BitDepth 524 - May 16

The Global Information Technology Report places Trinidad and Tobago behind the pack in technology rankings...
T&T falls behind in ICT race

Dr Irene Mia presents the Global Information Technology Report. Photograph courtesy Microsoft.

"We are late, we are desperately late," said Dr Terrence Farrell at the Microsoft sponsored presentation of the Global Information Technology Report for 2005-2006 on Monday last week.
Dr Farrell, invited to speak on the private sector perspective on the report wasn't a happy man. Noting the two years he'd spent working on exactly the kind of planning that was supposed to improve Trinidad and Tobago's information and communications technologies and delivering reports that were now hopelessly outdated, he lamented the country's tardiness in planning and implementation.

"We are distracted," Farrell continued, "We are obsessed with oil and gas, upstream and downstream, as if that's going to drive the development of the country. The most important things in Trinidad and Tobago today are oil, gas and the Soca Warriors."
It probably wasn't the type of unequivocally bleak response that George Gobin, Microsoft's Manager for the Caribbean region was hoping for when he scheduled the presentation of the report, but Microsoft hoped to spark discussion that that's exactly what they got.

The GITR is produced by the World Economic Forum, who are also responsible for the Global Competitiveness Report and the focus on measurements that calibrate countries' relative rankings are similar. But the greatest correlations are between the GITR and the Network Readiness Index, which offers some of the source data for this document.
The report drills down into the reasons for the digital divide between nations and offers interesting insights into why countries falter in their implementation of these crucial technologies.

Despite a spirited response from Jacqueline Wilson, who substituted for Dr Lenny Saith and took some solace in the fact that some of the source information was out-of-date, there are some fundamentals that Trinidad and Tobago clearly isn't getting right. Of course, being unable to provide up-to-date information might be one of them.
T&T fell 15 positions in the rankings, from 59 to 75, and while we gave a good showing in line items related to spending, like numbers of DSL subscribers (33), availability of venture capital (37) and Government procurement of technology products (47).
Dr Irene Mia, senior economist with the WEF presented the report and softpedaled the tougher segments, drawing more attention to the look and spread of the charts and tables than the specifics of our positioning in them.
Dr Mia's key message was to "governments" inviting nation leaders to focus on the problem areas.

Let's have a look at problem areas that placed us in the nineties and below in a survey that covered 115 nations.
Tertiary enrolment (94). Survey information is based on 2003 data and the UTT is growing, as is enrolment at UWI. Still, this is the effort we should have been making in 1999, when ICT's role in nationbuilding was already clear.
Laws relating to ICT (92). This is a problem around the world, but the issue of making old laws relevant in a virtual age of bits and intellectual property concerns should be more firmly on the table. Because this is low, our position for intellectual property protection is 78.
Quality of competition in the ISP sector. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Leaving the trunk to the Internet in the hands of TSTT created an invidious situation of conflict of interest for a service provider which also competed in the ISP markets and owned the transmission lines. In much the same way that PowerGen and T&TEC were separated, TSTT the communications provider needs to be separated from TSTT the ISP and TSTT the transmission line provider.

This is the way it's done in any nation that intends to organise competition for service equitably.
Government prioritization of ICT (93), importance of ICT to government's vision of the future (92). Buying technology isn't the same as planning its use intelligently and making effective use of it. Ms Wilson boasted of two year rollout (2003-2005) of a Government wide-area network (WAN) that's currently connecting 230 government sites, by 2008, phase two will connect the remaining 1200 sites. By any measure, this is an embarrassing indicator of government's commitment using technology. Nobody takes five years to wire their business together, not even one with the uneven technologies spread throughout government offices and certainly not one with the kind of money this government has to spend.

Which isn't a salutation to the business effort. Availability of online services (109) and ICT productivity (111) speak to connectivity that while high, is focused on entertainment and personal use. There's a lack of the kind of database engines and services that can speed up a nation's business and government administration and leverage our use of open network technologies.
Taiwan's lack of natural resources and Israel's small population haven't stopped them from leading world markets in hardware technologies and middleware software production respectively.
"It has nothing to do with being small." Dr Farrell said.
But it has a lot to do with being smart and committed to working hard at being smarter.
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