GREAT BAY – Build a national ICT government infrastructure, make ICT education mandatory, set up a sound ICT infrastructure plan and a comprehensive cyber security program. Those are the four components of what Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday described as the ICT agenda for the future – GOS 21.0, short for the government operating system for the 21st century.
The governor made his remarks about GOS 21.0 in his opening address at the Governor’s
Symposium – ICT governance – Shaping our future – in the aula of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine on Friday morning to an audience that included the governors of Curacao and Aruba, Lucille George-Wout and Alphons Boekhoudt.
The symposium addressed issues many people already know, but it served as a useful vehicle for putting the fast developments in information and communication technology in the spotlight.
The governor highlighted these developments from personal experiences. In 1982 he used a computer for the first time at university (“a cumbersome mainframe”), in 1987 he had his first desktop computer and in 1994 his first mobile phone; in 1997 he opened his first email account. “Today I have multiple accounts and they are all connected through my cell phone,” the governor said. “Today there are people who practically live online. Phones have become mobile computers and cars are computers on wheels. The internet of things is upon us and we cannot afford to fall behind.”
The governor quoted former US President Barack Obama: “The internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”
Prime Minister William Marlin noted in his address that there are a billion smartphones all over the globe. “This means a dramatic change not only in how we communicate but also a total restructuring of our lives and our society with smartphones as the driving force. Smartphones have become so indispensible that we do not leave home without them.”
Marlin put a question mark behind this development. “Along with this smartphone, and the smart technology, do we have smart users, smart citizens?” The prime minister envisions St. Maarten as a smart city in the not too distant future. “The ultimate purpose is to marry infrastructure to the needs of the people in a way that facilitates fair and equal access to government services and that significantly reduces bureaucracy and greatly enhances participation of the citizenry.”
Marlin pointed out that all this requires redesigning the educational system so that it will produce smart people. “A smart city is known by its ability to attract and keep knowledgeable citizens.”
The PM mentioned Amsterdam as an example: 21 universities of applied sciences and a population of which 40 percent has a higher education.
Marlin furthermore referred to a future with a paperless government where citizens file their taxes and apply for permits online. “A paperless government serving a very wired community. It is the future our children deserve and the direction we have to go if we don’t want to be left behind.”
Jean Arnell, co-founder of French-side based IT-company Computech noted that connectivity on the island is important. “A 10 percent increase in penetration will increase GDP by 1.4 percent,” he said.
Bevil Wooding, an internet strategist and the Caribbean outreach manager for Packet Clearing House addressed internet security. “First we had the cold war, now we have the code war, due to an explosion of online devices, users and data.”
Wooding quoted former FBI-director Robert Mueller: “There are two types of companies; those that have been hacked and those that will be.”
Wooding noted that people still easily give away their passwords, citing anecdotal evidence from street interviews. “It is easier to be on the dark side. There are publicly available tools and online offers like rent-a-hacker, or sites that explain how to phish.”
Wooding said that governments need to urgently update their legislation and that they ought to participate in regional bodies, strengthen local capability and set national standards. “Make the investment. Develop a national cyber security strategy. Take action.”
Students from the St. Maarten Academy made a presentation during the symposium about the integration of technology in the classroom. There is a project underway to go paperless at the school under the slogan: Save the trees – go digital.
Keynote speaker Bernadette Lewis, the secretary-general of the Caribbean telecommunications Union noted that the world has changed “on a fundamental level due to ICT. It has changes the balance of power and attacks traditional structures and forms of governance. It is chipping away at the traditional way of doing business.”
The challenges the ICT-revolution is facing are plentiful, Lewis said: lack of leadership, archaic systems and processes, little research capability and insufficient research and poor communication – internally and externally.
Lewis gave an example of how 21st century technology could change traditional ways of doing things. In that example, the 21st centure school child is equipped with an RFID device. RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. Such a device would make a roll-call in class obsolete and provide school management with information about the whereabouts of their students.