Today, renewal of one’s motor vehicle registration or certificate of fitness can take up to an hour or more, because of long lines at the offices of the Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ), depending on the time of day or time of month.
For many Jamaicans this experience can be time consuming. However, according to the Information Communication Technology (ITC) experts, the establishment of the ICT Authority will eliminate the long lines and help to ease doing business with government entities.
The ICT Authority will be a body, established by the ICT Act to develop, or drive a sustainable digital agenda in the government and wider society; thereby, streamlining and consolidating the delivery and management of ICT services in all public bodies, through a shared services model.
A bill to establish the ICT Authority was recently passed by the House of Representatives and is to be considered by the Senate for approval. It seeks to improve the use of technology and interoperability of systems and technologies across the government and, to drive a sustainable digital agenda in the government and the wider society.
“Individual persons will experience shorter waiting times, and they will no longer need to visit multiple agencies to perform a single transaction; or maybe able to conduct transactions without leaving home”, pointed out Dr. Wayde Marr, President of the Vector Technology Institute. “There will be less stress and an improved perception of government services.”
Dr. Marr informed that the Authority, when established, will provide a framework by which the process of ICT design, development, implementation and use can be managed through a common systems approach, rather than the current splintered approach where individual ministries are responsible for their respective development and deployment of ICTs. This, he stated, results in systems not communicating with each other and equipment and sub systems not being compatible with each other, among other things.
“Other benefits will include: improved management of ICT spend; use of best practices; standardisation; better use of ICT assets; enhancement of the ICT skills base; standardised or coordinated approach to procurement; reduction of ad-hoc investments; increased shared services and reduction of redundancies,” Dr Marr said.
Businesses to benefit from ICT Authority
Nathaniel Nation, Senior Software Developer with responsibility for Talent Acquisition & Development at MC Systems, the technology company of the MCS Group, the non-financial arm of The Jamaica National Group, said that businesses stand to benefit greatly when the Authority is established, as they will be in a better position to validate their customers; and will know if their customers are compliant (KYC), in the case of financial institutions.
“It will allow for a business to reduce some of the personal information they may choose to keep about customers, thus reducing unnecessary storage. Companies can also perform background checks when employing staff, to eliminate persons who could be seen as a threat to their company,” Mr Nation said.
“Businesses can also find that there will be improvements in the level of service and efficiency being rendered from the government, as a result in the reduction in the turnaround time to complete government-related activities,” he added.
Pointing to other advantages when the ICT Authority is established, Dr Sean Thorpe, president of the Jamaica Computer Society (JCS) and Head of the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica, (UTech), said there will be increased digital access through the ICT Authority, which will provide companies having to deal with government with greater convenience to do both domestic and international business; as well as, business to customer transactions.
He said it will also provide greater opportunities for trade and investment. “With the current electronic single window initiative for example, the single portal will help companies appreciate how the speed of a transaction can make the difference between the retention of current revenues and forecasting quickly on new revenue streams,” he explained.
However, Dr Thorpe encouraged more Jamaicans to become digital literate, so that they can grasp the advantages which the ICT Authority will create, as the future of jobs will rely on increased digital access.
“Hence, digital education and awareness through leveraging technology will be more evident with time, through the ICT Authority. This will be a means of engaging the national public, as interaction with more government platforms become digitized,” he said.
The JCS President observed that the aging population should not be left behind, as they are for the most part still digital migrants and not digital natives; hence, the transition from paper based to completely digital service offerings has to be managed, as a part of any service delivery model; and to promote a culture among people that digital is necessary to remain relevant in today’s society.
Potential Challenges to the Establishment of the ICT Authority
Dr Marr warned that the transition is expected to pose significant “people” challenges; and will take time and noted that the changes will not happen overnight.
“I expect that there will be many reasons for resistance, due to differences in departmental and agency cultures, loss of autonomy, and restructuring of organisations,” he said.
Nation said that one of the major potential disadvantages that the Authority could pose was the potential to lose any form of pertinent information maliciously, or due to any disaster (natural or man-made).
“As such, it would be very critical to have these systems highly secure internally and externally, with the necessary efficient disaster recovery plans in place, which includes having the ability to switch from primary to secondary systems (failing over), and from secondary to primary systems (failing back) and also having adequate procedures in place to revert unwanted/problematic updates (rolling back). Having these plans in place are pertinent as these systems will contain and transmit massive information and the government must aim to achieve business continuity in any disaster,” he cautioned.
He said another disadvantage resides in where the information will be stored or hosted. Nation noted that, if another country is going to store Jamaica’s information, this could be a risk to Jamaica and its citizens, as their data can be exposed to this country should they want access to it, or held to the benefit of this foreign country.
“Lack of proper regulations is a disadvantage. As it relates to providers who may seek to offer ICT service to the government, proper government regulations/standards need to be in place, to avoid money taken for services not rendered. This is something that Kenya faced and tamed in January 2017; and Jamaica should learn from this and other cases, where importance regulations are required,” he said.
However, Dr Thorpe noted that the African nation, Kenya, is also a good reference example for a workable ICT Authority.
“Their operations are heavily driven by policy standards, with a focus on digital education and capacity development, securing the critical infrastructure. What stands out uniquely is that the Kenya Government is using the ICT Authority to drive spatial data initiatives,” he said.
The JCS President noted that Kenya’s spatial data initiative was a unique feature, which aims to build transportation access and use.
“This is consistent with our own country’s position to provide increased logistics, and augurs well for Jamaica to look at the Kenyan model, as we move in the direction of launching this ICT Authority later this year,” he maintained.