Data use becoming the game-changer in Jamaica


Data use becoming the game-changer in Jamaica

Sanjay Rao

Sunday, January 12, 2020

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Did you know that Jamaica is ranked sixth in the world for ease of starting a business? We are in the same league as countries like New Zealand, Singapore, Canada. This is as per the latest World Bank ease of doing business rankings, which also ranks us 15th under Getting Credit. This is in sharp contrast to our overall ease of doing business ranking of 71, which has weakened from a high of 64 in 2015.

So, what has worked in these two areas? Spoiler alert! It has to do with data.

Progress has been made

Take the example of getting credit. The improvement in Jamaica's ranking is a direct result of “improved access to credit information by distributing data from utility companies”. A sustainable ecosystem has been in the making in Jamaica, where banks, telecom providers, utility firms and the Government can seamlessly share credit-related information with the credit bureaus. Further, the bureaus have started to use this information to analyse credit worthiness and are sharing analysis back to the banks and telecom firms, with the consent of the parties who apply for services.

Similarly, a key factor in the success with the starting a business ranking is the reduction of procedures, facilitated by sharing of data between government agencies. A single online business registration form, a 'super form', was created by Companies Office of Jamaica, to eliminate the need for visits to multiple agencies like Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ), National Insurance Scheme, National Housing Trust, and HEART Trust.

Going digital has helped, but data use is becoming the game-changer. As some say, “Data is the new oil”. Not in the sense of a commodity, but more as a fuel running the engines of successful countries and companies.

It is not that Jamaica has not made significant improvements in data generation. We have progressively moved up in the open data inventory rankings, from 165 in 2016 to 37 in 2018, improving across social, economic and environmental data. However, most of this data is not real time and has limited disaggregation. Further, transactional data is usually missing, and sharing mechanisms are, at times, weak.

The journey must continue

As the Government continues on its digital journey, data generated is going to multiply astronomically, requiring a clear strategy around data. We need to invest significant effort in creating sustainable data ecosystems with public and private partnerships. Questions which need to be answered include 'Who are the stakeholders?', 'What data is needed?', 'What are the best collection and storage mechanisms?' and 'What safeguards are required for seamless sharing?' Regulation and technology will play a key role in building each of the data ecosystems around health, finance, public service, crime, agriculture, climate, tourism, etc. A sector-specific data ownership and licensing mechanism that promotes open data sharing will need to be established.

All of these elements must be supported by data privacy, citizens' rights, anonymisation and protection against cyber thefts. The Data Protection Bill currently being considered by the Parliament will need to take a holistic approach to ensure personal safeguards, while facilitating safe data use for public service improvement and enterprise growth. With the proliferation of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, future businesses might not venture into countries where data systems are not adequate.

Recently I was standing in the queue to collect my car registration renewal certificate and sticker at the TAJ office. I was looking at the LED TV displaying auto insurance ads, car ads and messages from TAJ on filing taxes. Outside there were shops for getting photographs done and other services, targeted at people coming to the TAJ office. A well-established ecosystem, which leverages government infrastructure, along with private enterprise, to stimulate businesses and promote public service. We need to build a similar ecosystem for our data.

— Sanjay Rao is director, PwC Jamaica

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