ICT- What’s Next?

Over the last 15 years the world has seen the emergence of the information economy and society driven by the democratisation of the internet and the proliferation of computers and mobile telephony. These developments have profoundly changed how we conduct almost every activity in our daily activities, especially those revolving around work and businesses. More notable has been the steady decrease in the cost of computer hardware, mobile communication devices and broadband connectivity, not only for government and big business, but more importantly for individuals and Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The result has been a paradigm shift in the way that communication between entities (individuals, businesses, governments) occurs and in the manner in which information is disseminated, accessed, manipulated and consumed. This shift has introduced a multitude of new terms to the technology, management and business jargon, both in the academic and casual usages.

So, as far as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are concerned, what’s next? What technology innovations and applications are likely to influence, change or at least modify the way we conduct our business for the next 10 years? Looking at the landscape as it currently stands there are a few innovations that are likely to have the most impact;

  1. 1. Cloud computing,
  2. 2. The miniaturization of computing devices,
  3. 3. High quality wireless broadband connectivity.

These three, not separately, but employed together present opportunities for businesses and governments to reduce cost and increase employee and business efficiency and productivity in ways that have not been possible in the past.

CLOUD COMPUTING –Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), economies of cost, economies of resources, remote access, simplified usage: This broad term refers to the delivery of hosted services over the internet. Most of us have used online e-mail services like Hotmail, Gmail and the like since the late 1990s. These services were the earliest forms of cloud computing, although the actual term ‘cloud’ has only come to the fore within the last five years or so. The general idea being that, in order to send and receive e-mail, a person need not buy and set up his own e-mail server, data storage and client software. All one requires is a computing device with a web browser and an internet connection. The e-mail servers, data storage, system software and security are already installed, managed and maintained by someone else – on the cloud. All you need to do is access the service over the internet. Consequently, many define cloud computing as the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product.

The cloud applications provide infrastructures, platforms and software tools to the masses at a fraction of the cost it would take to install, house, manage and maintain in-house. Cloud computing allows businesses to increase IT capacity and employ technology services that would increase operating efficiency and market reach in quick time; without having to invest in new infrastructure, personnel, software, licensing and security. Because cloud services are accessible through an internet connection, and most using a web browser, a business or employee can access a service not only at the workplace, but at any location that has an internet connection. This has implications for worker productivity and operational flexibility as cloud services offer businesses options that can be used to modify their work patterns, internal processes and management structures to their advantage. Services can be anything from inventory control, database processing, company intranets to productivity software for content creation.

MINIATURISATION OF DEVICES- consumerisation of technology, increased mobility, distributed business, innovative models: The second technology development that has profound implications for the way people interact and do business is what we term the ‘miniaturisation of computing technology’. The most casual observer of computing technology over the last 15 years will realise that computers and mobile phones have been steadily decreasing in size while maintaining, and in most cases increasing their data storage and processing capabilities. This miniaturisation is correlated to the unfolding of the often citied Moore’s Law, which describes the long term trend that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on a circuit doubles approximately every 18 months. Applying Moore’s law, engineers and researchers project that at least for the next ten years computing devices will continue to get smaller while simultaneously increasing their processing capabilities and thus the kinds of advanced applications that they can provide to users.

We have seen the proliferation of Smartphone devices of the iPhone, Android and Blackberry frames. These powerful mobile handsets, while configured for use as mobile and text communication devices, are also used as business productivity tools through the multitude of downloadable apps that these devices can run. The popularisation of tablet PCs such as the iPad, an output of a global process of consumerisation of technology, has been made possible by this miniaturisation phenomenon. The continued evolution of computing along this path of miniaturisation will continue, and will no doubt be exploited by innovative entrepreneurs for increasing business productivity and market capture along with the development of new industries in ways that could not have been contemplated in the past.

WIRELESS BROADBAND- Anywhere, anytime connectivity: The third development likely to make a huge impact on the business and consumer use of ICTs, is the proliferation of wireless broadband connectivity. In many parts of the world, there have been moves and intentions to move away from analogue to digital transmission of television and radio services that will result in the freeing of wireless spectrum. This freed or unused spectrum can now be used to provide wireless broadband connectivity over wide areas, much like the coverage of mobile telephony services. In the coming years, high speed, high quality wireless connectivity will rival the usual fixed line broadband as the preferred internet connection medium. In this regard, telecommunication regulation authorities around the world, especially in the more developed nations are making moves to allow the quick and easy transition to wireless broadband connectivity and incentives being proposed to telecom operators and new entrants to provide service to the masses.

PROSPECTS & CHALLENGES: These three developments; cloud computing, the miniaturisation of computing devices and the proliferation of wireless broadband connectivity are developments that together change the work informatics landscape from one that is stationary to one that is increasingly mobile. You see, these developments mean that businesses and consumers will increasingly have at their disposal powerful mobile devices that can access a multitude of cloud services and productivity tools from potentially anywhere. Much of the world is moving in this direction. What about Trinidad and Tobago? Presently, the biggest challenges lie with the quick development of robust telecommunication policy and regulations to govern the rollout of quality wireless broadband that can cover both islands, not to mention incentivising service providers. Additionally some quarters complain of the high rates of taxation that these devices attract (PCs and laptops are currently duty exempt, but this facility does not extend to tablet computers and smart phones).Once these issues are dealt with, businesses and individuals will be able to fully take advantage of the opportunities presented by cloud computing and mobile devices.

One issue remains for our Region however – developing a robust content and software development industry. Most of the cloud services available are provided by North American companies and hosted overseas. There are opportunities for the development of cloud services and applications that are tailored to our specific societal challenges and perhaps opportunities to develop a data hosting industry that can support the development of indigenous cloud services for regional businesses and governments. This again is an area where the state can develop strategies for growing the National and Regional ICT sector in this regard. The development of the Region’s ICT infrastructure is necessary to support business growth. What opportunities do you see that were not possible before? We see many.