- Veröffentlicht: 11. September 2020
In their 2020 election manifesto, the government of Trinidad & Tobago excited many with the thought of national innovation, by anchoring its 5-year strategic plan on the creation of a digital society. The movement towards national digitalisation has been inevitable since the explosion of the Internet in the latter half of the 90s. Early adopters, such as Estonia, have shown the world the realisable benefits of the approach.
However, for Trinidad & Tobago, the movement is nothing short of a necessity. Within the last decade, national progress has stalled, and the last administration was forced to shift focus over to restoring economic stability after the ripple effects of the global recession of 2008/2009 eventually took their toll.
Oil prices have remained low since the end of 2014, amplifying the calls for diversification away from the country’s main export. Even against that backdrop, the proposed initiative should neither be seen as the desperation of a country, nor the diversification. This is the foundation that needs to be laid for the diversification to come.
What is a Digital Society?
A digital society is a progressive society formed from the adaptation and integration of advanced technologies into society and culture 1). In a digital society, both public and private services are digitalised, enabling much of what currently takes place through physical interaction to occur anywhere in the world, with minimal technology and an Internet connection.
The manifesto outlines three guiding principles for creating the digital society — ensuring access, collecting and managing data, and establishing trust between the system and the citizens. It then tasks a theoretical Ministry of Technology with the responsibility of applying these principles while it oversees what should amount to one of the nation’s largest infrastructural projects and cultural shifts ever.
Staffing the Ministry and its endeavours
The initial reality is different. To the chagrin of some, the new cabinet announcement presented neither the separate ministry nor the specialized minister that was expected. Instead, the initiative has been integrated with the existing affairs of public administration, to form the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation, headed by Minister Allyson West — a former PWC Territory Tax Leader and a senior member of the Law Association of Trinidad & Tobago.
Despite the reaction, the choice to combine public administration and digital transformation under a shared portfolio has been seen in several larger countries, including Spain 2) and Denmark 3). Locally, in April 2019, the Ministry of Public Administration foreshadowed its future by holding a regional technology immersion event, FutureSpace, with the theme, “Digital Transformation — Do It”.
The event was organized in conjunction with the Caribbean Technology Union (CTU) and ultimately sought to showcase the transformative potential of information and communications technology (ICT) in a futuristic single Caribbean space.
Given the consolidation of the ministries, Allyson West is a viable choice. The legal framework and governance policies that are needed to properly support the digital initiative are, mostly, non-existent. Her understanding of local and international law, and her experience in constructing practical policy at the national level can be integral assets in driving the initiative forward, methodologically.
An examination of countries that have failed to realise the prophesied benefits of digital transformation has found that having a techno-centric focus, rather than a governance-centric focus, is an influential reason for the failures⁴. West will not need to be convinced about the importance of the initiative either. She has championed the cause in the past.
The need for technology-level experience has not been overlooked either. Hassel Bacchus, former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of TSTT, has been appointed as Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation. Few could argue against his fit in the huge infrastructure project that will underlie this entire initiative.
Success in this initiative requires the Ministry to find the right mix of internal analysts of some permanency, and external consultants whose requested presence will vary based on the expertise required of the each particular project. In this, there is an opportunity for the public sector to engage the country’s young and innovative minds, who are unencumbered by the knowledge of “how things should be done”.
Hiring managers mired in traditional hiring preferences must adopt more modern, situationally flexible, methods of assessing candidates. The ICT industry is one where credentials are less important than a portfolio, and the local and foreign diaspora markets are teeming with capable engineers and developers.
The experience of mature and reputable project managers will be needed to provide the balancing perspective necessary to avoid the pervasive scope creep which tends to appear in large IT projects.
The opportunities and challenges that arise during the pursuit of this initiative will differ between the public sector and the private sector.
Transforming the public sector
The transformation should be anchored in the public sector through the development of an e-governance ecosystem. To achieve success, the initiative must reckon with the following difficulties.
- The digitisation of existing records will be long, painful, and arduous, but necessary. The records in many of the nation’s most critical ministries and agencies are yet to be digitized. Many others, such as the Transport Division of the Ministry of Works and Transport, are already in progress. If the National Digital Database proposed in the manifesto to be complete, this conversion process must be thorough, including data verification, validation and reconciliation.
- The initiative must include a plan for employee resistance and change management. The digitalization of organizations often leads to resistance based on employee fears that they will not be fortunate enough to retain their jobs 5). Even in the absence of massive job loss, employees are often the stakeholders that bear the biggest brunt of organizational change. Management can often reduce resistance to change by actively involving its workforce in the process, and promoting change readiness through consultation with key members of the workforce at each level of the hierarchy 6). For the job displacement that is unavoidable, retraining programs must be implemented in order to equip unprepared workers with the skills that they will need in order to contribute to the public sector in the new digital society.
- Governance must come before technology. In projects such as these, it is easy to get caught up in the technological vision and forget the importance of the legal and policy framework. However, excellence in e-governance requires the initiative to be effectiveness-driven 4), and this must be guided by governance policy. This is where Allyson West’s expertise becomes highly valuable, as she should be able to steer the concurrent and interrelated development of the legal and policy frameworks.
- In most ministries, business process reengineering (BPR) efforts must lead the way. Information systems and technologies can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of processes in the organization. However, it can not make inefficient processes efficient. Therefore, the most efficient version of the process without technology must be identified before we apply technology to attempt to amplify those efficiencies.
- Interoperability must be considered as early as possible. Given the size of the initiative, individual projects within the initiative will lead to the deployment of different types of systems from a variety of vendors. These different systems must be able to work together, and data should be able to be shared efficiently between systems, without needing the citizens to provide them multiple times. The successful pursuit of e-government benefits requires that this type of interoperability is achieved 7). Therefore, decisions on the methods that will be used to achieve it must be made in the beginning.
- Decision-makers must separate technology that is legitimate and longevous from that which is trendy and temporary. Many organizations have made mistakes in the form of hasty technological adoptions. The country must avoid this pitfall. Here, Hassel Bacchus will act as the country’s CTO, tasked with evaluating what technology should be adopted, and what technology should be ignored. He must chart a path forward for the country technologically, knowing that the effects of his choices now may extend beyond the time for which he holds his current role.
- The creation of e-government must be accompanied by the creation of a digital citizenry. E-governance initiatives are only as good as their adoption rates and their ability to ensure that a large majority of the population adopts these new methods of government-citizen interaction. Resistant baby boomers who find normalcy in the inefficiency of physical interactions that typically accompanies public sector customer service must be incentivized to adopt the use of newly deployed e-services. The current pandemic gifts the government a unique opportunity to begin influencing a change in the mindset of the most at-risk communities. On the other side of the age spectrum, the initiative must include changes in the education system that initiate a pipeline of graduates capable of fulfilling the future needs of the technology industry.
Creating opportunity in the private sector
The e-government initiatives should generate externalities for the private sector. If done correctly, the legislation and policies identified in the manifesto will be instrumental. Of particular interest to the initiative are the Electronic Transaction and Data Protection acts.
An updated and fully proclaimed version of the Electronic Transaction Act should reduce barriers to entry into the locally-based e-business space. The partial proclamation of this act is partly responsible for one of the biggest issues that local entrepreneurs face — a lack of easily accessible online payment gateway options. It is a thorn in the side of many who have attempted to create sustaining e-business in the past decade.
Regional companies, WiPay and First Atlantic Commerce, have developed solutions, however, the space is still sparse and difficult. Furthermore, policy that promotes the development and use of fintech and money mobile solutions can provide the country with a leap into the present-future.
It is equally imperative that Part IV of the Data Protection Act, which governs the use and handling of personal information held by the private sector, be updated and proclaimed. A swift proliferation of entrepreneurial activity will inevitably lead to intentional attempts at, or unintentional incidents of, data and and information misuse. The Data Protection Act is needed to manage these likely scenarios in the future.
Another pitfall that local tech entrepreneurs have faced is the relatively small size of the potential user market for digital products and services. Startups tend to generate revenue from direct sales and advertising. Both revenue models are only successful once the startup has attracted a significant number of users.
The population of Trinidad & Tobago is too small for this to happen in the large majority of entrepreneurial attempts that I have witnessed thus far. This initiative presents an opportunity for the government to create a shared digital market, in conjunction with other regional bodies, similar to that as showcased by FutureSpace.
Initiatives in this vein will increase the market available for entrepreneurs to pursue, consequently increasing both the appeal and the chances of success. At the same time, in order to create a budding start-up culture, a portfolio of financial incentives in the form of easy-to-access grants and small business loans is required. The burden of this support does not need to rely on the private sector, however.
The country’s multinational corporations can be incentivized to participate in the initiative as venture capitalists and sponsors that help move things from ideas and business plans to market.
The benefit of moving late is having an example to follow. There are numerous examples of e-government successes 8) and failures 9). Estonia is seen by many as the gold standard of what a national digital transformation looks like.
Learning from e-Estonia
Estonia is known as the world’s first digital nation. Their heralded status comes as a result of the national initiative, e-Estonia. It refers to the government initiative undertaken in Estonia within the last decade to facilitate as many citizen interactions with the state, through the use of digital solutions. This has led to the launch of e-services such as i-Voting, e-School, e-Banking, e-Residency, and X-Road.
Practically, e-Estonia is the perfect model for Trinidad & Tobago (and the manifesto reads as if the current government thinks so as well). Like Trinidad & Tobago, Estonia has a population of 1.3 million and a GDP that is often no more than 3 billion USD less than T&T’s own.
However, with the persistent allocation of resources and long-term strategy, Estonia constructed a series of interconnected systems whose collective existence provides a few concepts that we should look to recreate.
- Once-only policy: one of the central design and operational ideas of the system is that no single piece of information should be entered twice by a user; an idea that is known in by Estonians as the “once-only policy”.
- Decentralization: beyond data being entered only once, only one instance of the data is ever held in the system, in the databases belonging to the agency that collected the data. In contradiction with the traditional centralized approach, agencies that do not inherently manage that data must request it from the agency that does, when needed. Information transfer takes place over the central agent of interoperability, X-Road. X-Road is the secure backbone of the system that acts as the communication hub between government services. It allows the 2700 services that make up e-Estonia to exist over 1300 disparate but connected systems, while also eliminating the single point of failure concern some large networks face. Despite the location of the data, it remains under the ownership of the citizen, who must grant any agencies permission to access their data from the managing agency. The citizen is always in control over who has access to their data, and what can be done with it.
- Transparency: e-Estonia’s digital database is built on a Blockchain backbone. Blockchain is a distributed ledger database technology whose central tenets include the idea that data is write-once and then read-only, and permanent. The permanency of the blockchain’s storage design replicates the benefits of a paper trail, while guarding against its corruptability.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Jarrod Placide-Raymond
Quelle/Source: technewstt, 04.09.2020