A 2014 update of our Snapshot series on network readiness, and the extent to which countries in the Caribbean are leveraging ICT to improve their competitiveness.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), in conjunction with INSEAD and Cornell University, two of the world’s top business schools, have edited and released the annual network readiness assessment, the Global Information Technology Report (GITR) 2014, which tracks the development of ICTs around the world. This year’s publication, specifically highlights the “rewards and risks of big data”, in addition to assessing countries’ network readiness.
In this our fourth year of reviewing the WEF’s GITR report, we again examine the performance of the Caribbean/CARICOM countries included in the report, namely, Barbados, Dominican Republic. Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. We will also highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of each country in select areas, along with concerns the GITR’s Editors have expressed on the results emerging from the region.
The assessment framework
The assessment conducted for the GITR produces a Network Readiness Index (NRI), which is a quantitative result that measures “the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness” (Source: WEF). The NRI provides a comprehensive assessment of network readiness in individual countries (or economies) through 54 indicators, which organised under ten pillars and subsequently categorised into four main indices as outlined in Table 1.
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. For the 2014 exercise, 148 countries were assessed, an increase over the 144 countries that were included in the 2013 report.
2014 NRI results for select Caribbean countries
In its 2014 report, NRI Editors again highlighted their concern about the Caribbean and Latin American region,. They noted that although some countries, particularly in Latin America, have made some progress to develop better access to ICT infrastructure and ensuring higher ICT usage among their stakeholders,
…improving the connectivity of the region continues to represent one of its main challenges despite the recent efforts of many countries to develop and update their ICT infrastructures…
…persistent weaknesses in the broader innovation system hinder the overall capacity of the region to fully leverage ICTs to foster its competitiveness potential, highlighting the rise of the new digital divide—that is, the divide between countries that are achieving positive economic and social impacts related to the use of ICTs and those that are not.
These views were particularly applicable to the Caribbean countries assessed. Although most received slightly higher scores than they did last year (Figure 1), only three countries Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, realised improved ranking.
Puerto Rico was the highest ranked Caribbean/CARICOM territory at 41, dropping five places from 2013 (Table 2). Its NRI score was 4.54, a marginal decline from last year’s 4.55, but was not enough for that country to maintain its 2013 position on the Index.
Barbados, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti also dropped in their positions since last year’s review. The largest decline was reported for Barbados, which dropped 16 spaces to 55 on the NRI. Relatively speaking, its score was also considerably lower, 4.22 in 2014, from 4.49 in 2013, which would have attributed to its slide the overall ranking.
It must also be highlighted that although the scores for the Dominican Republic and Jamaica had improved, albeit marginally since last year’s exercise, they both dropped on the ranking. Although Jamaica’s score improved by +0.03 points, it slipped one spot to 86. Similarly, the Dominican Republic had been ranked 90 last year, and though its scores increased by +0.07, it slipped to 93 in the 2014 assessment.
As indicated earlier, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago improved their position on the 2014 NRI. The largest change in scores was recorded for Guyana, from 3.45 in 2013, to 3.77 this year, a difference of +0.32.
Upon closer examination of the sub-indices of the Caribbean sub-grouping, and similar to last year, the majority of countries secured their highest score under the Readiness Index, which measures infrastructure and digital content; affordability of telecoms services; and skills (Figure 2). On the other hand, the weakest performance was generally under the Usage Index, where to varying degrees, businesses and governments in particular, are not being seen as using ICT/IT effectively, and there is still limited take-up of mobile broadband by domestic consumers.
Finally, to its credit, the GITR gives a comprehensive account of the results for all indicators assessed, which countries can use to guide the development of policies and initiatives that can improve their network readiness in the future. Table 3 highlights the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the countries in the Caribbean sub-grouping, many of which are a repeat from last year.
In summary, and perhaps more so than in previous years, the 2014 GITR highlights the growing attention that countries worldwide are placing on ICT – the environment, readiness, usage and impact on their citizens. As a result, the assessment is becoming increasingly competitive. Activities or standards that would have been recognised as commendable a year or so ago, today, they are being overlooked or flagged as being inadequate. More importantly, small incremental improvements that might be reflected in the scores may not be enough to maintain or improve a country’s position in the NRI.
The limited impact of marginal (or no) improvement year on year appears to be reflected in the performance of the Caribbean countries included in GITR, which overall, have not done as well as in previous assessments. Based on reports in the public domain, Caribbean policy makers are still placing considerable emphasis on infrastructure and the provision of affordable telecoms services, especially for mobile/cellular, and to a lesser degree, Internet broadband. More importantly, there still does not appear to be coherent policies or plans in place to address matters such as readiness, usage and impact of ICTs in the Caribbean, and more specifically, in the countries included in the GITR.