Local entrepreneur starts Jamaica's answer to Amazon


Local entrepreneur starts Jamaica's answer to Amazon

Monday, February 19, 2018

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JAMAICA'S leading information technology magnate Douglas Halsall still has a little way yet to complete his current fixation, which is to fully digitalise operations at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Mona.

But he has already moved on to his next inclination, which is to start the Caribbean's first major Internet retailer business, which he boasts will have virtually everything that giants in the business, like Amazon and Alibaba, now have. Except that it will be focusing on products from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.

“The assault on the mall, like Amazon's, will happen right here,” Halsall boasted, as he explained his latest passion in an interview at the head office of his company, Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS), Oxford Terrace, Kingston 5.

“I believe in George Bernard Shaw's statement, that some men see things as they are and ask why. And I dream of things that never were and ask why not,” Halsall said in a burst of emotion that affirms his character of always thinking way outside the box.

“I am saying, let me make it happen. It's going to happen. It must happen,” he emphasised.

Halsall plans to combine his company's wealth of knowledge about computer systems and various digital gadgets, with the expertise that has become available to him through his partnerships in expanding the use of e-commerce technology with Indian and other e-commerce experts, to help Jamaica become the “poster child” for digital expansion in the Caribbean.

He had encontered a major obstacle, however, when he found that only about 14 per cent of Jamaicans use credit cards, which are necessary to access the Internet retail systems. However, Halsall did not make that hinder him.

One of his earlier partnerships led to the introduction of a mobile money platform called Quisk, through which customers of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) are able to carry out cashless transactions using a system implemented by California-based mobile payments leader Quisk in association with AIS.

Quisk is a patent-pending cashless and cardless solution that enables any consumer with any cellphone to have a mobile wallet, allowing them to make everyday purchases safely and securely using only their phone number and PIN.

The Quisk platform confirmed AIS' strength in transaction processing and financial systems, and created an ideal opportunity for financial institutions seeking to enter the mobile money operation by leveraging the platform which is interoperable with existing merchant and ABM infrastructure.

It allows mobile money operators to have access to endto-end banking, accounting, e-commerce, bill and loan payments, and money transfer platform.

Halsall says that as things are, customers wishing to use the Internet retailing business he has in mind could go to NCB and a get a Quisk card to access the system he has in mind. However, he expects that at least three more commercial banks will come on-board before year end.

Asked how soon he expects the retail sales platform to come on board, Halsall explained that AIS is currently negotiating “with a large company operating in the Caribbean that is in the business of advertising Caribbean businesses.

He hopes to use their portfolio, as a partner with AIS, to introduce the new e-commerce system.

“We will utilise their existing portfolio and then move from there, so that we get a running start,” he explained.

“But that announcement will be made as early as the end of next month,” he pointed out.

“The people I am discussing this with are very, very excited, especially start-ups and small businesses,” he noted.

“All they will need to do is they rent a space and pretty much put their website up and advertise their goods on it, and we will have the logistics to cover the back end. And when you buy from them, it will be delivered to you anywhere you are in the island,” he added.

Halsall says he wants local businesses, including small businesses, to benefit, just the same way that American businesses are benefitting from Alibaba and Amazon.

“I mean, when you go to these shows (expos) and see products people like the Jamaica Manufacturers Association members are displaying that are made in Jamaica, it is enlightening sometimes. All it needs is exposure,” he said.

“So we want to be like the Amazon or Alibaba for Jamaican and Caribbean products by providing the virtual storefronts on our system,” he added.

Halsall believes that the new system would give a tremendous boost to the Economic Growth Council's (ECG) efforts to create five per cent growth in four years.

“I have discussed it with Dr Nigel Clarke, and I told him that if you're going to achieve five-in-four, you have to have something like this. This is what stimulates small business,” he stated.

AIS is currently collaborating with its Indian-based partners, Suvarna, in installing an hospital information management system at the University Hospital, which is to be completed this year.

A US$6-million project, AIS decided to do the transformation for US$1.5 million, because Halsall felt it needed tangible evidence of his digital capability. Halsall noted that with the completion of the project, the UHWI would become the first fully digitalised hospital in the Caribbean.

He says that he is pleased with his company producing evidence of its ability to fulfil its promise, and already the Government has been reviewing its previous proposals.

AIS has already digitalised operations at government-run pharmacies islandwide. He now expects that it will follow up by doing the same with its hospitals islandwide.

Halsall says that the aim is to create a fully digitalised platform for the health sector — to which doctors, pharmacies and hospitals would have access — to improve the speed and accuracy of the system and making it easier for patients who are unable to visit hopitals, clinics and pharmacies, islandwide, to do so from their homes.

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