Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Mark Ricketts | What a difference a country makes

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Vin Lawrence
Larry Quinlan
1
2

Recently, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, in highlighting the importance of education and technology in agriculture to Jamaica's development, said: "If education is the forgotten child of the Jamaican family, agriculture is the wayward one. One has nowhere going, and the other has nowhere to go."

Hopefully, there will be a change in direction and performance soon.

In the Caribbean, many people are so bright, one wonders why the region is not an economic, financial, and technology powerhouse. A tale of the performance of postgraduates and business people in different countries provides insight.

In Jamaica, soils stick together; they bond. Dr Vin Lawrence, a classmate of mine at Calabar, did his master's in engineering on slope stability and building on hillsides and followed up with his doctoral thesis on naturally cemented soils. He returned to Jamaica in 1971 and worked for a Canadian engineering company.

After a year, he pulled together the brightest and best in starting an engineering firm. There was Robert Shaw, master's in engineering (Wolmer's); Dr Noel DaCosta (Kingston College); Dr Wayne Reid (Calabar); Dr Noel Brown (Jamaica College); Gordon Hutchinson, master's in engineering (Barbados), and Dr Radcliffe Fredrick (Trinidad). This firm reclaimed land and did the infrastructure for Portmore, has been around 45 years, and has done well, locally.

With all its internationally recognised academic talent and its on-site capability to match any global engineering enterprise in the civil and structural areas, the company has never expanded to become a global multinational-headquartered in Jamaica with offices in several countries, hiring hundreds of workers worldwide; something like a Bechtel in the US or a Sinopharm in China (a pharmaceutical and construction company), which started 26 years after our local engineering firm and is now doing engineering and construction work in countries, including Jamaica.

 

A DIFFERENT RESULT

 

Dr K.K. Wong graduated with a similar engineering degree, a year after Dr Lawrence, from the same university, Queen's University in Canada. He went home to Hong Kong, partnered in several major projects, and initiated others. He became very rich and donated an entire university in the vibrant city of Macau in China, across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong.

On returning home, Dr Wong was admired and infused with confidence as a brilliant son of the soil. He built on his vision and expanded his horizons in a country given to entrepreneurship, innovation, corporate success, creative financing, and a synergy and emphasis on research and development. The language, discourse, education, mindset, in the environment in which he functioned reinforced the ability of its citizens to build

big machines and buildings, manufacture products for the consumer and digital revolutions, and offer services, both domestic and international, on a large scale.

Fast-forward 45 years. Whether it be engineering, technology, or the application of technology to agriculture and manufacturing, let's ask ourselves whether as a country we have seriously moved forward in opening up exciting new possibilities, both here and abroad.

Has our language, our education, and our media created sufficient curiosity in us and sensitised us to what Larry Quinlan referenced in my column two weeks ago, which is being continued as Part Two this week, the proliferation of disruptive new technologies, including the cloud, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, debt ops, and API?

Quinlan is a son of the Caribbean, and his role as the global chief information officer (CIO) and a principal in Deloitte is to provide technology to more than a quarter-

million people in 100-plus countries. He used the electrical grid to explain moving to the cloud and why the cloud will be transformative, and, therefore, should be of much interest to students and businesses.

In the old days in the US and Europe, many companies' had their own power plant in the basement and actively manufactured their own electricity. Eventually, specialist companies started developing electrical power grids away from the company's premises and supplied electricity to these companies. Moving to the cloud is analogous to moving to the electrical power grid.

"There are now a set of outside vendors focused on taking on some of the responsibilities in putting complex technology together and running it. An organisation won't have to run every server itself anymore. It can now run it on the cloud, although it will invariably keep some things on its premises," Quinlan points out.

 

NECESSARY TRENDS

 

He continues: "Such trends are absolutely necessary for a CIO to seize on to ensure that technology can be implemented in a very successful way. The pace at which many organisations are moving processes to the cloud is likely to produce sustained demand for cloud engineers in the future."

Competition drives change, and the problem with technology in applying it is that as soon as your entire technology population has learnt something and buys into it, it becomes obsolete. The cloud today doesn't look anything like the client server of yesteryear, and the new networks look nothing like the old ones.

Adds Quinlan: "The demand for technology has become insatiable. There is an increasing recognition from the leadership of each organisation that technology is a vital component in its success. This means strong demand for information officers with a vision who understand how technology is applied, how to transform an organisation, and how to add value.

"If you end up with lots of technology proliferating in multiple directions in an organisation without any hope of competing in a cost-effective manner, then a CIO has to figure out, how to get disruptive technologies adopted. You would be surprised the billions that are spent on technology implementation without any thought of how it is going to be adopted.

"How are you going to ensure that the implementation of that technology, drives meaningful change in the organisation? This is where we come in. We have to create strategic value for technology as well as pay special attention as to how well we are doing in operations. The challenge arises from the newness of the technological environment and the fact that it touches every person.

"In our organisation, we focus on how we can possibly use technology in a way that will make us larger, more profitable, more cost effective, and provide a better experience for our customers."

Therein lie a multitude of opportunities in engineering, education, leadership, technology, finance. Jamaica has to start balancing its talk on politics and the political economy at the macro level with what is needed for improved performance and output at the micro level, namely that of the firm. That's what separates countries.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.