David Luna, Colombia’s minister of information technology and communications, is one of the most anticipated speakers at this year’s Andicom conference in Cartagena. Among all the executives and public officials participating at the annual information and communications technology event this week, nobody sees all facets of the industry quite like the minister.
And according to Luna, things are looking up. In an exclusive interview with Finance Colombia in the days before the start of Andicom 2017 on August 23, the minister said that technology companies are working together more than ever before.
“Currently, the IT industry in Colombia is living great times,” said Luna. “Companies have evolved from a competition model to a collaborative model.”
Through his leadership at the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MinTIC), Luna explained that the country has also “implemented training programs to provide [companies] with the necessary tools and thus attract intelligent capital.”
But the improving climate isn’t just about private sector advancement. Colombia is reaping many benefits from increased connectivity and technology adoption nationwide.
The country has made substantial progress in recent years with its Vive Digital program, for example, that has given people in rural areas better access to the online world. In all, the government has installed nearly 7,000 kiosks and added almost 1,000 free WiFi areas across Colombia.
The nation has also made major progress in the classroom — going from having just one computer for every 24 students in 2010 to one for every four students this year — and when it comes to streamlining and digitizing government processes.
In the following conversation, Luna told Finance Colombia more details about the many ongoing MinTIC initiatives, explained how the IT industry in Colombia is becoming more advanced, and broke down why Andicom is such an important event for the country.
Jared Wade: Andicom is one of the biggest business conferences of the year in Colombia. For you, how important is the event, and how has it helped bring together different stakeholders pushing for innovation in the country?
David Luna: This is the most important annual gathering of the digital ecosystem in Colombia. This meeting converges operators, platforms, applications, and large technology users.
Andicom’s main theme this year is related to the need to promote the use of digital technologies to transform productive processes in Colombia, and this is a priority of our ministry. If we are able to unite all efforts — whether public or private — each initiative promoting innovation will be implemented efficiently.
Precisely, our Digital Economy strategy considers participation in events like this one, where one discusses the current status, the level of understanding, the scope, and the way digital technologies transform productive processes and affect the way we communicate, entertain, and inform ourselves.
David Luna, Information Technology and Communications Minister of Colombia. (Photo credit: MinTIC)
Jared Wade: In terms of the private sector, what must be done to promote competitiveness compared to global peers? How can companies become more involved in this initiative and help themselves improve?
David Luna: Since 2012, the national government, through the MinTIC and ProColombia, has been developing strategies to strengthen the commercial capabilities of IT companies and supporting their international promotion through the campaign ‘Colombia Bring it On.’ This shows the world a world-class technological offering under the slogan, “Here We Make It Possible.”
Through the experience obtained, with more than five years working on this project, we have identified the need for this industry to have trained human talent; where companies adopt globally recognized IT quality models; strengthen their commercial capabilities; explore target markets and adapt their exportable offerings depending on the country they wish to penetrate; and develop specialized technology solutions for the different sectors of the economy, among others.
Furthermore, it has been determined that there are companies that have excellent IT products and services, but they need investment to enter new markets. This is the reason why we have implemented training programs to provide them with the necessary tools and thus attract intelligent capital.
Currently, the IT industry in Colombia is living great times. Companies have evolved from a competition model to a collaborative model, promoted by the alliance between MinTIC and ProColombia, and have determined that their products and services supplement the offerings of other Colombian companies, which has enabled them to establish partnerships to enter global markets with greater force.
Jared Wade: How has the banking industry progressed in recent years in terms of technology? How do you see the “mobile revolution” and the higher rate of penetration of smartphones and connectivity changing the financial services sector in Colombia?
David Luna: This is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest achievements of this government. The challenge with the so-called “mobile revolution” aims at having entrepreneurs use evermore technologies for industries, generating added value, and innovating.
We are aware that, through increasing connectivity and greater use of technologies, it is possible to overcome the gaps in education, inequality, and poverty. There lies the generation of opportunities for the most vulnerable populations.
Jared Wade: After two terms in office, we are nearing the end of the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos. What initiatives and goals do you have for MinTIC during the rest of that time?
David Luna: In the remaining period of the current government, we will work hard to promote Colombian industry and using technology among Colombian people.
Our policies will be geared, on one hand, at promoting the growth of internet connections through initiatives such as: the promotion of infrastructure deployment in the territories, the allocation of new spectrum bands for mobile Internet, new subsidy grants to lower income users, and the deployment of free WiFi zones, among others.
Another line of action is an additional boost to the software industry and associated services. We will continue supporting the growth of our regional software clusters and promoting more young Colombians to study industry-related careers.
Moreover, we will continue the implementation of a strategy to promote development of the “Digital Economy.” To that end, we will transform the IT Vice-Ministry into the Vice-Ministry of Digital Economy, which will be responsible for actively promoting the transformation of productive and creative sectors of the economy.
David Luna, ICT Minister of Colombia, breaks down the nation’s technological progress in recent years on the stage at Andicom 2017. (Credit: Jared Wade)
Jared Wade: I know that two longer-term objectives in Colombia have been, first, to bring more technology-related infrastructure to rural areas to support development, more financial inclusion, and other similar goals. And also I know the country has been focused on improving the systems that the public uses to interact with the government as well as the systems used by the nation’s ministries and agencies in general. How have these two areas advanced in recent years?
David Luna: We interconnected a country. We went from 2.6 million internet connections at the national level in 2010 to more than 28 million connections — both fixed and mobile by subscription and on demand — this year.
Specifically, for rural areas, our quest is to provide universal access solutions to people through the “Vive Digital” kiosks. To date, we have installed 6,926 kiosks, in a same number of districts, throughout Colombia’s 32 departments. With this, we have achieved the government’s goals of reaching places where there is no market yet.
In the social area, and thanks to the wide network coverage, the Vive Digital kiosks are a perfect place for low-income communities to develop ICT skills, to obtain first-hand information on applications to improve productivity, as well as to access information platforms of the agricultural sector as a basis to be more competitive by using technology.
As for online transactions between the public and the government, we seek to facilitate users’ relationship with the state. Therefore, we have made available the webpage No Más Filas (No More Lines), which was previously called Sí Virtual. This is a national government, multi-channel platform where the general public can find state services and perform transactions completely online. In total on this website, there are 714 online transactions and 3,485 partially digitalized transactions available to Colombians.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that — aware as we are of the access, management and service provision, and public sector transactions issues — we are in the process of regulating “Digital Citizen Services.”
Jared Wade: What have been the most important achievements of MinTIC during your tenure at the ministry?
David Luna: We have achieved important results in different areas. Among those, we can highlight that today 97% of the country’s municipalities are connected: 1,075 municipalities through the National Fiber Optic Network and an additional 15 through the High-Speed Connectivity Network. (These are wireless solutions such as microwaves and satellite for remote and difficult to access sites.)
Similarly, citizens have embraced the technology through free connection and training spaces. Thus, we completed 6,989 Vive Digital kiosks installed in the rural areas and 894 Vive Digital access points in urban areas. Moreover, we will reach this year more than 1,000 free WiFi zones installed at squares and parks of different cities throughout the country.
In the education field, between 2010 and 2017, we went from 24 children per computer to four children per computer with the objective of improving the classroom experience through the use of technology. And we have delivered scholarships-loans to 9,270 students to study information technologies-related careers.
Lastly, we are taking Colombia towards a Digital Economy. To that end, we have created an “observatory” on the topic, which will provide an overview of the digitalization level of the various economic sectors. To date, we have made it possible that 75% of the MiPyme (micro, small, and medium-size companies) utilize ICTs in their business. On the other hand, we have supported more than 70,000 people through Apps.co and have installed 37 labs for training and development of digital content.