Limited availability of credit cards and a nationwide credit card system;
- Underdeveloped transportation infrastructure resulting in slow and uncertain delivery of goods and services;
- Network security problems and insufficient security safeguards;
- Lack of skilled human resources and key technologies (i.e., inadequate professional IT workforce);
- Content restriction on national security and other public policy grounds, which greatly affect business in the field of information services, such as the media and entertainment sectors;
- Cross-border issues, such as the recognition of transactions under laws of other ASEAN member-countries, certification services, improvement of delivery methods and customs facilitation; and
- The relatively low cost of labor, which implies that a shift to a comparatively capital intensive solution (including investments on the improvement of the physical and network infrastructure) is not apparent.
It is recognized that in the Information Age, Internet commerce is a powerful tool in the economic growth of developing countries. While there are indications of e-commerce patronage among large firms in developing countries, there seems to be little and negligible use of the Internet for commerce among small and medium sized firms. E-commerce promises better business for SMEs and sustainable economic development for developing countries. However, this is premised on strong political will and good governance, as well as on a responsible and supportive private sector within an effective policy framework. This primer seeks to provide policy guidelines toward this end.