Technology-enabled modernisation – the most urgent development priority

By: Bevil Wooding  |   February 3rd, 2021

There has never been a stronger case or better time for building out local internet infrastructure and incentivising the creation of local internet content and services.

One year ago, few would have thought the world could change so radically in such a short time. The COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting public health and safety mandates, have stalled economies, tested governments and redefined social interactions. In the midst of the crisis has emerged an unprecedented opportunity to leverage technology to transform our economy and society for the post-COVID new normal.

Stay at home and social distancing orders have left citizens with little choice but to go online to shop, work, keep in touch with family and friends as well as access education, entertainment, banking, justice and other essential services. The process has created an unprecedented reliance on technology-enabled services in every sector. The internet is no longer optional for certain types of transactions and social interactions, it’s the only option. We have hit an inflection point past which we can no longer treat the technology-enabled modernisation as anything but the most urgent development priority.

However, obstructing the path to our technology-enabled future is the complex mix of public policy, regulation, infrastructure, education, and investment capital barriers. While there have been attempts to remove these barriers before, what was once clichéd and optional is now urgent and imperative. For industries to evolve and survive and for new opportunities to be seized, a fast track to digital innovation must be found.

Wanted: More Local Internet Services

The coronavirus crisis has exposed the need to have more local services available over the internet. It has also revealed inadequacies in national policies and preparedness to support such services. There has never been a stronger case or better time for building out local internet infrastructure and incentivising the creation of local internet content and services.

According to Ronald Hinds, a past president of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce and CEO of Teleios, a software services firm, “Almost overnight, the coronavirus has triggered a rapid adoption of digital services. There is an unprecedented opportunity to diversify our economy and create entirely new sectors that can benefit from what is expected to be a sustained demand for these services.

Local cloud-based services, online entertainment, digital infrastructure, industrial automation, cybersecurity, fintech, hardware engineering, data analytics, artificial intelligence, digital ID and tracking are just some of the areas of opportunity for local entrepreneurs and businesses,” he added.

However, the speed of technological advances can only accelerate if the policy environment is conducive to digital innovation.

Leadership Required

Business and government leaders find themselves in the challenging position of having to balance short-term pressures against medium and long-term uncertainties. The barriers that stand in the way of developing a robust, relevant and resilient local ICT sector can only be removed through decisive leadership.

Nigel Edwards, Executive Director of the Trinidad and Tobago Unit Trust Corporation, shared that innovation in the delivery of financial services is one of the critical enablers to the digital economy.

“Fintech, digital wallets, electronic payments, blockchain and similar in vogue technologies have to be backed up in the real world by systems, policies and institutions that encourage and not frustrate our entrepreneurs and innovators. We have to execute more relevant strategies for creating and enhancing wealth by building a more reliable pipeline to connect the potential that resides in our communities to the digitisation needs that exist in our industries.”

Organisations often struggle to find the right talent to properly define and implement digital initiatives. Many are already discovering that it takes much more investment to sustain digital services than to launch them. Even after digital services are established, organisations have to wrestle with training staff, securing digital assets and changing entrenched behaviours. To prepare for a digital new normal, companies will have to take a very deliberate and whole-organisation approach to digital transformation initiatives.

“Digital transformation is not only a buzzword, it is also forcing connectivity and enabling deeper relations between public and private service providers and their customers. Every service now needs to be built with empowering the users in mind; and technology is the ultimate enabler, providing our citizens with easy means of transacting conveniently and securely,” according to Gerry Brooks, co-chairman of Trinidad and Tobago’s post-COVID economic recovery team.

A Marathon Not A Sprint

The crisis conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic can be a powerful catalyst, forcing the embrace of new approaches to work, governance, problem-solving and service delivery.  It is an invitation to depart from outdated, inefficient and costly manual and paper-based systems, to more efficient, responsive and accessible technology-enabled models.

The key is to recognise that digital transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. To best pace ourselves, we can focus on identifying specific potential areas for process improvements, cost savings and revenue generation; moving decisively to remove inefficiencies and eliminate unnecessary, corrupt, or wasteful processes; and on celebrating successes. The seed of what is needed to carry us beyond COVID-19 has always been present in our country – entrepreneurship, creativity and determination. Now, these seeds need to be fertilised by leadership, enabling technology, faith and a shared vision for a new economy, a new society and a better future.