Investing and winning together in the digital age

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By Phillip Jackson

We are living in a connected world in what is already shaping up to be the Connected Century despite inward-looking tendencies by some. The Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of this reality.

However, the same connectedness that allowed for the cascading of this crisis has facilitated the massive scaling of resilient responses and out-pouring of solidarity and support. Collectively, citizens, communities, businesses, and governments are trying to come to terms with the new normal, re-examining their raison d’être and relationships with each other and the planet to allow for sustainability and resilience.

The inter-connected global economy, underpinned by digital technologies and infrastructure may be conceptualised as an ecosystem with a heterogeneous distribution of various resources, exploited by strategic actors mediated through conventions and agreements in a dynamic climate of competition and cooperation.

The implication of such a perspective for economic actors in the Caribbean region is to first adopt an optimistic framework grounded in the idea of niche opportunities for the diversification of our economies consistent with our collective resources in strategic partnership with relevant global actors. This would require a winning mindset buttressed by a system of intelligence gathering for mapping the global techno-economic landscape and emerging consumer trends to inform new product and business model innovation, and the improvement or repositioning of existing good and services Caribbean businesses offer to a global marketplace.

Businesses wishing to internationalise and grow, must adopt appropriate digital technologies and business models to improve their products and production processes, establish attractive online presences to advertise these products, engage with customers, receive payments, deliver purchases, provide after-sales services, and connect with suppliers and logistics partners.

The Covid 19 pandemic has proven that companies in our region can digitalise certain aspects of their business to respond to changing market conditions. The challenge is to incentivise more businesses to adopt and to support expansion and consolidation of adoption among companies who have already started the journey.

To facilitate this process of digitalisation, Caribbean companies will require investments of various types as they typically lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and capital to do so on their own.
To guide and focus their digitalisation strategy, companies can immediately focus on crucial areas such as market presence, customer engagement, operations, and the organisational setup.

More specifically there are opportunities for investments in the following areas:

  • Providing knowledge and skills training to management and staff in the understanding and management of digitalisation.
  • Training and capacitating in-country digital services specialists who will work one-on-one with companies to establish their level of digital maturity and elaborate a responsive digital adoption plan consistent with their business strategy.
  • Proving capital to fund the various investments and activities defined in the adoption plan.

As more Caribbean businesses sell online to foreign markets there would be a need for improved logistics services. The cost-effective provision of these services will encourage the adoption of E-Commerce by more businesses, creating a virtuous cycle of digitalisation in the wider economy. In traditional industries like agriculture and agro-processing there are investment opportunities for the use of appropriate technologies in production; creating digital marketplaces to integrate the value chain; as well use of sensors for traceability of products from farm to factory to consumer, enhancing trust and building reputation among value-based consumers and intermediaries.

Consistent with recent near-shoring efforts, the region is a prime destination for new investments in call centres, information processing and business process outsourcing, given our strategic location, our languages, and the availability of the requisite skills to support these operations.

From the perspective on new product development, there are opportunities to take advantage of our unique culture including music to create innovative products with mass appeal for non-traditional markets taking advantage of existing in-market consumer behaviour and infrastructure for consumer engagement.

I want to end this section with what I believe is a winner. The Caribbean region possesses the creative capacity to pursue big bold initiatives in partnership with world-class technology companies in areas where we have a decidedly competitive advantage. The concept of the virtual Caribbean through virtual reality tourism is a tremendous opportunity for investment through strategic partnerships given the regions’ unparalleled diversity of beautiful landscapes and seascapes that can be virtualized and gamified for a growing market of “Digital Dwellers”.

As the consumer hardware for accessing virtual reality content becomes more affordable, adoption of VR adoption would be driven by the availability of new type of quality and interesting content for new market segments. Virtual Reality Tourism (VRT) is a prime content area to drive new adoption.

Conclusion

The digital economy presents tremendous opportunities for digital entrepreneur to exploit. The individual, businesses, investors, and governments must conceptualize and equip themselves as entrepreneurs in this multi-dimensional digital economy. The task requires a winning mindset with a focused global-local approach to knowledge building of our indigenous resources and emerging trends, and visionary yet attentive leadership to initiate and sustain strategic partnerships with local stakeholders, key development actors, and global industry players.

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