ICT sector is more than BPO and call centres, shareholders want Government to maximise other opportunities
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been hailed as one of the planks of Jamaica's growth-inducement strategy.
The growth-inducement strategy, drafted in 2011, places inordinate focus on the business process outsourcing (BPO) and call-centre segment of ICT, a fact that seems to have spilt over into the development of the sector.
While BPO and call-centre operations in Jamaica have delivered an estimated US$250 million in value, account for more than 14,000 jobs, and enjoy the highest employment growth rate of any subsectors over the past decade, industry insiders are concerned that it is being viewed as the panacea of ICT development to the detriment of other areas of the sector.
Trevor Forrest, who is a vice-president of the Jamaica Information Technology & Services Alliance (JITSA), has called for whichever party forms the next government - when the election dust has settled - to "seriously look at ICT as the enabler of economic growth above and beyond BPOs".
Joining him in that call is immediate past president of the Jamaica Computer Society Dean Smith, who opines that "we continue to operate by importing expensive base technology (hardware and software) without using it to generate economic growth across all sectors (agriculture, construction, tourism, manufacturing, ICT, government, etc) and solving chronic challenges by examining business processes for optimisation despite our nuanced milieu".
Smith further points out that Jamaica has, in large measure, ignored opportunities to take a share of the more than US$2 trillion information technology outsourcing -knowledge process outsourcing system architecture and software engineering services market because of its singular focus on the BPO call-centre subsector.
Another level of analysis to the BPO call-centre dominance is added by director of the ICT Division at the University of Technology, Lisa Facey-Shaw, who argues that there is too much concentration on low-end ICT services.
For Facey-Shaw, the BPO sector in its current state is too low down in the value chain, and she wants the Government to "consolidate data across all government agencies for greater efficiency, provide greater levels of e-citizen services, foster an innovation mindset among the nation's youth by instituting innovation education from the early levels of education, attract higher-end BPO services, and facilitate an enabling environment for the development of ICT businesses".
Internet Marketing Consultant Wayne Marsh highlights the fact that Jamaica has not been able to benefit from non-call centre, BPO-based ICT-outsourced projects because of the lack of skilled personnel to engage in other high-end areas of the sector.
"The next government should create a national vision around training and creating a workforce to develop software to replace the current imported ones now in use (a software import substitution programme), while developing Jamaica as an outsourcing destination for software development. This would result in significant hard currency savings in software licence and maintenance fees as well as provide opportunities for local graduates to attain the well-needed work experience," he said.