Ready for digital transformation?Sunday, September 19, 2021
I recently visited the US, and while checking in at the airport to return home, I observed several Jamaicans being denied boarding by the agent because of insufficient documentation. The critical documentations that were absent was either the approved travel authorisation or evidence of a negative COVID-19 antigen or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Both are required. What was revealing about travelling was the level of digital transformation that has taken place as a consequence of the pandemic.
Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technologies to transform services or businesses or replacing outdated digital technologies with upgraded technology. We have already witnessed the impact of digital transformation on education, with emergency online teaching and learning taking place since March 2020.
Let me explain how digital transformation has impacted some aspects of travel. I am returning to the travel documentations mentioned earlier. When you are coming to Jamaica, citizen or otherwise, you are required to apply for entry using an online 'Travel Authorisation for Jamaica Form'. This form is long and includes the 'Immigration and Customs Form'. The response to the application — hopefully an approval — is sent to your e-mail, with a QR code, which you can print or it can be scanned from your smartphone at the airport. Most of this process was digitally enabled.
Having the antigen/PCR test done was just as digitally-enabled. We choose to have it done via drive-through. At the entry of the location you scan a QR code with your smartphone and complete an online form to apply for the test. A confirmation of your application is sent to your phone with another QR code, which is subsequently scanned by the doctor, which generates a label for your test. The test was contactless and within 20 minutes, the result was sent to your smartphone.
So in order to conduct these two processes, you needed, at a minimum, a smartphone, Internet access, and an e-mail address. These processes have been digitally transformed. This digital transformation is ushering in or maybe forcing in a digital economy.
Auditing and consulting firm, Deloitte, defines the digital economy as economic activity that results from billions of everyday online connections among people, businesses, devices, data, and processes. The backbone of the digital economy is hyper-connectivity, which means growing interconnectedness of people, organisations, and machines that results from the Internet, mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). This digital economy was already taking shape, however, with this unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic, the pace has accelerated out of necessity.
Jamaica's transformation to a digital economy can only take place by enhancing access and connectivity. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argues that the benefits of digital transformation can only be realised if high quality access to communication networks and services is made available at affordable prices for all people and firms no matter who they are or where they live. This involves investing in significantly upgrading communication infrastructures to address the increasing demand for data generated by the billions of devices coming online in the near future. Simultaneously, efforts need to be made to allow all parts of society to take part in digital transformation, including rural populations currently experiencing significantly worse broadband access in comparison to urban areas.
The two main broadband providers, Flow and Digicel, have been deliberately vague on the extent to which they have increased connectivity. They speak in ambiguous terms about rolling out broadband and fibre, but it is not clear whether this is to new or existing customers. An associated issue is affordability. To access the comparative affordability of Jamaica's broadband versus other countries we used Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2021, by cable.co.uk, which compared the cost of 1 GB of mobile data in 230 countries. This may be considered a proxy for overall Internet affordability, but it is a good approximation. Jamaica is ranked, in the lower half, 137 out 230 countries, on the cost table. We were 10th in the Caribbean, behind Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, US Virgin Islands, St Vincent, Grenada and St Lucia. Jamaica will need more affordable Internet access to make the digital transformation.
September 8, 2021 was celebrated as International Literacy Day (ILD) by UNESCO. The theme for this year was not reading and maths, which is important, instead it captured the essence of the changes taking place in the world. The theme for ILD was 'Literacy for a human centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide'. The intention of the theme was to create more awareness among people regarding digital literacy. So, if infrastructure and access are the first two pillars of digital transformation, digital literacy is the third pillar. Digital literacy is the fluency in the use and security of interactive digital tools. Some people have already gone beyond digital literacy, and a more inclusive term have been coined — digital citizenship. The Council of Europe defines the term broadly: “The competent and positive engagement with digital technologies (creating, working, sharing, socialising, investigating, playing, communicating and learning); participating actively and responsibly (values, skills, attitudes, knowledge) in communities (local, national, global) at all levels (political, economic, social, cultural and intercultural); being involved in a double process of lifelong learning (in formal, informal and non-formal settings) and continuously defending human dignity.”
I rather prefer the term digital citizen and EDGE Education gives a comprehensive depiction that captures the meaning of the axiom: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
If we examine, for example, digital etiquette on social media there is evidence of a portfolio of cyberbullying. Theodore Whitmore was verbally abused on Facebook and Twitter after Jamaica lost 0-3 to Panama; after England lost to Italy in the UEFA Euro 2020 championship match, the black players were subjected to an avalanche of racist abuse on social media; when Naomi Osaka lost in Tokyo Olympics she was subjected to racial abuse. This is but a sprinkling. We have not yet learned proper online social behaviour.
In addition to online abuse the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) warns of the dichotomy of digital transformation, that is it has tremendous potential to improve lives further, but it is also accompanied by a growing awareness of potential danger. This danger includes fear of losing control, privacy concerns, feeling threatened or displaced by increasing automatisation, and a mistrust of technology or the use to which it is put by governments and corporates.
The ITU argues, quite correctly, that the balance between great technological promise and human concern is particularly obvious in the expanding field of artificial intelligence (AI). It raises several thorny questions: What current and upcoming solutions in AI are guaranteeing greater security, privacy, transparency, and accountability for citizens? Can those who monitor citizens also be monitored, and would this help to create user trust? Can AI be used to fight corruption and fake news? Are we tackling the bias in AI fast enough? How much are we aware of AI in our daily lives, should we know more, and who should be responsible for educating us? The ITU plans to discuss these issues in an upcoming forum.
This rapidly evolving digital transformation raises some significant policy questions: Who should be responsible for delivering and funding digital literacy/digital citizenship training? The Government can play a role incorporating digital citizenship training in the curriculum. Flow has launched a digital skill training programme, not just because they are good corporate citizens, but because it is good for their future business. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica has been proactive in developing a Model of Digital Media and Information Literacy Competencies for Jamaica. This should help to determine content in the digital citizenship training. The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, which is almost invisible, needs to be “fuelling growth” by making important policy decisions on infrastructure and electricity supply both of which are within the ministry's remit.
In a recent survey done by the College of Business at University of Technology, Jamaica, we asked tertiary students: If you had a choice, how would you want your class delivered in the future? Thirty-seven per cent said online only, and 48 per cent wanted a mix of online and face-to-face classes. A total of 85 per cent of students expect some form of online classes. This will transform education and its delivery.
The genie is out of the bottle, the transformation will not slow down because we are not ready. If we are not ready we will just be denied boarding.
Professor Paul Golding is former dean of the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com