Opening Ceremony of the 5th Annual Tech Hub Islands Summit (THIS) 2023
July 5th, 2023
“If we accept the premise that the ultimate purpose of government is to improve the lives of Citizens, the rollout of e-Services to Citizens and Business must be a key objective of the Digitalization efforts that are ongoing across Government.”
Senator the Honourable Hassel Bacchus Ministry of Digital Transformation delivers the Featured Address at the Opening Ceremony of the 5th Annual Tech Hub Islands Summit (THIS) 2023.
Greetings and Salutations
I am honoured to join you this morning at the formal opening of AMCHAM’s Tech Hub Island Summit.
A foundational principle of our Ministry is that our strategy is fuelled by Partnerships. From inception, almost 2 years ago, we sought to develop relationships with the Business Sector in general, and more specifically with AMCHAM since the development of Trinidad and Tobago’s Digital Economy is one of the core Pillars of the national Digital Transformation Agenda.
It was not an accident that my first formal meeting with the Private Sector, shortly after my appointment as Minister of Digital Transformation, was with AMCHAM; thus starting a dialogue and collaboration with Nirad and his team that continues up to today.
As I reflected on the theme for T.H.I.S. 2023: “Catapult” with its focus on learning from the strides, accomplishments, and failures of others, who have been through the journey, and how it could propel our current digital transformation agenda forward, I readily admit to a feeling of serendipity.
If you are familiar with MDT brand, you’ll be aware that the ubiquitous Moko Jumbie is embedded in our vision. We recognise much like what will be discussed in the coming days that we are not starting from scratch. Significant work has already been done in this transformation space; now we must build on that momentum to “Catapult” and make those Moko Jumbie strides towards a digital T&T.
So today, I will:
- Share our vision for Digital Transformation and our approach to actualising that vision;
- Update you on some of our key DT initiatives; and
- Pinpoint potential opportunities for collaboration between the Private Sector and Government
In turn, it is our hope that the discussions held during the Summit will provide feedback, insights and recommendations to both stimulate and strengthen our Digital Transformation agenda.
GOVERNMENT’S APPROACH TO DT
As I have highlighted, one of the Pillars of our Digital Transformation Agenda is the Digital Economy. It is but one of the three DT Pillars, – the other two are Digital Society, and Digital Government, – and all three are closely interconnected.
A good example of this inter-connectedness is the approach that we are taking towards the development of e-Services.
If we accept the premise that the ultimate purpose of government is to improve the lives of Citizens, the rollout of e-Services to Citizens and Business must be a key objective of the Digitalization efforts that are ongoing across Government.
I must emphasize that we do not envision that e-Services will replace the more traditional in-person channels of service delivery. We are fully aware that our citizens are at varying stages of Digital readiness. Our approach to service delivery is to leverage technology to offer our citizens choice, and not to force them to accept unfamiliar new solutions which they do not yet trust.
Accordingly, we have been tracking e-Services across Government. We are currently following some 180 e-services and more will come on stream in the months ahead. In fact, though a newly launched initiative, the Developer’s Hub, we will be converting many of these services to a suite of full end to end services that can be initiated and completed by our customers from a location and at a time most convenient to them.
In May, I attended the launch of the e-Utilities module of DevelopTT, which is a Ministry of Planning and Development Initiative to offer applications for Development Permits as an e-Service.
Several of the Town and Country Planning Division’s Development Permit applications are available through DevelopTT, and the e-Utilities Module expands the scope of the project to services offered under the Ministry of Public Utilities, starting with three of WASA’s Development Permits. And I share this to illustrate that the Moko Jumbie Strides, which we are making towards a Digital Nation is a shared effort, embraced by MDAs and rooted in our collective psyche as we work in concert with each other.
Our approach is that, as far as possible, these e-services, as well as other apps and solutions adopted by Ministries Departments and Agencies, will be developed locally as our vision to develop a local software industry takes off.
This is where our Developer’s Hub initiative comes into the mix. Just last week, we launched this ecosystem to facilitate the development of apps and e-services by local software developers.
To this end we have built a partnership amongst the MDT, Academia and the Developer Community itself. The Developers’ Hub is a three-year initiative targeted at individual developers, small developer teams and micro development businesses.
Members of the D’Hub are invited to partner with the Ministry of Digital Transformation to develop mobile and web applications to meet the needs of citizens, businesses, communities and the Public Sector. D’Hub members will have access to training, mentorship and other support services, and will also be able to participate in D’Hub Challenges.
The Challenges will provide Shortlisted applicants with funding to develop a Proof of Concept of their idea. Winning entries will receive funding for full development.
Cabinet has approved the sum of $5 million to fund the D’Hub Challenges, which focuses on the development of solutions in the Public Sector space.
Today, I challenge you to match Government’s investment by offering an equivalent fund to tangibly demonstrate your support for local industry through the development of apps to benefit the Private Sector. Together, we can unleash the creative talents with which our people are blessed abundantly.
DEVELOPERS’ HUB – SUPPORTS NEARSHORING
Some of you would have discerned already that the Developers’ Hub will also support Trinidad and Tobago’s agenda to develop its Nearshoring activities.
Our intent is that the D’Hub will enable us to significantly develop the community to meet the needs of those interested in Nearshoring with us.
More specifically: • We are working towards onboarding a significant membership to the Developers’ Hub by the end of this year.
- We are confident that by the end of the initial three-year period, that the membership will have grown.
- We believe that we will have a sufficient critical mass to enable our Trinidad and Tobago developer community to successfully bid for software development projects on the international market. and
- Our endgame is the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Software Export Company.
We plan to build the required capacity to deliver through focused upskilling in ICT.
As with most of our initiatives, the MDT is pursuing its Digital Skills programme in partnership with our Academic and Training institutions such as UWI, UTT and YTEPP, and with international partners such as CISCO, Linux Foundation and Coursera.
The development of Digital Skills is highly relevant to everyone, and we have already begun to roll-out programmes for members of the public.
For example, the first cohort of our Digital Literacy initiative, aimed at persons wishing to build general Digital Technology skills and competencies, was oversubscribed with just over 1,000 persons benefitting from the programme. This will be followed by additional offerings at the basic and more advanced levels.
At a more technical level, other components of the Digital Skill’s programme will be aimed at upgrading the ICT skills in general and the technical skills of ICT professionals.
INFRASTRUCTURE – DATA CENTRES AND ON-ISLAND DATA
Whereas the Digital Skills programme addresses the human capability aspects of digital transformation, we must also address the infrastructure side of the equation.
We acknowledge the need to strengthen our Digital Infrastructure, – especially since we are looking to encourage Citizens to use e-Services as an alternative to traditional in-person visits to Government Offices.
Consequently, we will honour our commitment to the provision of affordable Broadband Internet as a Public Good. We are continuing to address the needs of our underserved communities in partnership with our colleagues in the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and in the Telecoms Sector.
However, this requirement also forces us to build in connectivity and infrastructure considerations from up front:
- Resilience, by Design
- Security, by Design
- Sustainability, by Design
One significant aspect of our infrastructure concerns the storage of our Data. Over the past few years there have been several instances of Trinidad and Tobago’s Internet connection to the outside world being completely or partially interrupted, with significant negative consequences.
Given our current pivot toward the provision of e-services, any interruption of services constitutes a significant risk to service delivery, public confidence, and consequently to the credibility of the Public Sector.
We have accordingly taken a strategic decision that all of Trinidad and Tobago’s critical data must be housed on-island.
In this regard, we are pursuing a two-tier approach (pun intended):
- Firstly, we intend to design and build a Tier 4 Data Centre that will house sensitive Government Data in a dedicated Government Cloud; and
- Secondly, we will seek to host non-sensitive Government Data among the several Tier 3-ready Data Centres that already exist in Trinidad and Tobago, in a distributed Cloud.
The resulting Distributed Government Cloud will increase the security and resilience of our Data and the many services that utilize the Data. This will offer opportunities for the Private Sector and, we believe, may also be of interest to other Caribbean countries, who may well consider Trinidad and Tobago as a reliable and secure haven for their data backup.
At this point, I would like to make a couple of brief observations about Security and the management of our Data.
With respect to Cybersecurity, it would not be exaggerating to say that our Digital Transformation Agenda will only be as successful as our ability to ensure that our systems are secure and robust. Equally important, they must enjoy the Trust and Confidence of Citizens and Businesses.
The MDT has been working closely and collaboratively with its counterparts in the Ministry of National Security, the Protective Services, and elsewhere within Government, as well as with other Regional and International security stakeholders and actors.
The MDT is committed to collaborating with the Private Sector and Civil Society on Cybersecurity matters, and any issues and recommendations that arise from this Summit would be extremely welcome.
With respect to the management of Data, Government has taken a decision that Data Protection in Trinidad and Tobago will comply with the international “Gold Standard”, the European Union’s GDPR, and as many of you will know, the EU is assisting us in this regard.
At the other end of the Data Governance Spectrum is Open Data, which we regard as a significant driver for the development of apps and e-services, particularly under the aegis of the Developers’ Hub.
Since January of this year, an MDT team has been uploading Open Data datasets to the Government Open Data Portal (data.gov.tt) as a “Proof of Concept”.
In just over five months, they have so far uploaded over 300 datasets, and are reaching out to colleagues across Government to expand and speed up the release of more.
Your feedback and recommendations on Open Data would be greatly appreciated, and I also encourage Summit participants to consider which datasets that are currently held privately could also be added to our growing repository of Open Data.
As you can see from the foregoing, the Government is doing quite a lot in the Digital Transformation space, and there are many other ongoing initiatives that could be explored at another time.
- The ongoing work on Data Protection and Open Data is a very small component of a much bigger agenda to modernize our Legislation and Regulatory Framework in order to enable the introduction of FinTech solutions, enable Online Transactions, and improve the Ease of Doing Business.
- With respect to the Regulatory environment, the Government’s approach is to adopt a “light touch” methodology, with minimal intervention and heavy reliance on inputs from the Private Sector and Civil Society to ensure that we are encouraging healthy competitive practices while minimizing “red tape”.
- Trinidad and Tobago is working closely with Development partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Telecommunication Union, and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union to secure much-needed technical expertise and support.
- We are working closely with countries that have successfully addressed many of the Digital Transformation opportunities and challenges that Trinidad and Tobago is currently facing. For example:
- Estonia is assisting us with developing an interoperability solution that will enable Ministries, Departments and Agencies to collaborate effectively – India is sharing its experiences and expertise with the development and rollout of its ADHAAR Digital Identity solution to over 1.4 billion citizens o – Lithuania is sharing its experiences with establishing its own equivalent to the Developers’ Hub
In conclusion, the Government aligns itself with the view of AMCHAM and the Private Sector that Trinidad and Tobago is somewhat behind many other countries on the road to Digital Transformation.
However, like AMCHAM we are convinced that this offers us the opportunity to leverage the experience and expertise of those who have preceded us as we work together to first catch up and then overtake our peers.
The opportunity is not just to “leapfrog”, but to take giant “Moko Jumbie” steps that will transform our country into a Digital Leader in the Caribbean and beyond.
I thank you.