Digital transformation, including the appropriation of digital technologies, must be strategically planned. This means defining the final objective of digital transformation, and appropriate actions to achieve it, from the start. Establishing these ends and means clearly is a huge challenge for companies and governments, particularly in a context where everyone wants to ride the wave of technological change.
An opportunity for governments
For governments, digital transformation is directly related to public entities’ need to improve their internal processes and the services they provide. Indirectly, digital transformation in the public sector improves levels of competitiveness and drives socio-economic development. In this sense, public and regulatory policies should promote this transformation by adopting a long-term strategic vision where, in a transversal way, efforts are undertaken to improve inclusion and reduce inequalities.
It is well understood that there will be no true digital transformation if the population, especially those underserved or unserved segments, and productive sectors cannot meaningfully access ICTs. In Central America, it is necessary to increase the affordability and penetration of services, but this process poses an additional challenge: aligning transformation strategy with economic recovery, following the enormous crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digital infrastructure and connectivity plans
Connectivity plans are essential in these digital transformation processes. An important part of this is related to expanding broadband access. In addition, it is essential to work on digital inclusion for those sectors of the population that live in vulnerable conditions, generally associated with rurality, poverty and gender.
To achieve these objectives, competition and private investment must be encouraged: public policies and regulation must encourage effective competition and investment, allowing markets to deploy broadband networks and offer competitive services. Public intervention must make an appearance in those cases where market dynamics are not sufficient to guarantee universal access.
As the development of digital infrastructure requires long-term investment, it is essential that all actors within the telecoms ecosystem have clear policies and rules that apply to them. Ultimately, sustainable projects can only be undertaken where there are services that users can afford. Clear and strategically designed public and regulatory policies are therefore an obligation and a prerequisite to guarantee connectivity and achieve digital transformation.
Costa Rica: National Telecommunications Development Plan
A clear example of strategic planning for digital infrastructure can be found in Costa Rica, where recently the process for developing the National Telecommunications Development Plan (PNDT) was established.
The PNDT is set up using a as a multi-stakeholder model that begins with a diagnosis of the sector’s situation and a review of the main international trends under the strategic premise of “where we are and where to go”. This roadmap then continues with workshops, meetings and work processes with different actors operating within the telecoms ecosystem. The result is that the sector’s reality (and its success) is closely associated with public needs and different areas of social and economic development.
The most important lesson in the case of Costa Rica is the importance of maintaining a transparent and meaningful mechanism for participation and consultation with ecosystem stakeholders, so that the PNDT is kept up-to-date and adequately responds to the needs of society, the economy, and global trends. Throughout the current process of developing the PNDT, telecommunications operators, government institutions, local governments and the satellite industry, among others, have been involved.
Beyond Costa Rica
In a context where countries need to quickly establish plans to develop their digital infrastructure, the Costa Rican model, with its emphasis on including different actors in a collective work process, could be a reference point for other countries. Only through the collaborative effort of all stakeholders, supported by a long-term strategic vision, can the expansion of digital transformation in our region be consistent and sustainable.
This article was published on El Pais in Spanish on 11 October 2021.