The public health crisis that has forced many in T&T to work and study remotely has also exposed the size of the digital divide that now urgently needs to be filled.
The size of the undertaking was not indicated in the ambitious digitisation plan outlined in the People’s National Movement’s election manifesto. As it continues in Government, the party has added to the Public Administration portfolio the task of digital transformation and put it in the hands of Senator Allyson West.
Elevated from her previous assignment as Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ms West now leads the drive to provide high-speed broadband internet access as part of the drive to expand the country’s ICT infrastructure.
The mandate also includes the creation of an electronic population register of every citizen and resident, removing the need for citizens to submit data separately to each agency —achieving this and other technological objectives with systems that are transparent and secure for the use of data
There are also expected to be advancements in what is described as the “e-Governance Ecosystem” encompassing the Single Electronic Window (SEW) programme—TTBizLink and other initiatives that are currently in various stages of implementation.
These giant steps into digitisation are now unavoidable and measures must be deployed sooner rather than later. That is one of the tough lessons of the pandemic—ready or not, the road ahead requires fundamental changes in the way we live, work and connect with one another.
So far, with all the glitches and challenges encountered in providing education online, there are important questions to be addressed about the approaches being adopted. It is a steep learning curve for sure, but the commitment required to drive this process seems to be insufficient.
It takes a combination of talent and technology to bring about digital transformation and the myriad of technical challenges to be faced requires that the right people be on board early on.
The public service, now forced to function differently, will need to be much more digitally literate and must function more efficiently in the post-COVID world. Changing roles, changing departments and significant changes to organisational structures will have to be on the agenda of government ministries and the various state agencies.
There is also the urban-rural divide to be confronted because it is important for all communities, so there must be nationwide access to high-speed broadband networks which are key enablers for digital transformation.
Hopefully, in the National Budget to be presented on October 5, there will be some details on how Government plans to go about developing the connectivity, service and skills which need to be specially adapted to the unique needs of T&T.
If they get it right, there will be many benefits, including improved public administration and reduction in bureaucracy in ways that bring added value to the economy.