Budget 2018 Promises ICT Investment That Will Be Critical To A Future Of Innovation In Guyana

Reprint Stabroek News 11/30/2017

In most developing economies, fostering innovation depends on developing a culture of creativity, curiosity, grit and problem solving among citizens, but it also depends heavily on the presence of solid ICT infrastructure upon which enterprising entrepreneurs and innovators can then build to provide cost effective, competitive goods, services and solutions to the local, regional global marketplace.  Budget 2018 provides a peek into the plans for the ICT sectors which will contribute to critical infrastructure development upon which the highly craved national culture of innovation will depend.

Field Of Dreams – “Build it and they will come”

If Guyana is to live up to her potential, she will have to be developed upon the three important pillars of progress; education, technology and innovation.  As we move forward to an increasingly technological future, it becomes even more important that we get the fundamentals of ICT infrastructure development right and the Budget 2018 does seem to reflect critical investments which in turn should support rapidly development in education, healthcare, security, electricity, roads, education and security sectors; all sectors upon which citizens depend for that improved quality of life and for the platform upon which to build innovative products and services that will bring jobs, income, and overall life satisfaction to citizens of Guyana.

Nearly every component of infrastructure development in Guyana will depend on upon the effective implementation of ICT infrastructure plans.  The 2018 budget allocated $37.6M USD to the buildout of a national broadband network, $2.3B to the ‘Smart Guyana’ program which includes an upgrade to the LTE network, buildout of data centers, smart classrooms, libraries and a e-health program that will be designed to bring cost effective and reliable healthcare to hinterland communities and another $17M USD investment in hardware and software for hinterland communities to enable access to more than 200 ICT e-services.  These hardware and software systems, once in place, will benefit all sectors of development in Guyana as the nation moves to prepare for a rapidly changing landscape, heavily influenced by technology and dependent upon ideas and execution by creative minds and competent professionals.  

Innovators and Entrepreneurs need Infrastructure

Guyana today, finds herself running behind the pack in a highly competitive field of hungry technology innovators from around the world.  According to a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study, there are more than 18M software developers in the United States, China and India and yet there continues to be a global shortage of developer talent, such is the scope of ongoing innovation and ICT investment happening globally.  In every developing nation around the world, governments are investing in ICT infrastructure, hoping to drive innovation and expedite development across all other sectors and while Guyana does have the raw talent comparable to any country in the world, we continue to play ‘catch up’ in the areas of innovation culture, access to resources, and critical infrastructure which would improve the quality of life for citizens and empower our innovators to solve local and regional problems while competing for markets around the world, on a level playing field.  

Our young innovators need access to reliable and affordable electricity and internet access.  Telecommunications liberalization laws are critical as they will allow for more competition, lower costs and increased telecommunications services in the marketplace.  Our youth in primary and secondary schools should be exposed to extracurricular STEM programs like robotics leagues, programming clubs and Math competitions which young people in developed countries have benefited from for more than fifteen years.   These programs will train them to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and innovators and if stakeholders do the preparation right, many of the next generation of technical and highly skilled entrepreneurs needed in Guyana and the Caribbean will be developed in Guyana.

Infrastructure investment will boost IT Innovation

Once the infrastructure of innovation is in place, innovators will expand mobile money platforms integrated with banking services and even digital currency.  They will expand services regionally, so that payments become instant and seamless not just between buyers and sellers in Guyana but across the Caribbean region.  Getting this right will result in exponential growth in the small business sector as local businesses will no longer be limited by markets within cash exchange distance to their locations.  Imagine the local craft industry benefitting from computer aided design tools to enhance quality and production speed and automation helping them to scale their goods and services and empowered to access the global marketplace.

The budget 2018 mentions an investment in e-health services to improve access and quality of healthcare services to the hinterland regions.  An e-pharmaceuticals system will also help to provide ‘just in time’ inventory management of drugs, reducing waste, lowering cost and saving lives as improved systems help to make drugs available in communities across Guyana, right when they are needed.  Local healthcare facilities could also benefit from standardized emergency protocols, available on mobile devices, to all medical staff and especially nurses.  Such access would result in improved service delivery, a reduction in lost of life and more confidence in the local healthcare systems as outcomes improve for everyone.  The possibilities are endless.

Engineering infrastructure can benefit from systems that share plans for development of road, water and electric infrastructure with communities; plans that allow for improved customer service management, more efficient operations workflow and expedited issue resolution leading to improved customer satisfaction and service delivery levels.  This is all possible.

Budget 2018 promises that the security sector will benefit from an increase in closed circuit television capacities towards.  With reliable and affordable ICT infrastructure in place, young innovators will be able to build mobile solutions that can help to reduce corruption, crime and improve overall security of citizens and investors in the marketplace.  These solutions are necessary not just in Guyana, but across the entire region.  

In agriculture and farming, ICT infrastructure improvements will allow local farmers to get the best prices for their goods, to reduce spoilage and even to compete effectively in the rapidly expanding frozen fruits and vegetables marketplace as reliable and affordable electricity and IT systems allow for more efficient food processing.  Today, in the US, African and Caribbean diaspora customers can purchase frozen sweet plantains, cassava, breadfruit, frozen banana leaves and many other fruits and vegetables.  ICT Infrastructure innovation will rapidly expand Guyana’s ability to sell more products and compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

Guyana’s 2018 budget provides a small window into what is possible as leaders work to execute plans to improve Guyana’s development and to prepare Guyana for a future that will depend heavily on STEM innovation across all sectors in Guyana.   As government leaders work towards building the ICT field of infrastructural dreams, many of our young innovators are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to diversity the economy beyond minerals and hydrocarbon.  The currency for Guyana’s future development will be ideas and those who generate ideas must find an environment where those ideas are protected, where the infrastructure exists for the execution of those ideas and where communication networks are pervasive, reliable and affordable thereby allowing them to learn, sell, share and innovate freely.  “Build It And they Will Come”