Recognition of the importance of ICT
The ushering in of the information age has awakened numerous calls to action and subsequent strategic plans over the years to address the growing impact of information and communication technologies (ICT), on the success of business, productivity and competitiveness of the economy and upon the lives of the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago.
Back in 1996, as the still infant internet was emerging as a means of enhanced collaboration, connection and knowledge sharing across an ever shrinking global landscape, a Ministry of Public Administration and Information (MPAI) was created in T&T with an expanded portfolio and a limited view towards addressing ICT’s impact on the lives of public servants and to positively improve the delivery of services to the public.
Over the years many such initiatives have emerged to show that our leaders, at varying levels of priority, have recognized the need to plan and implement technology in attempt to capitalize on the many globally recognized benefits. But after much iteration of plans and intentions over the years are we achieving the results and subsequent benefits of ICT on par with our regional and global peers?
The following are some of the Government’s initiatives for enhancing ICT in T&T over the years:
1991 -Public Administration was established as a sub-division of the Office of the Prime Minister.
1996 – The Ministry of Public Administration and Information (MPAI) was first established.
Oct 1999 – Establishment, by the ministry of Trade, of the National Electronic Commerce Policy Committee for the development of a Policy Document for Electronic Commerce in T&T.
June 2000 - NECPC final report recommending the formation of the e-Commerce Secretariat and the e-Government unit. The appointment of an E-Government Director was made.
Dec 2000 – MPAI was reverted back into MPA and the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology was established separately.
April 2001 – Cabinet established The E-Government Unit under the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology to manage the E-Government Programme.
2003 - MPA “reverted back” to the Ministry of Public Administration and Information .
2003 – Fast forward initiative and national ICT plan kicked off.
2007 - General Elections saw the Ministry’s portfolio once more split into two.
July 2009 - The National Information and Communication Technology Company Limited, branded iGovTT, was incorporated as a state-owned enterprise
2011 – iGovTT moved from the Ministry of Public Administration to Science and Technology
Initiatives to foster ICT over the years
Various administrations have expressed, through the use of different synonyms, a desire to use ICT for “promoting economic growth, combating poverty, and strengthening T&T’s participation and competitiveness in the global economy”.
In 2002, a vision of e-Government emerged with “a New Perspective transforming the Public Service into an Electronic Government Organization and providing online interactive and quality government services on a sustained “always on” basis, to all citizens of T&T and the wider community, regardless of time, distance and location.” And “to use Web Technologies for “linking” all Ministries, Statutory Boards and Departments within the Public Service”
A National ICT Strategy was first enunciated through the MPA special report in 2003 “Connecting to the Future: Fast Forward: Trinidad and Tobago’s National ICT Strategy”. The formulation of this plan, going into its third iteration in 2012, has been the undertaking of multitude highly skilled and talented individuals over the years. However the realization of many initiatives identified in versions of the plan that go back to 2003, still remains a challenge due to implementation.
An example of such an initiative has garnered recent public attention, the envisioned “establishment of the e-Government Portal (ttconnect), a single point of online access to all appropriate Government information at any time of day or night; and the provision on line of all appropriate government information”. The ttconnect estimate at the time was for making 75% of government services available on line by 2009.
As anyone can tell you, who has lined up for hours to apply for a license or passport, most of these services are still not online. While you can fill out and submit the entire application for a US visa online then print a bar coded form to be paid at TTPost, allowing for minimal processing time at the embassy (Long waits usually have to do with the small processing window of a couple hours in the morning and single location).
The Current State
The 2012 Global IT report ranked Trinidad at 60th in the 2012 Network Readiness Index (NRI) with a score of 3.98, behind Barbados, who were in 35th place and scored 4.61. Trinidad was also cited as emerging in the “Stages of digitization, 2010 digitization levels”.
We have advanced the public service, business and individual ICT usage numbers through infrastructural projects over the years; however we’re still behind the developed world in the use of ICT to enhance the lives of the citizenry.
In most developed and some developing countries you can get a license at one counter within minutes. Police can trace suspects of car theft, jacking’s and kidnapping within seconds of a license plate number being reported into the system, stolen cars can be picked up at any traffic camera using advanced analytics applications.
Elsewhere, emergency patents thumb prints are inputted into biometrics devices installed in ambulances to immediately pull patient records from integrated public and private health management software systems, this , coupled with advancements in facilitating conditions like policy and legislature, allow patents to be treated in route without risk of allergic reactions or other deadly side effects.
Many, similar to our own islands state, employ traffic management analytics and transport management systems to cut down the time and increase the comfort of travellers throughout the transport lifecycle.
The NRI measures the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness. Why does Trinidad rank so low in the NRI?
While Trinidad and Tobago ranked first in the world in mobile network coverage, we ranked 82nd in affordability of the rates of those services and also placed extremely low in a number of other key areas. Barbados and Puerto Rico on the other hand led the region and were exemplified for their attitude towards the use of ICT. T&T’s lag behind our Caribbean peers was attributed to low scoring in, among others, the following categorizations out of 144 countries:
109th for the Impact of ICT on Access to Basic Services.
100th for ICT Use and Government Efficiency.
113th for Laws Relating to ICT.
120th for Capacity for Innovation.
111th on the Impact of ICT on New Services and Products.
117th in Internet and Telephony Competition.
The future for ICT in T&T
Why are we unable to implement many technology projects planned over the past decade aimed at increasing our focus on the sundry of poorly performed classifications?
In the first place, we are not alone in failing to implement multimillion dollar IT projects, failures in operationalizing such projects have proliferated the global landscape in both the public and private sectors during our brief charter through the new knowledge based world.
However many standards and best practices have emerged to treat with these issues globally, leaving us behind even on the Caribbean stage.
One has but to look at the table on past initiatives above to notice the rapid change in structure around the support of ICT services within the Government. When the planners are finished, while some may stick around to guide the implementation phase of the project, the bulk of the effort at this point is passed on to the IT and other departments of an individual Ministry or agency for execution. This competency available for execution of these ambitious projects is siloed in individual ministries and developed over many years with specialist requirements of each Ministry and does not fully utilize the competency that exists alone in each ministry or agency much less for harnessing the capabilities of the greater ICT community in Trinidad and Tobago .
The state company iGovTT was setup in 2009 and manned with many highly skilled ICT resources, however the structure is external to each Ministry which has individually developed their own software, hardware, processes, policies and competencies in the vacuum of the confines of individual Ministry and without access to a comprehensive overarching plan for developing and utilizing ICT resources, including competency, across Ministries.
While there are common license agreements and other shared services, there is no common structure for optimizing ICT Hardware, software, policy and most importantly, people throughout the entire public sector.
As a result of this lack of integrated ICT resources, linkages for passing of information and provisioning of integrated services to the public are difficult, if not impossible to achieve because there is no all-inclusive view for the collection and dissemination of information among public sector stake holders.
From the people perspective, this lack of integrated vision and planning allows for a lack of information required to understand and develop the ICT competency needed to implement these long planned and anticipated projects.
Contract positions grew from two hundred in 1990 to one thousand in 2010, while ICT skillsets are predominant among these new contract positions, most of them have not yet become official. ICT positions in the Government also remain among the lowest paying in the industry in most cases in T&T. These and other factors take away from the technological capability of the Government as a whole to implement projects planned so long ago to deliver the promised potential of ICT to transform our economy and march our people boldly, with Trinbago flare, into the twenty first century’s global society.
Can a focus on building ICT competency in the public service help bring about the change needed to fully optimize emerging tools for the delivery of services to the citizenry and help provide necessary stimulants to the economy? Can this be achieved without a move towards a holistic ICT support structure, policy and common operating environment throughout Government?
Damian Ramsajan is an ICT consultant and a doctoral researcher