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Sustainability for the Caribbean Islands

By Carlvon Ramsingh

Much has been said and written in terms of the cost of Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean islands, especially in Antigua & Barbuda, St. Maarten, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Many officials from Britain and France have visited along with their military, and some leaders in the Caribbean. All have reported seeing massive destruction and devastation the likes they have not seen, and indeed Caribbean diplomat Ronald Saunders pointed out the fact that for the first time in 300 years, the island of Barbuda has been totally abandoned, without a soul on land.

The cost of restoration has been projected to be billions of dollars, and whilst this might be true, the narrative of cost and restoration versus sustainability is a pertinent and urgent one which must be addressed. Rebuilding, restoring and sustaining the islands must be a priority.

In this context then, the following must be considered:

1. The islands have not been destroyed. It’s the vegetation and houses and infrastructure that has been destroyed, not the island.

2. Having said that, what is being proposed is to rebuild those physical structures. Mind you, the trees will regenerate, the beaches will regenerate, and the waters will be calmed again.

3. I therefore submit that it is the people, and the island, its vegetation, its beaches, it’s seas, bays and reefs, will remain, and therefore the sustainability, both economic and social is what is more important.

4. Rebuilding must therefore take place in that context, I.e. Creating a better life for the people socio-economically, socio-culturally, socio-technically and socio-politically.

4. Through current, emerging and future technology in this the Digital Age, these islands can leapfrog into the 21st Century, and therefore “rebuilding” must take place in this context, I wish to strongly suggest.

Buildings built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, will sustain economic activity in Tourism, as it will provide the confidence and trust for tourist to visit, comfortable in the fact that they can more than survive in the event of an emergency. Building can be made self-sustaining as emergency solar and wind energy generation provide water and air-conditioning, heat for cooking and power for realtime communications. Less damage will result in the event of a storm or hurricane as islands become more resilient to an environment of increasing storm activity due to the increasing temperature of ocean surfaces in the hurricane belt.

Whether, these islands belong to the US, Britain, France or the Netherlands, they belong first and foremost to the Caribbean and the people of the Caribbean. The foreign powers, whilst I acknowledge their contributions should not assume a neo-colonialist stance, but treat with the human capital of these islands as a resource that can be nurtured, developed and actualized as wealth creating for all, including themselves.

The islands have long been exploited as assets, not resources, under the guise of being tourists destinations, dependent on tourist spending, grants and loans which have kept these places as play grounds for the rich and famous.

It is a chance for a new beginning. I submit in 2017, that must no longer be the case.

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A Disaster Management Planning Imperative

Government agencies are all setup to react after the event to provide logistical, financial, medical or environmental responses. The challenge is to engage a disaster Management planning mechanism that is designed to save lives before the occurrence of an event like a hurricane which allows sometime prior its occurrence.

PS With Hurricane Irma on the way, people should already have been warned, evacuation routes planned, logistics put in place, a general readiness being executed.

Nothing can stop a hurricane, tropical storm, earthquake or natural fire from occurring. It can occur at any time, any place and with a high-scale unpredictability about location, force, or effect. The damage is so great that it’s effects can last for years, it’s cost will amount to billions of dollars with lives lost, destroyed or totally disrupted. In times such as these, there is great upheaval, with unspeakable misery and suffering experienced by victims of these circumstances. First responders, aid agencies, official and other wise as well as government are thrown into disarray as the extent of the effects of the event become clearer as hours and days progress. Hurricane Harvey, hitting the state of Texas posed such problems multiplied by 10. It’s been heard described as the 1000 year flood.

People evacuated the area, but The Coast Guard still rescued thousands of people caught stranded by fast rising flood waters, so to volunteers such as concerned individuals and groups such as the Cajun Army. People, pets and wild animals were all caught in the flood waters with nowhere to go but wait to be rescued. Many perished because of the difficulty of reaching them in time or by being caught by the rushing waters.

Homes, downtown buildings and offices, streets, roads, airports were all rendered inoperable. Electricity couldn’t be turned off because there was not enough time to shutdown plants and generators. That left rescuers and rescuees at the mercy of fallen power lines…in water. Even shelters were affected.

That is what happens when a massive storm hits. Everything and everyone is at risk. It is estimated to take years to rebuild.

So the burning question is : Was there a plan? There are many things to consider in answering this question. Old infrastructure, urban development, uncertainty of the path of the hurricane and a whole list of other issues which is not the purpose of this blog to delve into. The reactive nature of efforts to rescue and meet the needs of people in distress suggests that Disaster Planning was limited to the present situation. Further down the road, Emergency management agencies are also of a reactive nature as they are setup to respond aftera disaster.

A mindful, strategic disaster plan would surely have identified the occurrence of a major hurricane having had previous experience, and the occurrence of major flooding. The onset of flooding is quick and fast, and at least resources would have put on alert first responders deployed by the state. Thankfully the Cajun Warriors and other alert individuals stepped in, otherwise the toll would have been even more. Perhaps a strategic disaster plan could have included the deployment of modern technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Smart Homes and Smart City models. Certainly the technology exist today for online tracking of people, things and the weather. The fast onset of the event of flooding should certainly have been taken into account in the disaster planning process, but the response of officials and law enforcement could have been more effective in moving people more quickly. Law enforcement should be more forceful in enforcing a mandatory evacuation before the storm actually hit, regardless of the uncertainty of the actual path. An important lesson to learn is that once the General area has been identified for land fall, adequate warning and evacuations must be enforced ahead of time to protect lives which must be the primary concern. Given the general path can be identified at least a few days in advance, evacuation must be a priority. The actions were reactive.

Disaster planning, management and recovery is now an imperative given the frequent occurrences of these mega-storms. During the Harvey Hurricane, and the aftermath, there appeared to be much uncoordinated and unmanaged first responders activities. Many calls to 911 went unanswered, and many areas didn’t receive proper or prompt attention. Mobilization of forces such as the coast guard, navy, state reserves etc were called out. They should have already been mobilized in coordinated, quick response.

Disaster planning is an ongoing task, which must be approached with professionalism, seriousness and urgency as an event can occur at anytime. Communication is a key component to this. Placing information online is proactive, but more effective than that is a concerted outreach programme so that people are made aware. Mandatory online registration can be very effective and cost effective and the technology is available. It must be utilized properly.

The severity of the event, cataclysmic in its occurrence demands that state and federal agencies must engage in the strategic planning of Disaster Planning, Recovery and Management.

The aftermath and recovery will bring many challenges such as relocation, infrastructural, health, financial and mental. People lives have been shattered, which could have been ameliorated with proper seriousness of the politicians. It’s nice to have all kinds of state agencies show themselves prominently, but such a reactive, limelight hugging is political rather than proactive governance.

Whilst acknowledging all for their fantastic rescue work, much hardship could have been avoided. The excuse of ” we didn’t know the exact path it will take” hence we didn’t know who to evacuate is rather self serving. With proper planning and management, many people would have been sparred the hardships they now face. Lt. Gen Russel Honore (Ret.) criticized the fact that people were not evacuated before the storm hit. Having headed the Katrina relief efforts in the immediate aftermath, he should know.

But it must be remembered how powerful the magnet of the camera is!

Guyana, New Emerging Market in Latin America

Guyana, with its huge oil and gas reserves find, is never going to be the same. The possibilities are positively skewed with an upward trend, and its development into an ultra modern state, rivaling Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the middle-east, is a distinct outcome. But, let it be understood, Guyana also faces huge challenges.

The recent history of the country had been one of political and economic turmoil, resulting in mass migration to mainly North America, with Trinidad being a transshipment point. In as late as September 2015, Guyana was classified as Post-Completion-Point HIPC by the International Monetary Fund. Guyana has suffered greatly over the years, despite its enormous potential in natural resources.

Now, however, it’s going to be a different story, but Guyana, for it to be successful in the future it must resist the urge to spend expansively and not allow growth to take place in an adhoc manner. That is to say, given its new found wealth, growth and development of the country must be strategic and with an emphasis of preserving gains the country’s future will depend on. The Regulatory framework must be strong and given today’s technology, enforcing regulations is no longer an issue. The country, its governance, its society, business, education, health and economy depends on the mindfulness of its regime, and the will to act in the best interest of the country at the negotiation table.

There are going to be many issues in the growth stage, and this the point where it must be vigilant in ensuring its best interests are served. Political regimes in the CARICOM are not renowned for pragmatism, and this is an inherent problem, further exacerbated by the hypnotic charm of new found wealth. As an under-developed country, the threats are great, as the profit motive settles in. For this reason, investment in the Guyana market, will be tricky, as business is conducted in the same old manner and models that has stunted growth and development in the region.

Having said that, the opportunities are so great that it stuns the mind. Guyana’s interior resources needs to be harnessed and developed, in energy, infrastructure and services. It’s vast resources of arable land, harnessable hydro-electricity, forestry, agriculture, mineral resources in gold and other precious metals are tremendous. The remnants of its sugar industry, is another potential revenue earner as a biofuel producer.

Developing these others sectors of the economy will help the economy to be resilient to shocks that will be created from the volatility of oil markets. The importance of having a diversified economy, is easily demonstrable in the present zero growth circumstance faced by neighbors Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.

It is therefore of utmost importance that Guyana embark on a strategic plan that will ensure its sustainability in the far term!

The Changing Geopolitics in the CARICOM Region

The recent massive oil find in the Guyanese deep water economic zone places it amongst some of the largest reserves discovered in the region. It is estimated to be a fraction of the amounts of oil that exists there. OilNow estimates between 2.5 and 2.75 billion barrels in the Stabroek Block. With this sort of discovery, it is quite understandable the excitement being generated. Many foreign firms are flocking to Guyana in anticipation of the economic boom, and Director of the Guyana Oil and Gas Association, Nigel Hughes who is a lawyer, says his firm incorporates between 15-20 non-Guyanese companies per week. All of this is great news for Guyana, but Guyana must be prepared to deal with this frenzied influx of wealth, foreigners, and all the accompanying issues.

Unprecedented Growth and Wealth

Guyana will experience an inflow of money never before experienced, not even in the rest of CARICOM. The huge amounts of wealth will be the target of many, and the Guyana Government must ensure that it has the proper regulatory framework to effectively manage and preserve that wealth. It must learn from the mistakes made by Trinidad and Tobago and understand that with such great wealth comes great responsibility to ensure the people and country benefits. Diversification is a must for this resource rich country in gold, agriculture, arable land. Infrastructure to develop theses sectors of the economy is a must, as is education and Technology. Road infrastructure, housing, telecommunications, schools and training centers to equip population with necessary skills and tools of the Digital Age are an imperative.

With this sort of approach, Guyana can leapfrog in to the twenty first century and surpass such digital giants such as Estonia. Guyana can become the new model for economic development surpassing even Singapore.

This takes great foresight, and political will by the Government and people to reject corruption, embrace the rule of law, and not become arrogant because of wealth and prosperity. Whether this can be done is another question.

Pitfalls and Prosperity

Corruption will be the biggest challenge for Guyana, as wealth becomes easy to acquire. As Government starts increasing their spending, their fiscal discipline will be tested, severely. Procurement in Government will be an issue, as will moral and ethical behavior by Government. Services such as immigration, customs, law enforcement will be placed under immense pressure. As the rush to accumulate personal wealth takes priority, governance will be an issue, greatly.

Immigration to Guyana will be a priority issue for those seeking employment from CARICOM. Guyana must move swiftly to secure its borders, as impoverish nations nearby will compete heavily for entry into the country. Immigration, Customs, Police are all going to be challenged as well as impoverish, under-served sections of the society.

The Guyana Central Bank will be needed to setup and Lead, as certain financial institutions who already operate in the Caribbean seek to maximize opportunities for gaining further wealth.

Opportunity

Guyana now has before it, the opportunity to become a great nation. From being classified as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) by the IMF just a few years ago, the leadership of this country takes center stage. Guyana must protect its interest at all times, and not allow a few to control its wealth, such as what obtains elsewhere in the CARICOM. It's economic wealth must be guarded by it values, and whilst frugality is needed, wealth amongst the Guyanese people must be distributed equitably.

Oil & Gas, Gold, Agriculture, Minerals, Vast expanses of arable Land, natural waterways, hardworking and honest people. Guyana right now, is like a dream.

It must nor allow itself to become a decadent society, drunken by its wealth, otherwise it doesn't have to look very far to see what can and will happen if the same mistakes are made.

The geopolitical power in the CARICOM has now shifted, Trinidad must humbly sit by and stand aside for the new giant in oil & gas.

Transitional Awareness : Key to Development

Many are now beginning to understand the value of cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality and Robotics on a slowly accelerating scale of acceptance and application, but will exponentially explode over the next 2 – 3 years. But only just over a year ago, the Digital Age was finally recognized as an industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, as articulated by the World Economic Forum, Davos 2016. Whilst this was being conveyed through this medium since late 2015, there now appears to be an explosion in this realization through mostly the adoption , availability and rapid growth of the enabling technologies as writers and commentators started on boarding with the possibilities of digital technologies, not only as a business game-changer, but as a societal phenomenon.

Generally, Economic diversification means adding capability and capacity to other areas of the economy so that in times of slow growth in one sector(s), other sectors can maintain or increase their effectiveness. Usually this means making investments in increased capacity through more advanced means, whether in production methods or human capital development.

A typical example would be in Trinidad & Tobago for example. The core of T&T’s economy can be said to be oil and gas. Indeed, T&T is said to be an energy- based economy as oil and gas accounts for a large percentage of GDP.  Diversifying this economy then would mean increasing production capacity and capability in other core areas or sectors such as agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, other goods and services, ITeS being one such sector.

ITeS is one of the fastest growing industries, globally. India’s flourishing ITeS sector produces almost 10% of its GDP, as it provides goods and services locally and internationally. More advanced nations such as the United States and Canada, and EU countries also derive significant value from ITeS, and this sector is growing at great pace globally. Information Technology enabled Services, and the global information technology industry according to the Computing Technology Industry Association or CompTIA, was expected to reach approximately 3.8 trillion in 2016.

T&T must engage this industry, as it offers a real and sustainable path to growth and Development. The Government of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (GORTT) in 2011 initiated a process, which has culminated in the award of an IADB loan for a project entitled Global Services Promotion Programme. The Ministry of Planning and Development has since published an Expressions of Interest notice on its website as a point of departure and this augers well especially in today’s global economic circumstances of low oil prices.


Since 2014, there has been a precipitous fall in oil prices from a high of almost USD 110 to a low of $44.67 today, June 16, 2017. It can be noted now, that the price of oil in the 2016-17 budget was USD 45.00.

The need for diversification is lucid and urgent. The need for innovation in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, sport, culture, and education as revenue earners requires decisive action, in pure and simple words. Urgent action against inefficiencies, economic depressants such as crime and corruption is of utmost importance in a non-partisan approach to the future of Trinidad and Tobago.

But for diversification to achieve value generating capacity and capability is not simple and easy. Sinc 2011, the  Ministry of Planning has been engaging ITeS as a strategy for economic growth. In six years, the initiative had only just reached the point of departure where financing has been arranged through the Inter-American Development Bank. An Expression of Interest has been formulated, responses are to be submitted, which will then be evaluated. The process will then move to the selection and award of contracts and then implementation. The length of time this process will take is open for discussion.

The implementation of strategies may very well take another few years, given the bureaucracy. Can Trinidad and Tobago wait that long?

Facing austerity measures, facing uncertainty in oil prices, and economic hardship the population may very well seek a change in administration. Further delays are expected and hence time is given to other players in the global market to achieve market gains in ITeS. This will make diversification even harder.

Given these circumstances, Trinidad and Tobago needs a “shot in the arm” to leapfrog into the sphere of sustainable economic development.

All is not lost, since there exists a mechanism for achieving economic prosperity without the reliance of the oil and gas sector. However it requires a transformative process as opposed to diversification.

In diversification of the economy new industries producing new products  and to changing demographics, change occurs as new sectors emerge to compete in global markets, providing sustainability in local development.

Transformation creates the environment for all different contributing dimensions of the economy to flourish, whilst creating new ones. Pre-1945, Japanese society embraced a militaristic culture, gaining notoriety as a fiercesome nation. It’s Military strength was the basis for  national development and stability. Imperial Japan was  the only non-Western world power and a major force in East Asia . Without delving into historical antecedents and the effect these may have had on Japanese society, it adopted the doctrine of “Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Armed Forces”. Japan’s participation in World War 11 was strong, fearsome, often violent but honorable to its culture. It was a military power. All of that changed with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From then till now Japan has been transformed from a world military power to a world economic power. The environment was created for Japan’s economic transformation into a world of economic  power with its surrender.

The transformation was spectacular. It was epic. But it took the will and good sense in the face of the realization that their country could have been occupied and ruled over by another country for Japan to surrender and abandon their old ways.

India has also been transformed into an economic power house in the last twenty-five years. From a weak economic and geopolitical role, it has blossomed into an economic powerhouse, with a human development strategy, coupled with a strategic approach to engaging the global economy. ITeS contributes to 10% of GDP.

The transformation was achieved mainly in part through a political maturity that allowed an understanding of the threats to its existencial sustenance and survival as rivals built capacity and capability around their borders.

In Trinidad and Tobago, transformation is needed, in order to diversify. Economic transformation will be achieved when a rapid, fast-tracked approach to economic development is adopted, an all out embrace of the digital economy. The Digital Economy transforms the old and tired models of economic development and breathes new life into the traditional pillars of the economy in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, sport, education, culture etc as new and exciting opportunities will emerge as are presently being achieved by smaller, less resourced countries.

This Transformation, the creation of an environment for prosperity in a sustainable economy, is needed in Trinidad and Tobago.

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