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How Thailand is Using Fiber-Optic Broadband to Power the Government

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BANGKOK – As Thailand closes the second year of its two-decade “Thailand 4.0” plan to become a value-based economy, the infrastructure necessary to facilitate this transformation is almost ready.

Unveiled in 2015, Thailand’s ambitious plan involved delivering fiber-optic broadband to all of its 75,000 villages. After some delays, the plan is finally coming to fruition.

“By the end of 2019, all villages will have high-speed broadband internet access,” according to Pichet Durongkaveroj, who heads the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES).

After setting up internet access for all, the government is turning its attention to another facet of Thailand 4.0: data.

Nuttapon Nimmanphatcharin, President and CEO of Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), points out the importance of data, saying that it will serve as impetus for “strategic thinking” among people, leading to “new businesses and new innovations.”

Putting Big Data First

As a first step, the Thai government will collate data from all 20 ministries into a centralized big data management system. All ministries will have three initial tasks: checking lists of their data sets, identifying data sets, and defining focal points of usage for public benefit.

As most of the data sets in Thailand are “traditional and unstructured”, simply converting them into electronic data will be a big challenge, said Durongkaveroj. But when the system is fully integrated, all government agencies will have access to the data, enabling them to better implement policies and facilitate the country’s digital transformation.

In addition, the data sets will be shared with the public, “so startups and investors can use the government’s data to develop [solutions],” shares Nimmanphatcharin.

One sector that could use the help of big data is agriculture.

Using Big Data in Farming

Thailand’s agricultural sector has a low output and contributes only 10 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook. But it does employ almost one-third of the country’s workforce, so the need to make the industry more productive is urgent.

Nimmanphatcharin believes that by using data analysis, Thailand “can decide what kind of crops to grow for this year or next year.” That’s the rationale behind the Food and Agriculture Revolution Model Information System (FAARM is), an initiative that’s already in progress.

The project is spearheaded by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE), which is under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

By collecting data on farmers, crops, and soil quality nationwide, FAARM is aims to help increase crop productivity and efficiency. Data analysis can evaluate the type of soil present in farms, and suggest suitable crops to be grown, explains Dares Kittiyopas, director of DOAE’s Information and Communication Technology Center.

Currently, the scheme is still in the data-gathering stage, but Kittiyopas claims that the next step is to “provide plant and crop knowledge to farmers via [a] mobile application, so that farmers will able to get information about plants in order to improve their productivity.”

Registration of 6.7 million farmers and 13 million farms nationwide is expected to be completed in the next couple of years.

Big Data in the Government

Of course, the government also plans to use big data to make itself more efficient.

Sak Segkhoonthod, president of Thailand’s Digital Government Development Agency (DGA), thinks that data will have an impact on important government functions like “budgeting, planning, and solving citizens’ problems.”

He explains, “First of all, the government will be able to ensure the budget goes to the appropriate avenues. Secondly, there would be better transparency throughout the government, as data becomes more easily accessible. Thirdly, citizens will have an opportunity to participate in certain things with the government as they can now get the meaningful information to them quicker.”

Nimmanphatcharin also agreed that an open system of big data could help combat corruption – something that’s “in the pipeline for the near future.”

Ensuring the Importance of Big Data and Beyond

Held from September 19 to 23, Digital Thailand Big Bang 2018’s theme was “Thailand Big Data.” To date, the event is Southeast Asia’s largest digital innovation exhibition, featuring 60,000 square meters of event space, over three halls and seven zones.

MDES Minister Durongkaveroj noted that students from the rural areas were able to compete with their urban counterparts in nationwide contests that were held alongside the event. He believes that “young people will continue to be a key force in the digital development of the country,” making the next 20 years pivotal for Thailand’s future.

Digital Thailand Big Bang 2018 was organized by DEPA and MDES.