Nothing moved for decades in the West Indies and then, in days, decades happened. The West Indies is not what it is, but what we will use the COVID-19 accelerator to make of it. All of our future and history is ours to write. The pandemic proved to be an accelerant of existing trends as platform markets blossomed. In the long run, every smart island state or smart-city will be greater than the sum of all its parts. In our lifetime, the word “smart” has been emptied of meaning. It has become counter-intuitive and counter-empirical. It no longer embodies the ideal that it is supposed to signify — intelligent life.
We speak of smart phones, smart TVs, smart mats, smart cars, smart speakers, smart locks, smart cities, smart appliances, smart shoes, smart lighting, smart heating and smart beds. Smart has become a crystal of ambiguities. But at the base of the miscellany of meanings is the notion of leveraging the power of data and technology to improve the quality of life. Virtually any new technology can be labelled a “smart solution.” To be more equitable, smart island states must transition merchants in retail to offer a fully integrated e-commerce platform for their clients, including smart payment buttons.
Unwillingness to embrace Automatic Clearing Houses (ACH) and direct debits constrain development. ACH payments–or ACH checks– are essentially electronic checks that eliminate paper cheques completely. But demand pushes offer. A Smart-Island digital payment infrastructure requires an ecosystem lush with mobile wallets and virtual accounts, especially for the unbanked, vendors and farmers who may be constrained to offer products to an Amazon Go store on Ariapita Avenue and process their payments. Despite the ubiquity of online shopping during the pandemic, the lure of physical retail and the experience touching and testing remains attractive.
Over the past decade, Point of Sales (POS) systems have evolved from static checkout points to a collection of touchpoints at the pith of the retail experience. POS technology has moved from a transactional functionality to one of consumer empowerment. Vendors now deploy applications that run partly in the cloud, a bit on a mobile device, on the shopper’s smartphone, maybe on a fixed device and perhaps even on the associate’s device.
MSMEs must be made ready to adopt these new payment platforms and to facilitate the expansion of Fintech into local financial ecologies. This requires assessment and investment in broad band capacity currently on offer by telecom companies to support these new technologies. The NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI) is deploying smart solutions to street lighting efficiency, water quality and conservation, waste management and air quality. A clear-cut definition of a ‘smart city’ is an ‘equitable city’ – a city where anyone and everyone has access to services justly. The Rawlsian notion of justice as fairness must now be extended to include justice as smartness.
Quality of life is now influenced by the degree of Government service-smartness afforded to those who visit, work, collaborate, invest, invent and innovate on islands and in cities. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has identified six (6) key performance dimensions of smart cities with sub-strands. These include: Environmental Sustainability (CO2 emissions, energy, air quality); Quality of Life (education, health, security and safety, convenience and comfort); Equity and Social Inclusion (Inequity of income/consumption, openness and public participation); Productivity (inflation, e-commerce, capital investment, employment, import/export, knowledge economy); Information Communication Technology (Networks, Service Platforms, Information Privacy and Security); and Physical Infrastructure (piped water, sewage, electricity, waste management, housing, and transport).
The challenge is to resist the temptation to simply throw technology and capital at every inconvenience. Dubai’s smart city strategy aimed to achieve targets in six “smart” focal areas: smart life, smart transportation, smart society, smart economy, smart governance and smart environment. The objectives were to improve the livelihoods of citizens, improve the ease of doing business, build Dubai’s brand recognition and brand position, increase footfall and augment efficiency.
An initial inside-out process involved cataloguing the existing technology and infrastructure and meeting sample populations of stakeholders. An outside-in method examined what other smart-cities were doing to adopt the best-in-class technology and improve on it, not just transplant platforms into an alien ecosystem. This involved doing on-ground studies of what “smart” would mean to each market segment. The outcome was six e-drivers that would make the smart-services: customer centric, innovative, adaptive, outcome driven and technology enabled. Every adoption was a response to a need and the basis for future innovation.
The idea was to develop the technology architecture that can implement iterative innovations on the future use-cases. The country became an innovation-lab. Every use-case was grounded in existing capabilities and open to iterative innovation. Every investment drove an actual business outcome and linked backwards to the foundation objectives. Geographic strategies remain asymmetrical across Latin America and the Caribbean with ecosystem value concentrated in a few companies, sectors and geographies. Eighty-six per cent (86%) of the ecosystem value is concentrated in Argentina and Brazil. Two sectors represent 72% of the value created to date: Fintech and E-commerce. In our post-distance era, Miami is emerging into a Silicon Valley following the Covid-19 reshuffling of stakeholder value.