Digital Services Panel – Note

Digital Services – Harnessing digital to enable regional financial and service sector scale up

During the Caribbean Council Virtual Conference 2020, we were proud to welcome expert panellists in Aviation and Tourism, Digitisation, Shipping and Food & Agriculture, to propose practical and actionable solutions to the region’s challenges post-COVID-19.

We are grateful to Shiva Bissessar, Managing Director, Pinaka Consulting Ltd, for moderating the panel on Digital Services; to Steve Wright, Co-founder at ebpSource; Stephen Phillips, Vice President at BITT Inc (Caribbean/ USA); Mark Young, CEO, Director & Co-Founder of Carilend (Barbados); and Peter Phipps, Caribbean Regional Rep. – Transportation at Mott Macdonald, for providing key insights during the discussion. 

Recap

COVID-19 has definitively changed the way we do business. The pandemic has driven a wider uptake of technology and digital solutions in the Caribbean as the population has worked, learned, shopped and banked from home due to pandemic-related restrictions. The Caribbean is now at the forefront of exciting developments in digitisation, particularly in blockchain solutions, digital banking, and digital currency which are now leading global efforts to expand the use of new, disruptive technologies. 

Though digital uptake is high in the Caribbean, it can still be improved and there are important lessons to be learned from mass digitisation in other countries.

  • There is a high level of smartphone usage across the globe, including in the developing world. Internet access is being democratised and is in the hands of mass population. This has opened the door for major innovations which have improved access to information, finance, services and more. Mass access to internet also goes hand in hand with progressing digital governance and making the public sector’s performance more transparent and providing information on how to drive efficiencies and greater effectiveness.
  • Economically, there are proven benefits to using card or digital payment solutions over cash, including increased commercial efficiency and economic growth at a national level

Our expert panellists in digital solutions made the following recommendations to drive digitisation in the Caribbean going forward.

Governments needs to create a permissive environment, and an appropriate legal framework for innovation

Governments need to both incentivise investment into digitisation by removing barriers and outdated legal impediments. At the same time, new legal frameworks are needed to enable the secure provision of digital services, to promote transparency and access to information, facilitate interoperability and address concerns regarding personal data protection. 

These will enable the development of various pillars of the digital economy, including ‘Digital Identity’, which underpins e-governance, and ‘Digital currency’ which allows for interoperability of banking and payments, lowering barriers to accessing finance for businesses and consumers. 

Digitisation is needed to radically improve government processes

COVID has driven the agenda of technology uptake in public institutions in the region and has led to upskilling and knowledge transfer as local stakeholders are more willing and able to access government information as well as provide information to the government using digital platforms.

In public procurement, use of digital mediums have been demonstrated to maintain high standards of transparency and confidentiality, while making tendering processes much simpler and faster for providers of goods and services to governments. 

Public institutions in the Caribbean should maintain momentum and definitively digitise their processes, acquiring the necessary digital infrastructure and training staff, in order to avoid slipping back into outdated and less efficient processes.

Collaboration at the national, regional and global level is needed to progress knowledge transfer and the development of regional expertise

Many Caribbean countries are making remarkable strides in developing innovative technologies, particularly in currency, banking and finance.

Digital infrastructure is still being developed, with varying levels of technological knowledge and uptake across the region. The Caribbean needs to continue to develop regional and global partnerships to ensure knowledge transfers and the development of expertise.

Strategies are needed to increased buy-in from consumers and businesses in order to develop regional momentum around digital services. 

The pandemic has quickened the pace of digitisation in the Caribbean, it is now to entrepreneurs and governments to harness the potential of new technologies to drive growth and development. 

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