Part of the covid19 recovery process must involve creating an enabling environment for business.
When we think of such an environment, we tend to think of traditional talking-points like the ease of doing basic transactions, hurdles with regard to refunds, customs and excise log jams, labour market shortages, productivity issues, a more competitive tax regime.
If we do think about infrastructure, it is easy to overlook the very specific needs of the technology sector, particularly as it relates to the small and medium enterprises that have a hand to play in driving innovation.
Two ventures that have been launched in this age of pandemic shine a spotlight on some of those needs. Leaders should pay attention.
CtrlAltFix Tech, a start-up led by Ishmael Moreno and his team, is offering businesses help in developing their own retail spaces online.
And Agyei Archer and Andel Husbands recently launched Unqueue, an app that seeks to support contactless shopping, linking local retailers, delivery services and customers.
Both have the potential to make a meaningful impact in a world in which it is no longer a given that we will be able to shop in traditional spaces. In the new normal, safety requires commerce to be handled remotely.
“We’re trying to focus right now into helping businesses quickly move online,” Moreno, 25, told Business Day last week.
Both ventures have specific issues to deal with, such as determining what system is best to allow online payment (allowances have been made by Unqueue for cash payments). CtrlAltFix Tech would like better network access, community engagement and marketing tools for the local audience.
A lot of this will demand resourcefulness. But some issues require state intervention.
To this end, the National Information Communications Technology (ICT) Plan 2018-2022 should be revised. As with so much in the technology sector, that plan, launched back in August 2018, has already been overtaken by events.
The changed environment – and all of the recent scares show the situation remains tenuous – means old targets such as 85 per cent broadband access need to be expedited and/or revised upwards.
It is good to see, therefore, several proposals relating to the technology sector feature on the general election hustings, from talk of a dedicated ministry to the resumption of debate over laptop use by students.
Given longstanding trends, all of these matters would have been relevant even before the pandemic. People spend hours on their mobile devices daily and that fact alone is a key pivot when we talk about pushing the economy into newer, more diverse terrain.
But as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union recently pointed out, there is a need to re-invigorate the idea of a shared digital economy within the Caricom space so as to place the region on a robust footing when it comes to ICT.
And there is also a need to bolster our defence when it comes to data and cybersecurity.
In other words, we need to truly take business online.