By Phillip Jackson
We live in a connected world in what is already shaping up to be the connected century, despite inward tendencies of some. The Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of that reality.
However, the same connectedness that enabled the cascading of this crisis has facilitated the massive scaling of resilient responses and the outpouring of solidarity and support. Together, citizens, communities, businesses and governments are trying to come to terms with the new normal by re-examining their raison d’être and their relationships with each other and the planet to enable sustainability and resilience.
The interconnected global economy, underpinned by digital technologies and infrastructure, can be conceived as an ecosystem with a heterogeneous distribution of diverse resources used by strategic actors mediated by conventions and agreements in a dynamic climate of competition and collaboration.
The implication of such a perspective for economic actors in the Caribbean region is to first adopt an optimistic framework based on 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 successful mindset, backed by an information gathering system to map the global techno-economic landscape and emerging consumer trends, to inform new product and business model innovation and the enhancement or repositioning of existing goods and services that Caribbean businesses offer worldwide marketplace.
Companies that want to internationalize and grow must use appropriate digital technologies and business models to improve their products and production processes, set up attractive online presences to promote these products, contact customers, receive payments, deliver purchases , provide customer service and network with suppliers and logistic partners.
The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that companies in our region can digitize certain aspects of their business to respond to changing market conditions. The challenge is to encourage more companies to adopt and to support the expansion and consolidation of adoption for companies that have already started the journey.
To facilitate this digitization process, Caribbean companies need investments of various kinds, as they usually lack the necessary knowledge, skills and capital to do it themselves.
To guide and focus their digitization strategy, companies can immediately focus on critical areas such as market presence, customer retention, operations and organizational setup.
Specifically, there are investment opportunities in the following areas:
Provision of knowledge and skills for management and employees in understanding and managing digitization.
Train and enable on-site digital services specialists who work one-on-one with organizations to assess their digital maturity level and develop a responsive digital adoption plan in line with their business strategy.
Evidence of capital to fund the various investments and activities defined in the adoption plan.
As more Caribbean companies sell online to foreign markets, there is a need for improved logistics services. The cost-effective provision of these services will encourage e-commerce adoption by more businesses and create a virtuous circle of digitization in the overall economy. In traditional industries such as agriculture and agri-processing, there are investment opportunities for the use of appropriate technologies in production; Creation of digital marketplaces to integrate the value chain; and the use of sensors for traceability of products from farm to factory to consumer to increase trust and build reputation with value-oriented consumers and intermediaries.
Consistent with recent nearshoring efforts, the region is a prime destination for new investments in call centers, information processing and business process outsourcing given our strategic location, languages and availability of the necessary skills to support these operations.
From a new product development perspective, there are opportunities to leverage our unique culture, including music, to create innovative products with mass appeal for non-traditional markets by leveraging existing consumer behavior and consumer engagement infrastructure in the marketplace.
I want to end this section with what I consider a winner. The Caribbean region has the creative capacity to pursue big, bold initiatives in partnership with world-class technology companies in areas where we have a distinct competitive advantage. The concept of the Virtual Caribbean through Virtual Reality Tourism is a tremendous investment opportunity through strategic partnerships given the regions unparalleled variety of beautiful landscapes and seascapes that can be virtualized and gamified for a growing market of Digital Dwellers.
As consumer hardware for accessing virtual reality content becomes more affordable, the availability of new types of high-quality and engaging content for new market segments would drive the adoption of VR adoption. Virtual Reality Tourism (VRT) is a prime content area to drive new adoption.
The digital economy offers tremendous opportunities for digital entrepreneurs to take advantage of. Individuals, corporations, investors and governments need to conceptualize and equip themselves as entrepreneurs in this multidimensional digital economy. The task requires a winning mindset with a focused global-local approach to building knowledge of our indigenous resources and emerging trends, as well as visionary but vigilant leadership to initiate and sustain strategic partnerships with local stakeholders, key development players and global industrial players.