BitDepth 655 - November 25

The 2008 ICT Symposium offers much needed dialogue about IT strategic policy.
ICT takes centrestage

Kennedy Swaratsingh, Minister of Public Administration and ICT's big brother, speaks at the first morning's session of the ICT Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

Over the last three years, I've attended a few technology conferences for this column and they all exhibit a kind of character.
Some have been rowdy and chaotic (Nokia), others proved to be aggressively curious (Windows Vista), but mostly, they end up like the ICT Symposium hosted by the Ministry of Public Administration on November 16-18, polite, quiet and accepting.
That's unsurprising in a room full of government employees, contractors and suppliers who either work for the government or hope to, but mercifully, the action on stage was not so constrained.

Some presenters were honest and generous about the realities of ICT in Trinidad and Tobago and the region. Illuminat's Keith Thomas offered remarkable details about the experience of working as a technology creator and supplier and the uphill fight against the notion that "everything that's foreign is better." 
"We require a local content policy to raise standards and engage foreign suppliers in meaningful knowledge transfer as per the example of Costa Rica, which built that process into their decision to grow their IT sector," he said.
Some presenters were blunt in their assessments, particularly when they would be packing to go back home after the symposium ended.

Plain talk at the podium
Dr Bruno Lanvin, initiator of the Network Readiness Index had to leave before the conference formally ended, but not raising some key issues. Lanvin encouraged the government to pursue its ICT plans, noting that "knowledge and information technologies are the critical hedge against receding economies." But warned, using a Middle-Eastern saying, that "vision without implementation is hallucination."
IBM's James Cortada referenced his company's experience observing and advising hundreds of countries, suggesting that the government should increase spending on ICT to $400 per capita and drive suppliers to use online procurement, noting that the process encourages them to upgrade their IT systems and procedures.
His underlying advice? "Let the market build it, step in when necessary, lead by example, don't do it all and keep at it."

One country's that's kept at it is Singapore, now about to embark on their sixth ICT master plan. The country currently enjoys 90 percent telecoms penetration and is planning its next generation wireless and wired network infrastructure, which will bring fibre to the home by 2012.
According to Joachim Ng, Singapore has managed these improvements over almost 30 years by building strong partnerships between government and private sector companies.
Costa Rica's Alexander Mora reinforced that principle, describing his government's strategic alliance with Intel in establishing a fabrication factory in the country and the guidance of a Chamber of ICT. Knowledge and technology transfer following the Intel investment has created an ICT sector that drives US$2.8 billion in exports or 10.6 percent of GDP.

The national position
Trinidad and Tobago's stake in this kind of development is eTeck's Tamana Intech Park and there was no mistaking the enthusiasm that the startlingly young team from the company exhibited in delivering their presentation. 
Whatever they've been smoking in Wallerfield, they need to share it with their colleagues in Public Administration, who settled for demonstrating some touchscreen public access kiosks and questioning the relevance of global indices that show Trinidad and Tobago dropping steadily in world rankings.
In a turn that essentially eviscerated the last three discussions of the event, a visit by the Prime Minister was announced just after 3 on Tuesday afternoon. Fast paced sessions, during which presenters were routinely passed notes warning that their time was up, slowed to a crawl as time, previously at a premium, was killed languorously.

At 4:38, after the PM finally arrived, Larry Howai, Chairman of the e-Business Roundtable welcomed the PM, acknowledging the general lethargy and restlessness in the room and noting that the mood didn't capture the spirit of the proceedings.
Ian Collier, President of the Chamber, then proceeded to stand at attention and report on the proceedings of the past 48 hours. 
It was at this point that the media, who had streamed back in to the event expecting a Prime Ministerial statement, collectively steupsed and left. It was a clumsy anti-climax to a promising event and a disturbing reminder of the government's capacity to put its protocols before the needs of technology entrepreneurs.

Related: Notes on the event are posted here...
blog comments powered by Disqus