Trinidad and Tobago regulatory reforms promise development of ICT and human capital

 

In March 2017 Trinidad and Tobago launched its Draft National ICT Plan 2017-21, known as fastforward II, which outlines the sector development strategy in line with the national development plan, Vision 2030. One of the principal objectives of the fastforward II programme is to increase ICT’s contribution to GDP to 5% by 2021. The entity responsible for carrying out the strategy is the National Information and Communication Technology Company, branded as iGovTT, which provides support to various government ministries, departments and agencies via provision of project management, general consulting or technical services in the field of ICT procurement and implementation projects.

Internet Connectivity

According to the latest available data from the World Bank, 73.3% of the population enjoyed internet access in 2016, up from 69.2% the previous year. In January 2017 T&T had 680,000 active mobile users, up from 560,000 users in the same period the previous year, or a 21% year-on-year (y-o-y) increase, according to a study from Vancouver-headquartered digital platform Hootsuite. In the same month, laptops and desktops made up 61% of internet usage, a 10% decrease y-o-y; mobile phones represented 30%, a rise of 28% over the same period; and tablet devices 9%, down 3% y-o-y.

Broadband

Meanwhile, fixed-broadband subscriptions continue to demonstrate promising growth levels, registering 327,000 subscriptions in 2017, up from 256,000 the previous year, or 27.7% expansion. In addition, fixed-internet penetration continued to grow in parallel, reaching 78.3% of households in 2017, up from 59.6% the previous year, an increase of 31.4%.

Mobile

While fixed-broadband is on the up, mobile internet subscriptions fell slightly in 2017, down 0.4% from the previous year to 705,000 subscribers. With regard to penetration, however, levels in the mobile segment were considerably higher than those for fixed internet, at 52 and 24 users per 100 inhabitants, respectively, according to Telecommunications Authority of T&T. Both segments, however, demonstrated rising turnover in 2017, with mobile internet revenues up 6.9% on the previous year to TT$643.1m ($3.6m), and fixed-internet revenues rising 4% to TT$918.5m ($5.2m).

ICT for Government

Several key initiatives have been under way in recent times in the development of e-government services. In 2014 the Inland Revenue in conjunction with iGovTT introduced the e-Tax system, a service designed for taxpayers to manage their books online. In addition, the TTBizLink service run by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), first launched in 2014, is a one-stop shop for the electronic delivery of trade facilitation services, and the first of its kind in the region. iGovTT also plays a central role in the development of core ICT services for government operations, as is the case with its current involvement in the development of a document management system (DMS) for use by state entities. This undertaking will result in less reliance on paper, increased longevity of records and improved accessibility to documents, which will be available to authorised users in various government facilities across the country. The project thus aligns with the fastforward II objective of enhancing public service delivery, as increased efficiency in storage and retrieval of documents will ultimately benefit citizens.

One way to achieve the government’s target of raising ICT’s contribution to GDP is by increasing the uptake of locally produced ICT solutions. To this end, in February 2018 the government signed a memorandum of understanding with national firm Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT), which could boost such efforts. Under the deal, iGovTT would serve to promote the adoption of TSTT’s in-house e-tender software on behalf of 22 government ministries, 119 companies and 135 statutory bodies. This undertaking was described as a significant demonstration of confidence in local software development efforts by the government, which can serve to establish further confidence in the capacity of the ICT sector by entities elsewhere.

GSPP

Capacity-building efforts have been ongoing for several years. In November 2016 the government launched The Global Services Promotion Programme (GSPP), an initiative of the Ministry of Planning and Development funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, which was hoped to develop skills, increase employment and boost exports of IT-enabled services.

“One of the key concerns of investors seeking entry into the local market has to do with the quantity and quality of skilled resources,” Tracy Hackshaw, programme manager of the GSPP, told OBG. “The GSPP seeks to deepen and widen that pool of skilled resources in the digital- and IT-enabled services sector (ITES),” Hackshaw added. One component of the programme seeks to encourage partnerships between entrepreneurial ventures and training providers to develop the technical skills of staff members and other beneficiaries. Over time, the development of skills and export-ready professional services locally could generate savings of foreign exchange, as businesses in T&T seek to utilise local expertise, rather than procure services from abroad. Regional and international procurement of these services is an additional desired outcome of the GSPP, thereby creating opportunities to generate foreign exchange.

Skills for Global Services

In March 2017 the GSPP issued a call for proposals for the Skills for Global Services Initiative, which encouraged local companies, entrepreneurs and business associations to submit ideas for development solutions in areas where critical skills gaps exist in the ITES. A total of TT$3.2m ($475,000) in funding was on offer, which generated 70 letters of interest and yielded a further 23 submissions, leading to the ultimate selection of six awardees.

In April 2018 the results were announced, with each party receiving an average sum of TT$500,000 ($74,200). Three of the winners are expected to deliver projects that build skills in subsectors of the creative industry including animation and video game development. These were the Animae Caribe Festival, an annual animation and digital media event; Lagoon Animation Studios; and local video game developer Coded Arts. Meanwhile, a fourth winner, local NGO the Social Justice Foundation intends to develop digital media skills among its trainees largely coming from rural areas.

The GSPP also runs several initiatives designed to assist companies in increasing their global competitiveness including internationalisation training and a mentorship programme. These are carried out in conjunction with support from key local institutions and stakeholders that want to increase capacity in the services sector, alongside international firms based in T&T.

Health & Education

The health and education sectors are viewed as prime beneficiaries of recent developments in the IT sector. The Ministry of Health, for example, is developing systems to support patient registration, financing for enterprise resource planning and inventory management, pharmaceuticals dispensation and other areas under the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP), a scheme first launched in 2013 offering free prescription drugs to patients suffering from non-communicable diseases. The long-term vision of a National Health Information System has been in discussion and planning for over a decade and the launch of the CDAP was intended to be one step towards achieving this.

While health IT projects are domestically initiated, external support has been forthcoming in the education sector. Microsoft, for example, has provided thought leadership to authorities as to how possible curriculum changes can support teachers’ abilities to build lesson plans digitally and share materials with the students via the use of collaborative tools.

“Bringing ICT into the classroom is not just focused on devices, or even integrating teaching content, it is about how we get students to use these tools in order to create and become innovative independently,” Darren Mohammed, corporate territory channel manager for the Caribbean at Microsoft, told OBG.

Though the outlook for ICT’s role in enabling sectors locally is generally positive, the lack of continuity in public sector initiatives between successive governments has resulted in disjointed solutions and slowed the pace with which innovation has been implemented, Suzanne Lau, managing director at end-to-end IT service provider Infotech Caribbean, told OBG. Lau called for a “bipartisan agreement for the execution of long-term strategic initiatives”, for which several other parties across multiple sectors are in agreement, she added.

E-Commerce Strategy

As well as sector-specific initiatives, advances to the framework for electronic payments have implications across a range of sectors that could make use of such services. However, there is outstanding work to be done in the electronic payments segment from a policy, regulatory and legislative perspective if T&T wishes to increase the adoption of a number of related electronic applications including commerce, payments and fund transfers. With a relatively high reliance on cash transactions at present, online payments are seen to be one way to increase efficiency in this domain. “The government, given its large influence on the economy, can change behaviours. It has an important role to play in that if online payments are made more accessible, a resultant uptake in usage of such channels may occur,” Simon Aqui, business development executive at IBM, told OBG.

In line with these efforts, in December 2017 the MoTI launched the National e-Commerce Strategy 2017-21, which seeks to implement the necessary infrastructure to better enable individuals and businesses to undertake government payment transactions online. To this end, the Treasury is working with the MoTI to develop an electronic funds transfer policy and framework. Additionally, the Exchequer and Audit Act last amended in 2012 is to be operationalised, along with a government e-payment gateway. Aspects of the Electronic Transaction Act, however, also need to be fully realised, as although the role of a designated authority has been defined, it is not yet functional.

Other areas of the act are also awaiting implementation. “The initiative requires attention on some key complimentary efforts already in motion, including parliamentary approval of the proposed Cybercrime Bill, full proclamation of the Data Protection Act and commencing operations at the Information Commissioner’s Office,” Randall Karim, director of policy and strategy at the MoTI, told OBG.

Information Security

Regulatory developments in the area of internet security are also under way. As of September 2018 the aforementioned Cybercrime Bill was still before a joint select committee of Parliament for review. iGovTT’s DMS undertaking brings into focus issues of data privacy and information security, and highlights the necessity of having overarching standards and adopting best practice from elsewhere to allay any concerns about net security, Charles Bobb-Semple, deputy CEO of iGovTT, told OBG. “The DMS will have a dedicated area within the government’s data centre, with appropriate measures for business continuity in place, and attention paid to vulnerabilities from an information security perspective,” Bobb-Semple said.

Existing challenges may remain, however, in terms of whether the local IT workforce is equipped to deal with these updates to local systems. Many workers in the sector have expertise in networks and infrastructure, though sometimes require training in other areas.

“An important consideration for the industry is how we upskill people, and from a wider perspective how we transition from focusing on technological innovation and back-office efficiency to developing customer-focused service improvements,” Jean-Paul Dookie, executive vice-president of government services at Fujitsu Caribbean, told OBG.

Moves by the firm to establish a security operations centre (SOC) initiative were under way after having received an award via the GSPP, Dookie said, which would enable the company to have staff at the centre trained and certified in partnership with a locally based training facility specialising in courses in this field. Such expertise could not only satisfy the needs of the local market, but also potentially provide opportunities for the export of such services, as SOC provision can be procured by parties from anywhere in the world.

Outlook

With a key sector development strategy already in place, aims to increase IT’s contribution to 5% by 2021 and growth indicators in a number of segments demonstrating positive performance over the last year, prospects for T&T’s ICT sector are on the up. That said, gaps in the industry’s legislative framework remain, particularly when considering issues of confidentiality and privacy of information in the development of T&T’s health information system. A framework for the handling of sensitive patient information and medical data, for example, is still needed, unlike in more developed countries where specific legislation on such issues exists. Nonetheless, the systems the country has developed to date have been designed in observance of international best practice, the local data protection act and the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Lau told OBG. In this way, when local laws eventually do catch up, compliance should be easily attainable, opening doors for new IT services.

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2018

ICT chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2018

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