When most people hear technology, they instantly think of the latest gadgets, smartphones, wearable tech and apps on the market. But technology is broader than that. Technology is any technique, skill, method or process used in the production of goods and services. With this definition in mind, Compete Caribbean is working to design support to match regional businesses with the technology and technical services they need to increase profits, innovation and productivity.
Jan Youtie, principal research associate at the Economic Development Lab of Georgia Tech University’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, defines Technology Extension services (TES) as “advice or expertise offered directly to enterprises to improve technology use and innovation.”
The most important thing to note is TES is not focused on creating new technologies but rather on increasing access to, and adoption of, already existing technologies, and processes. This may take the form of bringing firms up to national and international standards, exposing them to opportunities for improvement by incorporating existing technologies, best practices, technical assistance and consulting human resource development, strategic management, etc. (Source: Jan Youtie). TES is also connecting businesses with technology and expertise they will need in the future before that need is realized. In short, TES is a proactive approach to preserving profitability, productivity, quality and innovation through technology adoption. Another name for TES is ‘innovation advisory services’, which includes assessing a firm’s operations, preparing an improvement plan and assisting in its implementation. Compete Caribbean is developing a mechanism to support businesses around the region to do just that, and will be announcing it in early 2018.
Technology is radically changing the way that business is being conducted. The 4th industrial revolution – consisting of big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and the internet of things – is both a threat and an opportunity for the Caribbean, raising the premium on technology extension services that can help Caribbean businesses adapt to and use the 4.0 revolution to their advantage.
Given that the Caribbean is a small market, which is shared by its small island developing states, Compete Caribbean is keen on testing various TES delivery models to see which can have the most sustainable impact. Compete Caribbean Program has developed the capacity to identity projects through calls for proposals, a method which can be used to generate interest from executing agencies in the public or private sectors, which is necessary for implementing pilot projects.
Business support organisations can lead the way in the implementation of technology extension services. Small business associations, business development agencies, such as youth business trusts and business and entrepreneurial schemes that offer training and technical assistance program are poised to be crucial to TES implementation in the region.
In the Caribbean, many of these agencies currently provide various levels of TES, but further support can help these agencies become more systematic, offer assistance to incorporate even more sophisticated technology, and coordinate their approaches to avoid duplication of effort and increase efficacy of these program.
In Barbados, the Barbados Investment Development Corporation (BIDC) offers guidance and special technical assistance grants to firms for diagnostic assessment and consultancy, training and productivity enhancement, market research, equipment upgrades, and export facilitation. It is also part of a network with the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, which has an entrepreneurial training program, dedicated to develop youth in business. This network is designed to avoid duplication of effort between the two agencies, allowing them to focus on their core services to their clients.
Jamaica Trade and Invest (JAMPRO) provides export and market development, and investment promotion valued added services to local businesses. Indeed, around the region, there are several youth business trusts, Business Support Organisations (BSOs) and export development agencies that are poised to assist regional businesses with technology extension services. These agencies also have the potential to play key roles in the development of collaborative efforts across businesses in several industries, to help firms build the capacity for scale and scope in a way that strengthens the competitiveness of these industries and increases productivity and economic growth.
TES is crucial to the process of bringing Caribbean firms to a point where they can successfully innovate, compete on a global scale, and stimulate vibrant economic growth. For the Caribbean to take advantage of market and business climate innovations, policies to facilitate technology extension services are necessary to successful implementation.