A 2012 update of our Snapshot Series: network readiness. We are revisiting the extent to which countries in the Caribbean are leveraging ICT to improve their competitiveness.
Although it is widely acknowledged that ICTs are a key driver of economic and social development, to varying degrees, many countries across the globe are not harnessing ICTs’ potential to improve their competitiveness and realise a knowledge-based society. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and INSEAD, one of the world’s top business schools, have been conducting annual network readiness assessments, and have recently released the Global Information Technology Report 2012, which tracks the development of ICTs around the world.
Last year, we highlighted the findings of the 2011 GITR with a focus on the English-speaking Caribbean countries represented in that report, namely, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. This year, we are expanding our discussions to include, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Suriname.
The assessment framework
The assessment conducted by WEF/INSEAD produces a Network Readiness Index (NRI), a quantitative result that measures “the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness” (Source: WEF/INSEAD). In previous years, the NRI consisted of three sub-indices: an Environment Index; a Readiness Index; and a Usage Index. However for this year’s exercise, the framework was refined to better align it with the following principles, and resulted in the introduction of an Impact Index, as shown in Table 1:
- Measuring the economic and social impacts of ICT is crucial.
- An enabling environment determines the capacity of an economy and society to benefit from the use of ICT.
- ICT readiness and usage remain key drivers and preconditions for obtaining any impacts.
- All factors interact and co-evolve within an ICT eco- system.
- The framework should provide clear policy orientations and identify public-private partnership opportunities.
The maximum possible score for each sub-index is 7, and for each country (or economy) the four sub-indices are averaged to determine its NRI. This year’s exercise included 147 countries, as opposed to 138 in 2011.
NRI results for select Caribbean countries
In terms of absolute results, and with the exception of Haiti and Suriname, which were included for the first time this year, the NRIs for Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, all improved since the 2011 results (Figure 1). The most significant improvements were recorded in Puerto Rico (+0.49) and Barbados (+0.31), whilst no change was reported in the Dominican Republic.
Similar to last year’s report, Barbados had the highest NRI of the entire sub-Caribbean group, and overall was ranked at 35th out of 147 countries. Again, it was the highest ranked country in Central and South America, and the third highest in the Americas (after the United States and Canada). Barbados was closely followed by Puerto Rico, ranked 36th; then Trinidad and Tobago, at 60; Jamaica, at 74; the Dominican Republic, at 87; Guyana, at 90; Suriname at 121; and finally Haiti, at 147 (see Table 2).
Upon closer examination of the Caribbean’s performance (Figure 2), it is highlighted that the majority of countries secured their highest score under the Readiness Index, which measures infrastructure and digital content; affordability of telecoms services; and skills. With the exception of Barbados, most countries received their highest score for the affordability pillar, but are still struggling to strengthen their infrastructure and digital content accessibility, along with the availability and quality of education (including literacy) that they provide.
More importantly, Caribbean countries appear to be still challenged in creating enabling environments in which ICTs, and its related effects, can thrive. In keeping with the NRI, considerable weaknesses exist with regard to:
- the political and regulatory, and business and innovation environments (the Environment Index) that support ICT related businesses and initiatives
- fostering individual, business and government usage of ICT (the Usage Index), especially in terms of access to services, and the take-up and use of those services by local businesses and government, and
- the extent to which there is evidence of the positive effects of ICT as a driver of economic and social development, including address matters as e-inclusion and the narrowing of the digital divide (the Impact Index).
In its report, WEF/INSEAD was of the view that the Caribbean and Latin American regions have been lagging considerably in adopting ICT more broadly, and attributed the following reasons:
these countries all exhibit an insufficient investment in developing their ICT infrastructure, a weak skill base in the population because of poor educational systems that hinder society’s capacity to make an effective use of these technologies, and unfavorable business conditions that do not support the spur of entrepreneurship and innovation. Addressing these weaknesses will be crucial for improving the region’s competitiveness and shifting its economies toward more knowledge-based activities. (Source: WEF/INSEAD)
Thanks to the GITR, countries can readily determine how well they compare with other countries regarding ICT competitiveness, which in turn acts as an impetus for improving some of the highlighted deficiencies. However, solutions to many of those weak areas may require comprehensive and concerted intervention over a medium to longer term. Unfortunately, many of our governments are unlikely to demonstrate the requisite political will to develop and implement critical initiatives that will substantially improve our use of ICTs and ultimately, our national competitiveness, in order to reposition our countries to reflect the changing socioeconomic construct that is emerging.