In recent months, local business leaders have been talking more about digital transformation and its impact on business. From simply trying to understand what it means, to analysing what it will cost to actually getting started, these conversations all spell a good time for Jamaica.
Critically, business leaders are beginning to accept that all industries will be affected by digital technologies, so they must all change the way they do things.
For those just joining the conversation, digital transformation is the customer-driven manner in which digital technology is used to change the way your business operates.
The benefits of a digitally transformed business are undeniable. There is improved customer experience, efficiency in business processes and better use of data analytics that results in more insightful decision-making about present and future opportunities.
Jamaica has made significant strides in implementing technologies to support a digital business environment. There is relatively advanced information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, with 4G LTE telecoms networks; a deep penetration of smart device availability and usage with 112 per cent mobile subscriptions or 3.24 million devices from a population of 2.9 million (according to HootSuite data published early 2019); a financial services regulatory framework with considerable maturity and a growing appetite for entrepreneurial and even intrepreneurial innovations and creativity.
We are off to a good start, but to truly become a digitally responsive economy, more needs to be done at this time to prepare for the future.
For example, we need to accelerate the deployment of technologies that boost the underlying ICT infrastructure on which a stable and reliable digital economy can run. A key action that needs to be realised is reliable Internet connectivity across the country, and not just in cities and main towns. This way companies can deliver a seamless customer experience whether the customer is at the beach, hiking through the hills or buried under a deadline in their New Kingston office.
Regulators need greater engagement with business and social leaders to ensure the environment consistently infuses innovative thinking that adapts as customer demands change. One example of a meaningful Government response comes out of the United Kingdom, long known as a regulatory friendly market for tech entrepreneurs.
In what it calls “Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” UK regulators have implemented a framework that encourages “experimentation, improves access and builds dialogue” among key stakeholders. This way, as complex technological innovations continue to emerge, businesses and consumers can keep pace and, more importantly, not miss out on opportunities because of uninformed, reticent, bureaucracy-focused regulators. There may be some key adaptable learnings for Jamaican businesses, social entities, developers and regulators.
Jamaicans still rely heavily on in-person transactions and physical means of validating such transactions. A 2019 report on usage of online channels to access government services in Jamaica suggested that only four per cent of the customer base were using these channels.
However, a successful digital economy in Jamaica would require Government and businesses to employ relevant strategies to promote a sustainable shift in this practice.
The Government of Jamaica could go the bold and celebrated route of the Estonians, which declared the “Internet a human right” and backed that up by making 99 per cent of public services available 24/7. Within this ecosystem is the secure digital ID, e-payments, access to health care and Internet voting. A National Identification System, done right, could get us there. And no doubt PM Holness came away with some solid ideas from his conversation with the President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid, back in February when they met up in St Kitts.
Another major plank of successful digital transformation is getting organisational leaders to drive the change, from the front.
Digital transformation can and will happen at varying paces with varying levels of success. Consequently, it will look different from organisation to organisation. Therefore, leaders need to have a vision of how the transformation will be implemented in their companies and communicate that to their teams as a critical first step to getting there.
Jamaica has a good framework for digital transformation to occur. Addressing issues of connectivity, regulation, policy and cultural practice in business can accelerate our progress toward it. However, it all starts with business and government leaders taking the necessary action to help make it happen.