Digital transformation in the Caribbean can help leapfrog the region in technological advancement while providing crucial infrastructure for the administration of efficient daily services. This unlocks the potential of information currently hidden away in physical (most likely paper-based) government storage. Digital transformation makes it easier to interact with government at multiple levels, across ministries and agencies. The ability to share data within the government eliminates duplicate effort and wastage while saving citizens time and money.
Digital services can be designed for those who are not savvy technology users. We can move away from outdated business models, management cultures, dated technologies, and processes. It helps us do away with closed, top-down, bureaucratic, and paper-based transactional services towards online, integrated digital offerings, encouraging interaction between citizen and state.
“While e-government began with bringing services online, the future will be about the power of digital government to leverage societal innovation and resilience and to transform governance to better achieve the SDGs.”
The digital economy grows in importance around the globe and serves as a catalyst for disruption (to make simpler, cheaper, and more convenient) and lower the barrier of entry to all players. This new ecosystem provides an excellent opportunity to boost economic growth around the world. As digital technologies increase in our daily lives, governments, businesses, and citizens must adapt. Digital Economy growth is ahead compared to overall economies, especially in emerging nations. Data shows information and communications technologies (ICTs) account for 17% of GDP growth in emerging countries (World Bank 2016). The global South has the fastest growth of e-commerce (UNCTAD 2015) with the internet economy growing at 15–25% annually (WEF 2015).
Coordinated effort to take advantage of these new opportunities inherent in disruptive technologies can see the Caribbean, as a region, grow from emerging into advanced economies. Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, blockchain, internet of things, big data, and software-enabled industrial platforms have the potential to impact economic development. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Digital EC Dollar is poised to shake up the financial sector, significantly increase financial inclusion, and open up the possibilities of new business models in e-commerce and investments.
A well-functioning digital economy helps Grenada reduce poverty, increase economic growth, and ensure all her citizens have their basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter). A digital economy creates new jobs for the youth, fuels growth of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and the digitization of the agricultural sector enhances the food value chain. Farmers can utilize trade platforms to remove middlemen from farm to table and promote precision agriculture.
The government plays a vital role in the creation and integration of a digital economy, starting as the architect of the national ecosystem, the steward of monetary resources, and ally to the private sector. The rolling out of the digital economy requires clear planning, unity, and political will across the entire government. “Government holds the key to unlocking third-party providers of services, reducing operational and transactional friction in the ecosystem while facilitating innovation around digital services and opportunities” (Kenya’s Digital Economy Blueprint 2019).
A whole-of-government platform offers a single source of government services for its citizens. Third-party service providers can connect to the platform to offer solutions to citizens and businesses. In order to provide these services, the government must update their ICT infrastructure to supply the foundation for both internal operations and external services. Investments in government ICT ushers in faster and efficient services to the nation’s citizens.
Digital land deeds will reduce fraud and increase usage. Digital health records and automated processes will improve the delivery of care. Digital agriculture data will help farmers, governments, and businesses improved food security. Digital education records will facilitate skills training and improve resource allocation for governments and the private sector.
Within CARICOM, Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (CARCIP) is laying the foundation of fiber networks to connect governments, education institutions, and private sector companies. With this network in place, local data centers are able to provide reliable and low-cost storage. This helps to unify communications and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Digital national identities can be implemented to securely manage and authenticate government workers, citizens, and businesses. Protecting the privacy and ensuring trust is vital within this ecosystem so legislation of privacy and citizen data-protection policies are a must. A strong cybersecurity framework will need to be in place to monitor the stability of the ecosystem.
This ecosystem allows businesses and entrepreneurs to create services on top of the foundation the government has provided for citizens and organizations. As economic activities increase online, location limitations disappear, local vendors can now broaden their base internationally. This makes it important for countries to develop their own dynamic digital economy in order to protect themselves against well-resourced global players.
QUALITIES OF GOVERNMENTS IN DIGITAL ECONOMIES
Invisible: Services are seamless and painless for citizens to access. The private sector sets the tone for government services delivery using partnerships to improve government operations.
Inclusive: The government needs to implement policy, legislation, and trust to be inclusive of all citizens and businesses to help transform Government.
Improved decision and policymaking: The government has access to real-time data for better decision making and policy changes. This can impact unemployment and resource allocation.
New business models: Disruptive technologies will greatly impact Government revenue and reduce infrastructure costs.
Digital citizenship: The need for digital ID will require detailed planning in regulations, laws, citizen trust, and culture. Access to mobile phones changed the primary method for interacting with the government, voicing concerns and providing valuable feedback. Mobile apps and SMS enable citizens direct access to the services they need in a convenient and personalized way. Citizen participation inspires increased collaboration and involvement in decision making, policy updates, problem-solving, and budget prioritization.
ENABLERS FOR DIGITAL ECONOMY
Ease of doing business: Environment and regulatory framework that encourages startups and business operations.
Societal readiness: A strong societal desire for efficiency and timely service. Open communication around the needs, characteristics, and properties of goods/services, and agreement on the final decisions.
Citizen protection: Safeguards for ensuring the protection of citizen rights and trust within a digital ecosystem. There is a personal and regulatory component of this.
Data protection: Creation of a clear legal and regulatory institution to oversee data protection provides a point of contact for businesses and citizens while reducing challenges and costs due to regulatory overlap.
Cybersecurity: The security and protection of data within the ecosystem are vital in a digital economy.
Payments: Promotes the adoption of online and offline digital payment systems that are seamless and low-cost.
Transport infrastructure: Facilitates mass movement of goods, effective insurance of goods in transit, and distribution systems for efficient delivery of goods.
Contract enforcement: Strong institutions to enforce digital contracts and fair resolution of conflict.
Trust: Trust is a key asset in an integrated digital economy where the government and private sector work together while protecting the privacy and citizen data. Transparency and consent play a vital role in ensuring trust is kept at all times.
In conclusion, digital transformation and the formation of a digital economy has the potential to remove many of the barriers present in the economy that hinder growth in small island states like ours. Effective use and implementation can ease our interactions with governments and businesses while reducing the overall cost associated with current resource-intensive processes. Citizen participation can enable continuous engagement with government decision-making and seamless integration with civil services. Ease of doing business will allow entrepreneurs and business owners to create new business models and modify old ones to better suit their needs. We can all agree these are things needed here in the Caribbean.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Let’s make them happen!
UNCTAD (2015). Information Economy Report 2015. Unlocking the Potential of E-commerce for Developing Countries. Geneva: UNCTAD. Retrieved April 01, 2015, from http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ier2015_en.pdf
Dutta, S., Geiger, T. & Lanvin, B. (Eds.) (2015). Global Information Technology Report 2015. ICTs for Inclusive Growth. Geneva: World Economic Forum and INSEAD. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_IT_Report_2015.pdf
Kenya Digital Economy (2019). Digital Economy Blueprint: Powering Kenya’s Transformation. Republic of Kenya: Kenya Digital Economy.