Interview: Seong Hyun Lee

In what ways can technology act as an enabler for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

SEONG HYUN LEE: Development of ICT in Colombia has experienced a powerful evolution in recent years. From 2011 to 2014, the number of active mobile phone lines grew from 46m to 55.3m. The digital ecosystem has been growing rapidly due to both government and private sector efforts. Over the last five years, the country has gone from 18% of municipalities connected to fibre-optics to 96%, from three broadband mobile operators to 10 and from 2m internet connections to 10m. Among SMEs, internet penetration went from 7% to 74% in that period. The vast majority of SMEs have started using mobile phones to manage orders, make purchases and payments, and provide services. The force behind this trend has clearly been the availability of mobile internet, which allows the micro-entrepreneur to work from outside the office and manage a whole business via smartphone or tablet, improving productivity and avoiding lost business. In fact, the country’s capacity to develop the IT industry has increased, given its high mobile phone penetration rate, the entrance of international-standard technology such as digital terrestrial television and 4G networks, and government plans to stimulate the sector such as the Plan Vive Digital. Overall, these developments benefit the end-consumer. This in turn has opened up new opportunities for technology manufacturers. The rapid growth that Colombia has achieved in its networks has allowed producers to provide a wide array of products and offer the latest technological tools for SMEs to raise profitability, enhance quality and boost workforce efficiency.

How can digital adoption be raised in rural areas?

LEE: It is true that adoption of technology in rural areas is not the highest. However, the government has been working with the private sector to develop programmes and strategies aimed at reducing this gap. These initiatives include the creation of a national fibre-optic network, the installation of digital kiosks to train citizens in technological knowledge and the obligation imposed on 4G operators to rapidly expand their services with the goal of covering 100% of Colombian municipalities. This last item will dramatically increase internet access and reduce prices in rural areas. But internet access alone is not enough; technology must be developed in line with municipalities’ needs, one of which is access to quality education. In this vein, Samsung has launched the Smart School programme, which works to facilitate technological adoption among children in the public education system. Equal internet access will help equalise the quality of education for all children, benefitting especially those in rural areas.

How key is local content to ICT penetration?

LEE: The more local content and services that are available, especially through apps, the easier it is to achieve expansion in the ICT industry, as all parties benefit. These types of content have an enormous impact by nursing digital content companies that take advantage of this new digital context. Pursuing a higher quantity of local content creates a stronger connection between offer and demand, directly benefitting the ICT industry and all of its operators. It is also important to use this technology to raise the level of bilingualism in the country in order to capitalise on international content. This is one of the blessings of the ICT industry: making knowledge global and available to any citizen with access to the internet. Activities like Developers Day, recently held by Samsung, stimulate interest in the ICT industry. At this event, local developers were given the opportunity to create new applications for both regional and national markets. This resulted in the creation of more than 40 Android applications that 10 Colombian companies have now integrated into their business processes.