Interview: Alberto Samuel Yohai

Why is it important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to use technology in their production processes?

ALBERTO SAMUEL YOHAI: When we look at the number of SMEs demanding ICT services, we see that the figures are still negligible. According to a study we performed together with a Colombian think tank by the name of Fedesarrollo, by the end of 2013 only 8% of SMEs were using advanced technologies as part of their production processes. Despite this surprising discovery, the research signals an important opportunity for technological adoption by SMEs, which are indeed the foundation of Colombia’s economy.

In essence, technology should be used to increase sales and/or reduce costs, a fact SMEs usually don’t appreciate or fully understand. Therefore, it is our responsibility as an ICT sector representative to show them how beneficial technology can be in helping their companies to succeed. We actively participate in conferences, campaigns and road shows, as we believe the increase in demand for services offered by SMEs will be one of the primary drivers for growth of the ICT sector in 2014.

To what degree will implementation of 4G technologies boost the sector?

YOHAI: During 2014, the first phase of installation of optical fibre networks will conclude, together with the launch of the widely anticipated 4G spectrums. The opening of the wireless spectrum for both voice and data services, and the implementation of internet solutions in every corner of the country, will undoubtedly cause a revolution in domestic telecommunications. Implementation of 4G networks is not free of challenges, as construction permits are difficult to obtain. However, the benefits for the community are countless.

In the short term, we will enjoy better connectivity and faster data transmission. Over the medium term, there will be greater interconnectivity between electronic devices, contributing to the development of new industries such as e-learning, e-health and the expansion of mobile banking.

Is the public sector doing enough to increase new technologies in the country’s development?

YOHAI: The number of public initiatives related to ICT implementation is enormous. The National ICT Fund (Fondo de Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones) has increased its budget by almost 40% to reach $700m, which means public investments will also rise in tandem.

Local efforts are also important, as Colombian cities are getting smarter. These new dynamics require better management of resources and time for the industry to grow properly. President Juan Manuel Santos has also created “Colombia Compra Eficiente”, which manages public procurement and is actively getting involved in ICT-related projects.

In addition, the Ministry of ICT strengthened the figure of the public CIO, led by the IT vice-minister, Maria Isabel Mejia. Regarding the expansion of technology use among people of all income levels, as a country we still have many opportunities to grow the economy by way of necessary tax-reforms regarding the ICT sector, such as value-added tax exemptions for smartphones, among others.

How is the commercialisation of illegal software being fought?

YOHAI: Software piracy is one of the sector’s main challenges. Currently, more than half of the software being used in the country functions illegally. The chamber is working actively with various members of Colombia’s police force and other government entities to tackle this problem.

We are also a member of the National Council for Cybersecurity, where we can work to address issues that could become barriers to ICT growth, at least in its ability to penetrate the corporate sector.