Since March 2020, Jamaica, like every country in the world, has been battling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
As authorities implemented various lockdowns, Jamaicans moved dramatically toward online channels. Companies and industries responded with a whole new range of digitally enabled products, and as a consequence, Jamaica had to accelerate its digital transformation process to accommodate rising demand of digital services.
“When it comes to our digital capabilities, I’d say we were in a good state of readiness, which despite the challenges allowed us to maintain certain levels of business continuity. All the steps Jamaica took during the last few years were key to quickly incorporate technology and new practices like work from home,” said Gloria Henry, President of the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ).
The Covid-19 crisis brought about years of change in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business. From boosting workforce productivity to improving customer experience, accelerating digital transformation is critical for businesses and the future of work. It is fair to expect most of these changes to remain even in a post-pandemic era, creating the need for the kind of investments to ensure their sustainability.
Jamaica’s Digital Transformation
Jamaica has made significant progress in implementing new technologies to support its digital ambitions. Vision 2030, the national road map for sustainable development, has made ICT a priority for the island.
Leading telecommunications providers such as Digicel and Flow, have heavily invested since the beginning of the pandemic to keep up with the demand growth. In the case of Flow, which provides over 60% of Jamaica’s fixed broadband service and 95% of the country’s LTE mobile network, the company has been investing to expand its capabilities after experiencing a 47% increase in bandwidth consumption in 2020. Flow is also partnering with the Jamaican government to facilitate remote learning.
On June 11-12, the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) will host Outsource2Jamaica Conference & Expo, the main conference for Jamaica’s global services sector. This year’s conference was designed to drive visibility to Jamaica and showcase its Nearshore opportunities. As a response to Covid-19 restrictions, the GSAJ is partnering with Virtual Reality Jamaica to present the event in person, online and through virtual reality.
“We recognize that to showcase the unique blend of opportunities here in Jamaica, face to face engagement is the best option. For that reason, we are using virtual reality to provide a fully-immersive experience to attendees, set in the Jewel Grande Resort & Spa, which will make them not miss the in-person experience. This will clearly demonstrate Jamaica’s capabilities in the digital space,” said Henry.
To compensate to overseas patrons who normally travel to the island, they will be given the opportunity to win an all-inclusive resort stay, among the many prizes available to patrons in the O2J Treasure Turner.
Flow has been investing to expand its capabilities after experiencing a 47% increase in bandwidth consumption in 2020
In a region where the pandemic has shown many government shortcomings, Jamaica’s public sector took consistent steps to accelerate the transition to digitalization. Jamaican authorities have been developing the ‘gov.jm’ project, directed at creating an e-governance platform to integrate all government services. With a new data privacy law and the National Identification System (NIDS) Bill, which is intended to provide a secure structure to storage identity information, the country is building a new kind of digital business environment.
The private sector has taken a lead role as well. Industries such as BPO, which employs 43,000 workers across the island, managed to move a large number of people into the work from home mode.
“At the beginning of the pandemic our demand was met with a peak of 50% of our staff moved to work from home. Our team members were escorted to their homes to help with set up and test system speeds. We reached a point where our clients couldn’t decipher our brick-and-mortar agents and at home agents. This has been a process in which the government has played a big role in our decisions for how to scale work from home agents,” said Jake Becker, VP of Operations at Teleperformance Jamaica.
Business Continuity and Diversification
The ability of companies like Teleperformance to rapidly adapt their business operation is not a casual result. “We had started upscaling the value chain with various GSAJ projects. We were already working to prepare the smaller firms, helping them to repurpose their business models so that they could be more prepared for the future. Larger companies were definitely in a better capacity to adapt,” said Henry.
The Jamaican government designated the BPO sector as an essential service under the Disaster Risk Management Act
While many companies implemented remote work as a way to guarantee their services, new challenges connected to cybersecurity and data protection threatened business continuity. “Traditionally data security has been one of the main customer’s concerns when it comes to remote work in the BPO industry. However, we’ve seen leading companies rapidly and efficiently enriching their business practices with new security tools, such a multi-factor identification, constant ID checks to make sure the person sitting at the desk is the correct one and screen recording. Today, work from home is on a path to becoming as secure as any site,” said Sebastian Menutti, Frost & Sullivan Industry Principal.
Special Economic Zone regulations for Jamaica, which supports many of the firms within the GSS, initially disrupted the industry’s ability to effectively transition to remote working. “Jamaica wasn’t a country that needed to correct labor laws to allow for remote work. We already had a framework for it, but we needed to get Government approval for a special facility under the Special Economic Zones Act to legally move computers from the special economic zones to agent’s homes,” said Henry.
The Jamaican government also designated the BPO sector as an essential service under the Disaster Risk Management Act, allowing it to continue to work during moments of lockdowns and curfews. For Henry ,this proves how important the industry has become to Jamaica as a major employer and foreign exchange earner.
“Today, work from home is on a path to becoming as secure as any site” — Sebastian Menutti
In spite of Jamaica’s favorable position, there are some challenges to developing a policy framework that answers all of the concerns arising from remote work, including safety, data and cyber security, and productivity. That the Special Economic Zones are considered a physical location and mainly provide incentives for companies maintaining a physical presence in the zones threatens the long-term prospects for the industry to implement new practices in remote work.
“They are new responsibilities for the companies having a full or partial remote work force and in the long term we’ll need clear government guidelines to structure this trend,” Henry concluded.