Information And Communications Technology

Updated: September 2019 | By: INFOCOMM Technologies Ltd. – Atiba Phillipss

The need for digital transformation throughout the region has been echoing at every corner. Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) President, Dr. Warren Smith, placed this item among the key issues facing the region saying, “Digital transformation is indispensable. It will change the way we live, consume and produce. Harnessing digital power is equivalent to securing our future. We must put our youth in the driver’s seat and at the centre through high-quality and equal access to education.”

After a downward trend over several years, the ICT environment in Trinidad and Tobago may be showing initial signs of improvement. Data from the World Economic Forum’s Global competitive rankings indicates that there has be an 11-point increase in the 2017-2018 ranking over that of the previous year.

The provision of free Wi-Fi is a countrywide initiative of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (GoRTT) aimed at bringing more citizens online and allowing greater access to available e-Government and other services. Through this programme, GoRTT intends to provide greater online access.

The implementation arm of the Ministry of Public Administration, iGovTT, was mandated to establish community-based ICT centres to provide e-Government services, free internet access and ICT training to citizens and business communities. Centres are already located in Cumana, Marac, Guayayguayare and Penal.

The project will include public hospitals and health centres and be expanded island-wide to ensure connectivity in almost every community, starting with public spaces such as passport and licensing offices.

iGovtt was also responsible for the installation, configuration and maintenance of free Wi-Fi hotspots for the travelling public on Public Transportation Services Corporation (PTSC) buses. It is expected to be rolled out to all PTSC transport hubs.

Several Government agencies have taken steps to automate some aspect of their service or processes, a welcome move by both the public and businesses alike. Some of these include:

  • TTconnect: A one-stop portal that provides access to multiple Government services.
  • e-Tax: A free service offered by the Inland Revenue Division that allows you to manage your taxes online.
  • Permit and Vehicle Registration: A service to quickly verify the validity of your driver’s permit and validate the ownership and registration of a vehicle.

There is also a proposal for the Automation of the Construction Permitting System of the Town and Country Division (TCPD). The Automation Project stands to benefit everyone involved in the Construction Permitting (CP) process, especially those who would have to go through the various stages when seeking planning permission from the TCPD and other affiliated agencies in said process. The Automation Project is geared to improve the efficiency of the CP system through the creation of an online programme for the submission, tracking, and processing of permit applications in fewer steps and in a more timely manner. This approach should also improve communication and engagement with applicants via mobile phone and online portals, and between permitting agencies using mobile apps and cloud-based services.

If the number of events and conferences being put on is any indication, activity in the space certainly has heated up. In the last few months alone, the following were held:

  • The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Workshop on ICT Indicators was held at the Hyatt Regency on 29 April 2019
  • The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) put on its 30th Anniversary Celebrations Conference, themed “Digital Transformation – Do It!” 29 April – 1 May 2019
  • The Caribbean Internet Governance Forum was held on the 2-3 May 2019, Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain
  • The University of the West Indies, Faculty of Engineering at St. Augustine, in collaboration with Google hosted the Google Cloud’s Artificial Intelligence Solutions workshop, 6 June 2019
  • “Vybzing”, the CDB’s flagship youth engagement programme was held 1-3 June 2019 in Trinidad and Tobago under the theme: Youth-Led Innovation; Regional Transformation. The programme included:
    • Innovation experiences and training in areas including design thinking,Internet of Things (IoT), coding, artificial intelligence, gender equalityand social inclusion.
    • Opportunities to network with innovators, youth leaders, social entrepreneurs and development practitioners
    • In-house Innovation Challenge
  • The American Chamber of Commerce, Trinidad and Tobago chapter, presented its first Annual Tech Hub Islands Summit, on 13-14 June 2019, inclusive of themes such as, “The 4th Industrial Revolution”, “e-Government is good politics”, “Unlocking the power of data” and “Man and Machine – the workforce of the future.”

In terms of upcoming events:

  • The 35th Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition of the Caribbean organisation of National Telecom Operators (CANTO) will be guided by the theme ‘Transitioning to a Digital Region – Opportunities and Challenges’
  • HackTT – a competitive event hosted by the National ICT Company Limited for tertiary-level students across Trinidad and Tobago to work on software projects, with the goal of creating solutions to be used by the Government, for the benefit of the citizens.

YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS AND GIRLS IN TECH

Indeed, there have also been a number of technology entrepreneurship competitions over the last 12 months. For example, after five months of intensive learning, 225 aspiring entrepreneurs have completed the first cohort of the CDB-funded Caribbean Tech Entrepreneurship Programme (CTEP) 2018 – 2019. CTEP is a virtual incubator and accelerator programme to support the growth of technology entrepreneurship in CDB’s 19 Borrowing Member Countries. The entrepreneurs participated in capacity-building workshops while receiving critical mentorship support; and in the latter stages of the programme, the most promising participants competed for cash and business support prizes.

This year, there were also several Girls in ICT and Women in Technology events throughout the region. One notable example was the partnership between the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) sub-regional headquarters for the Caribbean with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the non-governmental organisations, SheLeadsIT and Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) Tech Clubs, for a day-long event. Girls from across Trinidad and Tobago showcased their original technological solutions to gender-based violence and climate change at the Trinidad and Tobago segment of the Caribbean.Girls.Hack competition in May 2019.

DIGITAL CURRENCIES PICK UP MOMENTUM REGIONALLY

Earlier this year, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Timothy Antoine, and CEO of Bitt Inc., Rawdon Adams, signed a contract to launch the ECCB Central Bank Digital Currency pilot in March. The development and testing phase, which is expected to last around one year, will be followed by a six-month rollout and implementation in selected pilot countries. The Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBOB) is also moving closer toward an evolved payment structure to provide for the first digital currency in The Bahamas.

Trinidad and Tobago must capitalise on its historical and continuing strength as the leading economy in the region, as well as its sound telecommunications foundation to take advantage of the global technological revolution which is already having a significant impact on the region. The challenge will be to move from discussion to action and to leverage the right policies and investments needed to achieve the much-needed national digital transformation agenda.

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