Pre-COVID, digital transformation was something coming soon to the Caribbean… but not yet. Post-COVID, digital transformation, webinars, seminars and degree programmes have exploded. The Caribbean and the world are transforming at breakneck speed.
As the CEO of the largest tech company in the Caribbean and Central America, I’ve often been invited to speak at these seminars. My message? Digital transformation is the easy part. The harder question is: what is the purpose of this digital transformation in the Caribbean? How will it enable us to grow into the type of society we would like to become in 2022 and beyond?
On the surface, digital transformation enables economic growth and improves the ease of doing business. Augmenting digital literacy will create a new class of Caribbean tech entrepreneurs. Businesses can use AI marketing tools to reach larger audiences and target specific consumers. We can leverage the multiplicity of online platforms for marketing purposes. And we can use tech to remove pain points so that customers in our new online stores have the most seamless experiences imaginable.
But all of this has been done before. There are templates and strategies we can follow for accelerated digital transformation. Like I said, that’s the easy part; it’s just the beginning.
We have to ask: what are we selling? If we in the Caribbean want to ride this digital wave to prosperity, we need to have a product. I believe that our best product is the Caribbean itself: our islands, our cultures, our people and our Carnival creativity.
As participants in COP26 and increasing members of the global population call for more environmental consciousness, we in the Caribbean need to recognize that we still have what so many countries have lost: sunshine, fresh air, clean water, sustainable oceans and some of the most beautiful flora and fauna in the world.
We can create eco-tourism so that any visitors to our region are wowed by the natural world. We can nurture the blue economy, not just through marine tourism, but through sustainable marine industries, like seaweed farming. Tech will underpin these endeavours so that the blue economy can explode exponentially, but Tech is the easiest part of this equation.
We can create a circular economy, enabled by tech, that taps into the benefits of renewable energy, recycling and sustainable farming. The World Economic Forum claims that economies that embrace the circular economy ‘will benefit from substantial net material savings, mitigation of volatility and supply risks, drivers for innovation and job creation, improved land productivity and soil health, and long-term resilience of the economy’. We can simultaneously future-proof our economy and look after our natural world; it’s hard to see the downside.
We can also harness our Caribbean creativity and export our music, our art, our writing and our food. Our art is born from such diversity, birthed at the intersection of so many cultures, a product of unique history and we need to capitalize on this. Any creative can be taught to digitize and monetize their art on a global scale. We all have access to four plus billion people on the internet.
But, we need to believe in our product. We need to believe in ourselves. Often, we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that we are minnows on the world stage. We’re told that we’re technology consumers instead of producers. We see ourselves as users of Facebook and Netflix and Amazon. But why can’t the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Ma be from the Caribbean?
We need a mindset revolution. We need to abandon the narrow view of a ‘good’ career being one that falls into a few fields: medicine, law or accounting. We need to value farmers, chefs, artists, writers and any entrepreneur willing to bring a new idea into the world. We have to rebrand the Caribbean, believing that our product is second-to-none and impossible to replicate; we have to believe that we are second to none.
We also need new leadership and vision to create an enabling environment for this transformation. Our countries’ leaders are our brand ambassadors and they should be our role models. They need to convey a belief in our uniqueness and they need to help build the digital infrastructure so that tech is an enabler of human development and not just economic growth.
Together, we need to create opportunities to reskill, retool and redeploy the Caribbean people. At its most dangerous, digitization threatens to leave certain segments of society behind so that only an elite class of people are able to capitalize on their tech savvy skills. In our region, we should all have a skillset refined by continuous learning and rooted in collaboration and creativity.
As we increase digital literacy, we should also increase financial literacy. Because digital literacy is about becoming a society where knowledge workers generate wealth. There is tremendous opportunity in this new economic model. Tech is levelling the playing field. The guy in Guyana, the girl in St. Lucia, we all have the same tools. What differentiates us in this new world is our creativity and the value that we can offer.
For all the hardship COVID-19 caused, it has also been the catalyst for Caribbean digital transformation. However, tech is a tool and not the end goal in itself. The end goal is a wealthier, more innovative, happier society where we share common aspirations and work together to create the future that we want. As a Caribbean region, let us seize this opportunity to rebrand our region to let our creativity and innovative spirits shine.
Ian John is the Regional CEO of PBS Technologies, the largest information technology solutions provider across both the Caribbean and Central America, with a diverse portfolio of products and services, operating in 22 countries in the Caribbean and Central America with over 2,100 IT professionals, over 50 years’ experience innovating in multiple markets and over $250 million US in annual revenue. Ian was assisted in writing this article by Breanne Mc Ivor, who is the Executive Office Manager, PBS Technologies Group and an award-winning author.