Interview: Kirk Henry
How does the digital skills gap affect the ICT sector?
KIRK HENRY: While the digital skills gap is often commented on in T&T, the very environment in which we operate predisposes the new generation to being much more receptive to technology. That being said, we have not been able to adequately tap into our skilled workforce. While there are many who are well trained and skilled in specific areas, we are still an energy-based economy. Technology can and will play a bigger role in the overarching diversification strategy.
There needs to be a shift in mindset in our country. We must move from being net downloaders to net uploaders. We must create a new local economy in which many of the businesses are online. We are seeing more and more young people thinking outside the box, creating their own businesses and showing an entrepreneurial mindset. The new generation has certainly shown a higher level of initiative.
We must bring together public and private organisations to further develop digital skills. We held an inaugural hackathon event bringing together academia, members of the public, government agencies and the local tech industry to create a sandbox for effective knowledge sharing. Such an event allowed the participating students to apply their skills to real-world problems and many are rewarded with job opportunities. In the first year we saw 22 teams of five participating from universities and schools across the island.
Ultimately, the education system produces graduates with the right skills, and as such we will see digitally savvy individuals in the workplace. While some are apprehensive about digitalisation, I see an opportunity.
What challenges does the country face in shifting towards a more technology-driven economy?
HENRY: Leaders must recognise that pushing the ICT and diversification agenda is more than a catchphrase – it must be actively encouraged. We are still at the initial stages of maturity in terms of IT, where there is an understanding of what development would bring and how it could be utilised, but much remains to be done. The key will be to develop muscle memory that treats ICT as an enabler that will add value to businesses and incorporate digitalisation into all aspects of business.
We need a greater appreciation of the benefits of an integrated approach. This would head off the silo effect where stakeholders fail to understand and appreciate what they can and should bring to the table. IT leaders should not be too concerned with the business of bits, bytes and coding, but rather the ability to add value to the businesses it works alongside.
Moving away from bureaucracy towards a more empowering environment where we encourage innovation is crucial. Naturally, regulations and rules are necessary, but the innovative revolution will ultimately drive progress. Millennials do not react nor adapt to the same rules that existed 20 years ago.
In what ways do you believe impactful technology improves business processes?
HENRY: Interoperability is a critical method of impactful technology that the government can utilise to improve service provision. A few years ago service-oriented architecture was introduced. If we combine this with digital ID cards we can allow any citizen to access almost any services from any ministry from anywhere. Service-oriented architecture could allow ministries to focus on the core business, resulting in the demise of duplication and the breakdown of silos. As such, whenever a citizen enters into the government ecosystem, they would have access to this vast repository of data, which would make doing business a much smoother experience — interoperability in action.
There is a clear productivity boom as a result of going more digital. We need to focus on developing the back-end of our ministries and their special-purpose applications, as well as ensure that their data stores are appropriately maintained and properly protected.
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