After relying solely on technology for the past two years, the full transition to a digital economy is possible but there are still challenges, Public Administration Minister Allyson West told stakeholders on Wednesday.
Some of the challenges that the ministry is facing are the speed of implementation and the cost of transformation, she said at the opening ceremony of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) TT and Republic Bank Tech Hub Islands Summit (This) at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain.
These issues stem from the economic struggles imposed by the covid19 pandemic as well as different administrations in power tackling what they seem important, she said. West added that because digitisation is something the ministry wants the country to achieve, it is working on preparing the necessary tools to make the move.
"The Ministry of Public Administration is spearheading the work to prepare and equip our public service with the right tools, skills and competencies to provide improved service delivery to our citizens through digital transformation."
She said the ministry has been working with the public sector in getting the necessary data to determine what needs to be worked on, in terms of their training programmes and improvement of learning. West said that was done by conducting a digitally-enabled training needs assessment with 22,000 public sector employees.
She added that even though other challenges may arise, such as acquiring technology given the effects of the war in Ukraine, or tackling the invasiveness of technology, the ministry is working on being prepared to deal with them. West said the transition shouldn't be delayed as people depended on social media to create businesses and earn an income while some still do.
"Covid19 was definitely a live case study on change in action. We should not let these lessons go to waste. We must build on them."
The executive director of Republic Bank Ltd (RBL), Derwin M Howell, echoed this sentiment.
He said at least ten per cent of bank transactions must be done at a teller while 40 per cent of transactions are to obtain cash. He said these tasks can be time-consuming and strenuous but with the intent to move fully digital, these can become things of the past.
"RBL has the space and continues to innovate the product, such as our recently introduced Endcash and the digital wallet on your smart phones."
The creation of the Endcash mobile app was announced last March with the intent of transforming a customer's smart phone into a mobile wallet so that all payments can be made remotely, in-store or by scanning a QR code. Howell hopes with this shift in technology even street vendors will not accept cash and bills may become obsolete.
Aside from wanting to become a cashless society, he said businesses should look at incorporating more technology into their services, which can ensure satisfied customers and the accumulation of more profit for the company. Howell explained that if a company is in possession of a customer's basic information, to ease the hassle, that information can be pre-filled with only the new details to be added. He said another way to have high-rating customer service is to include chat bots that can help users of a company's site solve their queries in real time.
"Technology such as chat bots ease and enhance customer service and artificial intelligence allows these chat bots to economically develop its knowledge based on user input. This feature permits them to cater to each client notwithstanding the number of clients using (the site) at the same time, it gives the feel of a one-on-one interaction."
Dr Bernard Myerson, chief innovation officer emeritus of IBM, said along with this, technology can help businesses avoid customer complaints or even the loss of profit. He used the example of implementing sensors in elevators to detect when the bearings of it would need to be changed, and how the maintenance team can do so without disrupting those needing the elevator.
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) country representative Carina Cockburn said such developments will need strategic planning and assured that it can be achieved and carried out successfully.
The two-day seminar, under the theme Change in Action, aims to help business owners and government officials make that digital transition that can ease the strain of everyone and gain profit.
Amcham president Toni Sirju-Ramnarine said, "We also wanted to develop a critical mass of local talent and to put the established businesses in touch with the young disruptors to start collaborating more on problem-solving facilitated by technology."
Amcham CEO Nirad Tewarie of Amcham and Sirju-Ramnarine expressed their gratitude towards the sponsors of the seminar for making it a reality. Ramnarine thanked RBL for being the title sponsor along with other sponsors including IDB, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Digicel, Eximbank and Simply and Intense Media.