The government of Barbados recently announced the establishment of a new Government Technology Agency called GovTech Barbados Limited, as a pivotal part of executing its digital transformation mandate. According to the press release, GovTech Barbados Limited “will stand at the centre of the Government’s digital transformation and innovation ecosystem.”

The move to leverage technology to improve the efficiency of government services is part of a modernization trend happening across the Caribbean, as the region plays catch-up to more developed economies.

Governments across the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region have adopted the use of digital tools – or e-government – as an approach to creating more transparent and efficient processes. These efforts are particularly relevant for addressing pressing regional priorities such as overcoming social, economic, and digital inequalities.

The drive that Barbados is making towards accelerating digitalization of government, is in line with steps that other governments in the region are taking.  The government of Trinidad and Tobago, for example, has recognized the potential of big data for enabling public sector digital innovation and held a Big Data Forum in late 2020 to explore big data opportunities in both the public and private sectors. They discussed tackling issues such as using digital tools for managing the national gas pipeline and tracking mosquito-borne disease outbreaks.

In another example, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is currently implementing the Caribbean Digital Transformation Project (CARDTP), funded by the World Bank IDA Grant, to increase access to digital services, technologies, and skills by governments, businesses, and individuals in the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Similar to the announced objectives of Barbados’ GovTech, the CARDTP initiative is expected to support increased digital connectivity, digital public services, and the creation of technology-enabled businesses and jobs across the participating countries.

Future-proofing government

A modern digital ecosystem will position governments to provide any service to any person or business on any platform, using any device. This will likely require four key components: a centralized data-exchange platform; secure online identification authentication; modern legislation governing data use and sharing; and new and upskilled talent who can work with and support emerging technologies that deliver a seamless customer experience to citizens. A recent KPMG report - Voices on 2030: Digitalizing government – explores the challenges and opportunities facing governments as they prepare for an increasingly digital future.

One of the initial hurdles is finding the right talent to lead digital transformation and upskilling government leaders and employees to understand the potential and use cases for the various digital technologies that might be deployed.

To help bridge the education gap, CAF – the development bank of Latin America and the Caribbean - has developed the Diploma in Governance and Public Innovation for leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean in conjunction with 17 universities in the region. It aims to strengthen the skills and abilities of leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean who work in public administration, the private sector, or civil society, on issues related to innovation and public management to promote transformative leadership in the face of current challenges in the region.

A further challenge for governments attempting to digitalize their services is abandoning the traditional continuum of working in silos, hiring in silos, and procuring in silos. This traditional approach will need to be replaced with a services model that is designed to put customers at the center of a complete digital ecosystem that makes the most of data to unlock timely insights and support evidence-based decision-making.

The stated goals of the GovTech agency in Barbados, appear to be taking a holistic and collaborative approach that puts the customers at the heart of service delivery. Their goals include:

•       removing existing roadblocks to creativity, innovation, and technology entrepreneurship, including govtech, fintech, and civtech solutions;

•       facilitating and supporting the rapid development, and/or procurement, and deployment of public digital services on behalf of the Government of Barbados;

•       engaging in constant research, given rapidly changing technologies; and

•       procuring the best technologies that will meet the needs of not only ministries, departments, agencies, and the private sector, but also the end users.

Digitalization improves the ease of doing business

Barbados is currently ranked 128 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings, and is serious about driving digital transformation to continue to improve the operating environment for businesses in order to attract more foreign direct investments. Through its Ministry of Industry Innovation Science and Technology (MIIST), it has rolled out digital identity cards, a key pillar for enabling the digitalization of services. The Barbados Revenue Authority has expanded the number of services that can be performed online, and projects to digitize the documents and processes of the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) are expected to further ease doing business in Barbados. Barbados also seeks to become a regional blockchain and FinTech hub, and already has several blockchain companies in the country.

In summary, from accessing health records, registering companies, applying for licenses, to voting — digital technology can make these services instantly accessible, intuitive to navigate, and less expensive to deliver. Getting digitalization right, will transform the government’s relationship with its customers – citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders.