Author Archives: faheem

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…”

MANAGING TECHNOLOGY AS A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

Despite the many terms used across literature and practice, for the willing or open-minded, the underlying contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is simple to understand and increasingly central to all that we do today as professionals in a discipline or as organisations creating value within an ecosystem.

 

Technology today has conveniently converged into a largely integrated form that makes managing it as a resource a bit easier, although with some accompanying risks. And like the introduction of a resource to an equation, it brings with it its own challenges and demands that we as decision-makers and resource-managers need to reconcile as we strive to succeed in today’s environment.

 

The simple framework of dissecting our technology into its component Hardware, Software, Networks, Data and Risk dimensions allows us to not only consider the specifications across each dimension that would contribute to our operating demand, but also give us the basis to explore and frame developments and emerging trends as it fits to our reality. This framework proves useful when we consider as an example the integration of cameras into internet-enabled phones – which can aid us in our inventory management even as it reshapes the form and format for news reporting sectors.

 

We recognise that ICT today is the dominant institution in society (courtesy of the Internet), and serves to connect us within our ecosystem or communities through social media. The dispersion and usage – and the potential that exists – cannot be ignored. That 3 in 10 people globally are online, or that 2 of those 3 are on the popular social media site Facebook, gives us the opportunity to connect with a sizeable community, and highlights the growth potential that accompanies the use of internet-based cannels of commerce, marketing and resource-engagement. That more connectivity is via mobile devices also serves to reinforce real-time connectivity with fewer accompanying compromises to performance.

 

How is this reality being incorporated in our planning and projections? It would be useful to consider – on a sector basis – the potential sustaining vs. disruptive technologies that can serve to either support our competitive positioning or alter the way business is done. One only has to look at the impact of Apple’s iTunes on the music distribution sector to understand the probabilities.

 

It must be recognised that other mentionable trends are also being deployed to aid us in achieving or even redefining our standards of productivity and performance. From automation which marginalises human error on routine tasks to analytics and ‘Big Data’ which give us the ready supply of information that can transform the quality of our roles and decisions, we recognise the potential applications in job functions behind the desk or in the field.

 

In the same way, we can consider Social Media and Mobile Computing penetration that is not only impacting our engagement of external stakeholders and reshaping organisational forms and structures, but also impacting directly on our ability to innovate our products, service delivery and processes of creating and sustaining value.

 

Overall, the zeal to unleash technology might be tempered by the apprehension onset by the speed of change and the vagaries of technical jargon, but as Peter Drucker reminded us, “Today, knowledge… controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Simple frameworks aid us to unleash this resource for our benefit and for those we serve.