National information infrastructure

Review of the NBIS Project


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Review of the NBIS Project

The NBIS project was the first national project focused on IT use and production in Korea, created in the early 1980's when the Korean government began to realize that IT and its applications would play crucial roles as new national infrastructure. In 1986, a law calling for the development of a National Computer Network was enacted. This was followed by the Plan for National Computerization, which led to the creation of the NBIS project. When the Plan was initially prepared in 1987, the first phase of implementation was targeted for 1991 -- the familiar a five-year plan.

The NBIS plan assumed central coordination among government, research institutes, and industries. The National Computerization Board (NCB) was created as part of the Executive Office of the President in 1987 to coordinate planning and implementation of the NBIS. At the early stage, NCB coordinated policy among ministries very effectively, for example, through the Computerization Promotion Meeting56 organized and presided over by the President of Korea. Members attending included leaders in IT industry as well as top decision makers in the government. When the NCB moved to the Ministry of Communications (MOC), renamed the Ministry of Information and Communications( MIC), the NCB’s authority fell among the ministries. The NCB could not effectively enforce compliance with its decisions. The move demonstrated a weakening of the governments driving force behind the NBIS. The resulting difficulties in coordination delayed the process of implementing the plan, and progress deteriorated further when the funding mechanism for government networks in the second stage of the project was altered -- a point discussed later in this section.


The objective of national computerization was to use IT for economic growth. It was believed that the coming "information age" would require IT for competitiveness in world markets that would enable Korea to become a developed nation by the year 2000. The so-called ‘information revolution’ was expected to equal in importance the ‘industrial revolution’ of the last century. It was felt that if Korea had been exposed to economic activities during the industrial revolution, the country would already be at the same level of development of the economic powers. The economic and political hardships experienced in the first three quarters of this century would have been avoided. Thus, keeping up in the new information revolution was essential.


The NBIS project first focused on public sector computerization at the beginning, with a view to realizing small and efficient government, making contributions to the improvement of the public’s daily life, and laying foundations for the development of IT industries by providing initial markets. This strategy was also expected to raise the private sectors’ interest in IT application to their business operations, allowing industry to follow the achievement of government computerization through networks.

Five major networks were originally planned as part of the NBIS: the National Administrations Information System, the Financial Information System, the Education & Research Information System, the National Defense Information System, and the National Security Information System. Among these the last two are run separately by the military and intelligence agencies, respectively, for security reasons. Because of the secrecy surrounding these systems, only the first three systems are discussed.

The National Administrations Information System involved the computerization of internal operations of government agencies and supported service delivery to the public. It included subsystems for residents, vehicles, houses and land, employment, customs and clearance, and economic statistics. The first stage of the project was completed in 1991 as in other Systems of the NBIS. The government invested about US$ 200 million on these six subsystems, mainly to install computers in local as well as central government offices, and to develop networks and relevant software. For example, the residents system included databases of personal information on all of the population above age 18, networked through central government offices and 3700 local administrative offices. The first stage of the project (1987-1991) mainly involved developing of the separate systems. The second stage(1992-1996) emphasized integrating systems together to allow sharing of information among government agencies, and to support new management systems for health care, postal services, marine transportation, intellectual property rights, weather information, government procurement, and fishing boats.

The Financial Information System began as a data communication network involving banks The large banks had computer networks in place by the late 70’s, but the Financial Information System was built to include the whole banking system. The planning and implementation process for this System has been coordinated by the Confederation of Financial Institutions, and its representative, the Financial Clearing House. In the second stage of the NBIS, other financial companies such as securities and insurance began to expand the application of network technologies in their newly developed business areas.

The Education and Research Information System plan originally called for providing schools with computers and applying them for teaching and administration, as well as the networking of universities, libraries, and research institutes. During the first stage, investment was concentrated on providing PC’s for primary and middle schools, with little success in networking education and research organizations. During the second stage of the NBIS, this network has still been slow in developing, mainly due to tight budgets at the ministries involved and to weak demand for research and library networks. The slow development of the NBIS research and education network contrasts with the case of developed countries, especially the U.S., where the National Research and Education Network led to some of the current efforts of the NII.


The inherent uncertainty associated with projects like the NBIS makes it necessary to conduct strategic planning as a continuing , dynamic process. The NBIS plan is to have several five year terms, each building on the one before. The second stage(1992-1996) of the NBIS is now under way. The development of the NBIS has been explicitly aimed at promoting IT use in Korea. In some areas this has been successful. For example, the National Administrations Information System's first stage (1987-1991) saw installation of minicomputers (TICOM) and PC’s in various administrative offices, and the building of networks and relevant databases for internal operations and provision of services to the public. The project was successful in laying foundations for further development of applications, especially in the local administration offices delivering services to the public. For example, it is now possible for people to get a Certificate of Residence issued at any local office across country, instead of having to report to the designated place. Since this Certificate is the most frequently requested identification document in Korea, the number of people benefiting from this service is substantial. Another interesting service is the Passport Issuing System, designed to speed up passport handling, and now under diffusion nationwide.

Nevertheless, the NBIS strategy has been less successful in some areas57 because the project was basically a supply-push enterprise that did not account for demand. The central government maintained leadership in the process from the beginning of planning through implementation . Often, the IT applications provided through the project faced strong refusal from the users simply because the applications took lightly the established customs and cultural elements of government work.

A more interesting story about the weakening of the NBIS strategy arises from changes in the government's support for innovation. The government’s strong support for the project initially was represented by the funding mechanism. At the beginning of the project, about US$200 million in funding was set apart in advance for the National Administrations Information System. In the following stage, however, the project was forced to submit to the normal national budget system, requiring prior approval of all spending, which not only slowed the implementation of the plan, but also discouraged individual agencies’ own new development plans. A similar problem arise in the coordinating ability of the NCB. Early-on, the effective coordination by the NCB allowed the project to chart its own course. The second stage foundered due in part to the lack of easily identifiable returns from the large first stage investment, at least in the eyes of people controlling the national budget. They began to deny spending approval, arguing that they could not find visible payoffs from the earlier investment.58.

There were radical changes in the organizational and technical environments of the IT application areas, and strategies for the project did not keep pace with those changes. The new framework for providing services through computer networks was not easy to develop in a way consistent with rapidly advancing technologies. A new framework had to be created through rearranging regulations, organizations, and financing mechanisms. Recognition of this need is reflected in the second stage of NBIS, titled Next Generation NBIS (NGNBIS), intended to bring a new momentum to the almost collapsing project The NGNBIS plan was prepared by the National Computerization Agency (NCA), which was established along with the NBIS project to support its planning and implementation. NGNBIS identifies areas of government services for application of a mix of rapidly advancing technologies. It was submitted to the Ministry of Information and Communications in a form of research report, but not as an official plan by the government. It is being used as a reference in discussing the future applications of IT in the private and public sectors.

The creation of NGNBIS occurred at a time when the Korean government was exposed to the imported visions of the ‘Information Superhighway’ and the ‘Information Infrastructure’. Services to be developed as part of NGNBIS have been envisioned to act as market providers for information traffic running on the Highway. This vision gives NGNBIS a key role in leveraging into existence the Korean version of National Information Infrastructure. NGNBIS stands at a point of transition from the faltering NBIS to emerging concept of information infrastructure. Some application services such as remote education and remote medical diagnosis services have already been claimed as part of NGNBIS, and are being implemented as pilot projects for demonstrating the applicability of advanced technologies in the context of information infrastructure.

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