Broad strokes: Flaws in fastforward II

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Above: When you grade your own report card, it’s easy to come put looking good. Photo by OlyPhotoStories/DepositPhotos.

The Draft National ICT Plan, fastforward II, is open for public comment – and while I haven’t fully congealed all the comments I feel need to be made, there are a few things that need to be pointed out.

The Executive Summary of the document has some interesting targets:

  • Increase to 5% in the ICT Sector’s contribution to GDP

  • 85% broadband access of a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps for household and business.

  • 5 High demand/volume, strategically important Government services as end-to-end eServices.

  • 5 Enterprise-wide applications operationalized to run routine functions of Government.

  • 50% Adoption of Government shared services              

  • 50% Adoption of shared infrastructure                    

  • 30,000 direct jobs created

  • 500,000 Users participate in eForums moderated by Government

  • # 1 in the Caribbean on Relevant increases in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Network readiness Index (NRI)

  • # 1 in the Caribbean on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ICT Development Index (IDI)  

These are all very impressive to read. In fact, despite my criticism and that of others, enshrined in the language of bureaucrats is a very impressive document that shows Trinidad and Tobago has made steps forward in ICT during an adverse economy. So, it even seems to be working.

Of course, in the document these steps forward are like a report card. We all know how that works – the school sends home a report card, reporting on what the child has done and how they are doing. Strangely, though, the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has brought us a report card that they filled out. Further, they designed the report card.

I tried that once in my youth with my father. Once.

If this is part of the larger plan to get Trinidad and Tobago to ‘first world’ status by 2030, are we using everything we have to the best of our ability?

Silos

I’ve heard time and again that Ministries are incompatible with technologies – to the point where they are sometimes incompatible with themselves. This is a problem of Silos, and the fastforward II document does little to address the issue. One of the main stumbling blocks is exactly this, and those very technology incompatibilities – be they software or hardware – are potholes on the information superhighway.

It remains unclear how Ministries will be working together to handle these issues – but it’s a symptom of the Waterfall model. We’ll get to that.

Broadband Access vs. Digital Divide

Everyone having access to broadband in their neighbourhood is a great goal – but how can it be afforded in every neighbourhood? What is ‘access’? A family may have access nearby, but maybe they can’t afford it. In this way, the target is problematic.

An Economy Around ICT
There are comments in the document that the government may have to pay for things such as infrastructure to help meet these goals. I found nothing that spoke to the need for ICT to subsidize itself; to help pay for itself as we move forward.

The increases in ICT contributions to GDP notwithstanding, what are the ICT contributions to export, and therefore foreign exchange? There is talk of eCommerce in fastforward II, and one can’t help but wonder why we’re not looking at the reality of that – where we’re a relatively small market, and the rest of the world is so much larger. Bringing money in might be a great way to subsidize the development of the strategy and are listed as one of the key challenges:

Business Environment: Trinidad and Tobago lacks the robust legal and regulatory framework required for eBusiness, eCommerce and eServices. The legislative Acts governing electronic transactions and data protection—including the Electronic Transactions Act and the Data Protection Act—have only been partially proclaimed and key regulations under those acts have not been passed. Modernized policies and regulations that protect the interest of both end users and investors, and attract investment and support the ease of doing business, are important perquisites [prerequisites] for creating a vibrant ICT industry.

Well, we know that. This should be a priority, not broadband penetration. These regulatory frameworks are holding back a lot in the market being able to help subsidize things.

Beyond The Waterfall

In Software Engineering, we call the methodology being used a waterfall model. It’s a good brute force model to use when things aren’t going to change during the project, and anyone who has worked on a project will tell you that things always change during a project. The unanticipated disruptions in technology confound the existing way of doing things more frequently than… we release new National ICT plans.

We struggle with this relevancy every day. The waterfall model shouldn’t be how we’re doing this. Somewhere, there’s someone screaming ‘Agile’ at their flat screen – but that, too, is old in comparison to a DevOps methodology.

Bureaucracy exists to keep things from changing; we want things to change. The Waterfall model works well in a bureaucratic world separate from reality, a more nimble DevOps methodology constantly changes when things change. It’s not perfect – none of these things are – but it works so much better with progress.
And progress, after all, is what we’re after.

Taran Rampersad

Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer. He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at WorldChanging.com that won the Utne Award.

He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs. 

His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.

As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.

He presently is doing personal land management, agricultural, writing and technology projects and is focusing on agriculture and land management.

A rare sight in cities, you’ll most likely find him offroad somewhere on a hill in his 4×4 writing or taking pictures.  You can contact him via email.