Interview: David Luna

Can the target of the digital economy accounting for 5% of Colombia’s GDP be met by 2018?

DAVID LUNA: We are experiencing a transformation known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which makes it possible for many goods and services to be produced by new business models supported by technology. Colombia is not foreign to this trend. With the Digital Live Plan, we have supported the availability of ICT to citizens and businesses, and we have already taken an important first step in terms of infrastructure and connectivity. In six years Colombia has gone from 2.2m to 15.1m internet connections, and has seen an increase in the number of municipalities with fibre optics access from 200 to 1078. Additionally, 74% of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – and around 50% of households – are already connected to the internet. All this has made Colombia a regional leader in digitalisation. However, challenges remain for digital business transformation. The government is helping the productive sectors prepare for this through the creation of a digital economy observatory, to monitor the digitisation of productive sectors and value chains. Through partnerships with Colombian universities and companies, we launched two centres of excellence in 2016 to research the development of big data and the internet of things. The strategy also includes initiatives to strengthen the Colombian IT industry, generate digital talent, and promote the digitalisation of MSMEs and of sectors such as agriculture, health and tourism.

In your opinion, what stage of development is Colombia’s telecoms market at currently?

LUNA: The development of the telecoms market is heterogeneous. Growth is supported in internet access services, both fixed and mobile, which still have significant development possibilities. Like in other parts of the world, both fixed and mobile telecoms services are already consolidated and in a mature state, increasingly becoming accessory products of the central service internet access. In 2016 penetration of mobile voice reached 120%, close to the level of developed countries (126.7%) and the OECD (124.2%). It has reached a high level of maturity and development. While mobile internet penetration has grown from 16% to 45% since 2012, it is similar to the average of developing countries, which is 40.9%. When it comes to competition among the telecoms players, as a result of convergence the Colombian market is concentrated among a few operators. Three of them control 90% of the mobile market and around 70% of the fixed market.

How are the private and public sectors working together to advance smart cities in Colombia?

LUNA: We have designed the Strategy of Cities and Intelligent Territories (Ciudades I), our road map for the transformation of conventional cities. We are working on several fronts, among which are an accompaniment to the National Planning Department in the structuring of a National Council for Economic and Social Policy document on modern cities, and ranking of smart cities and the structuring of ICT projects for such cities. We define Ciudades I as “those who have a holistic view of themselves, which strategic processes are based on the use of ICT to raise the standard of living of citizens, and promote sustainable development and innovation.” This concept goes far beyond aspects such as security involving all the public services that any local administration offers its inhabitants. Within the Ciudades I strategy we cover ICT in health, tourism, mobility, education, risk management, environment, sport and others. Regarding the relationship with the private sector, we have held meetings with global players, such as Huawei or Ericsson, and national bidders on smart cities. Nevertheless, taking into account the principle of technological neutrality that prevails in the country, the technological offerings from the private sector must be submitted to the respective local government administrations that define their investment priorities.