A Caribbean Perspective on ICT

A Caribbean Perspective on ICT

ICT today has evolved to become not only the dominant institution in society (courtesy of the Internet), but also manifest in a form that we can readily identify with as and within our communities (i.e. social media). Add to that the compelling usage numbers, distributed globally, and the result is a reality that no entrepreneur can ignore.

 

There is a growing presence of technology across the dimensions of revenue generation, profit optimisation and quality attainment and sustainability. More and more today we are witnessing the use of technology to engender innovation of our products and processes within organisations on one part, and to support the innovation of products, processes and approaches by individuals on the other.

 

ICT now presents a strategy-option that can empower the organisation to entrench competitive advantages of the organisation in an environment of growing participation and integration. In fact, it is changing the conversation from sustaining competitive advantages to pursuing more temporary transient advantages, driven by the use of technology.

 

ICT Forms

We see ICT in a very visible form in mobile computing devices – from smart phones to laptops to tablets – and its ready availability is indicative of potential reach and access. Within organisations, our ICT is pressing on, slowly, as devices are more distributed even though they may represent a new interface for old processes and perpetuating inefficiencies.

 

On the software side, cloud computing and software access via an internet browser requires less up front capital expenditure on an ICT infrastructure. The rise of open source platforms – many of which provide global standards of performance at zero cost, means that we can activate capabilities for our organisations and ventures with greater efficiency and the accompanying diminishing need for pirated merchandise. The rise of social media – in our environment within concentrated platforms such as Facebook and Youtube means that we have increasing opportunities to meet our targets where they are, and at the same time benchmark our competitors. It is estimated that two in every three internet users in Trinidad and Tobago are on facebook (67%), which translates to two of every five people in the population.

 

People and ICT Use

In a world of seven billion people, we are currently at an estimated 2.5 billion internet users – just about one in three people are online. Our Caribbean region is a microcosm of this trend, with penetration estimated at roughly 32%. In Trinidad and Tobago, we currently stand at about 53% penetration – one in every two persons is online. Statistics for other countries in the region vary significantly – higher and lower, so while it serves as a useful average overall the realities and the expectations can be very different on the ground.

 

This global phenomenon bears a lot of growth capacity, and sector studies are reflecting this reality with many growth areas across industries being technology or more specifically internet-related. Consider for instance the drivers of growth across banking, retail merchandise, materials and equipment sourcing, trade in services, education, media and entertainment, telecoms and even ICT as an economic sector, along with their contributions to national income, and the picture becomes clear.

 

Connectivity and social interaction notwithstanding, individual attitudes vary significantly and we tend to view ICT and computing technology either with fear (of the technology or our capabilities in using it), mistrust (seeing technology as a competing resource for labour), or enthusiasm (either as a tool that can yield results, or an instrument that defines our individual brand). Some persons are not adverse to technology per se, but still have a preference and more confidence in seeing things ‘in black and white’. Except for status updates, of course. I am not sure that building comparative advantages in social media and its management would generate the necessary volumes and variance in income streams to engender competitiveness or development.

 

To add to this, as upcoming generations enter the workforce, their preferred destinations would invariably be those organisations that recognise the power of technology as a tool and willingly provide it to their staff. This is not difficult to relate to, since immediately, we as employees or service providers would not tolerate inefficient manual payroll systems on a monthly basis – at least not for long.

 

We recognise within other institutions that the tone is set at the top, and leadership bears responsibility for the direction and culture of the organisation. The same would apply to our organisations, and within the context of ICT. As entrepreneurs, business owners and executives, we need to overcome our apprehension of technology and build our competence and confidence in using the resource, even as we strive to diffuse the message throughout our organisations and reengineer our processes to support efficient and effective technology deployment.

 

Innovation and Growth

ICT development has been such that it is now available to everyone, regardless of scale or scope. Some even question its strategic value – seeing it rather as a utility and necessity than a basis for differentiation. Perhaps this is why the emphasis has now shifted to innovation and creativity – that we have all supporting infrastructure available, do we now have the imagination to redefine our revenue models and value propositions to be able to compete against our global counterparts? Can we reengineer our organisations to compete on our turf or theirs?

 

Overall, there is still need to build an appreciation for technology as a resource on one part, and build an appreciation for the information that it provides on the other part – information which we have been engaging in more inefficient ways through other channels, historically. In achieving this, we become poised to realise real growth from the contemporary ICT ecosystem that can so easily be interwoven with our innate cultural propensities. As individuals we are already engaged. As organisations we must ensure that we are. And judging by the volume of whatever.com shipments that populate our couriers’ shelves – certainly our customers think so.

 

In concluding I am reminded of a quote by Sir Richard Branson: “Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business…”

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