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Number: 71
Year: 2002
Author: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Title: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age

II. E- Change

ICT has shortened effective time and distances, facilitating the exchange of products, ideas and services across geographical, cultural and time barriers. It is changing the world economy, society, and daily life. No country can ignore the benefits and opportunities to transform society that are available with the tools based on ICT. For maximum benefit, adequate and appropriate policies in ICT are essential requirements for productivity growth and development in the private and public sectors. This must take place with total participation from society in an equitable fashion. The risks of not reaching an equitable development can be counterproductive against the challenges of today.

What is change? One definition points to forces that cannot be controlled, forces that produce new businesses. Change comes in waves, originating with the new technologies, growth, and restructuring of the affected industries. Next come the changes in other businesses as they absorb those technologies. New businesses are started, and traditional practices are overthrown. Societies and governments try to adapt to shifts in the demands for goods and services, investment, skilled workers. All of us change our daily routines in work, recreation, and in the way we interact with others, as we adapt, willingly or under pressure, to the new opportunities. The struggle of daily business will be won by the people and organizations that adapt most successfully to the new world that is unfolding.

Awareness of change is one thing, but the ability to do something about it is quite another. Chapter 1 identifies the management challenges we face in the new economy and explore good practices in greater detail. Briefly, we can identify three waves of technological chance, the first being the Personal Computer (PC) wave, followed by the telecommunications wave, and presently we are in the net-sources wave. Several developing countries, the majority, have watched or are watching these opportunities pass by with few reacting to it. In addition, depending how these waves are added we can have negative or positive feedback. A second question is related to time, that is, when to react? Time is now! As many experts preach, it is better a poor decision than no decision at all.

For nations to compete successfully, it is imperative that they place at their disposal elements of this technology. The degree of success that they experience in economic and social development will be directly proportional to strategic investments in science, technology, information systems and human capital. Countries in Latin-America that do not adapt to the new technological paradigm will face difficulties trying to keep pace socially and economically with the rest of the world, and will be marginalized from the process of integration and globalization.

Positive or negative feedback, what should it be?
  • Latin America and the Caribbean countries need sound, aggressive, long-term, and flexible national policies in Science and Technology (S&T)
  • Degree of success is directly proportional to strategic investments in science, technology, and information systems
  • Countries that do not adapt to the technological explosion will not be able to compete
  • Need Center(s) of Excellence for S&T to enhance the capabilities of industry, government, health and educational institutions
  • International cooperation
  • New Leadership, Partnerships, alliancesamong industry, academia, government and international organizations
  • Assured human and financial resources to sustain a systematic program in education of Science and Technology (S&T)
  • Reform, adapt and enhance curricula considering the new tends in S&T to improve technological abilities. Education should be a life-long process and graduate programs should be increased.
  • Increase capacity for Research and Development (R&D) and give incentives to the academia to promote national and international R&D projects
  • Provide incentives and secure adequate funding and active involvement form private sector
  • Enhance existing and create new infrastructures in Information and Communications Technology
  • Make information universal and in real time
ICT is an effective indicator of the difference between developed and developing nations. More than ever, governments, industry, academia, and international organizations have a social responsibility to their citizens in reallocating resources to dedicate them to science and technology in order to rise standards in education, mobilize market forces and secure a better development for future generations of the 21st century.

A key factor for the success is the instigation of effective procedures for searching, processing, and distributing information in a minimal amount of time. As the evolution occurs from absolute and centralized systems to distributed systems, we find ourselves at a new “renaissance”. Resources must be shared at a national, regional, and global level. These are becoming more limited in the amounts and by the number of growing institutions that compete for them. Strategic alliances (consortia) among academia, industry, government agencies, and international organizations are essential. These must promote project identification, partnering and funding to diversify and expand the capabilities of projects. If done correctly, these alliances will improve the Latin America and the Caribbean profile in S&T by increasing the quantity and quality of publications, production of science, and participation and organization of international forums. These alliances are also important to promote and raise the awareness on the need to create/enhance S&T sustainable policies and infrastructure. S&T needs to form an integral part and be top priority for the economic development and sustainable growth of the region.

Latin America and the Caribbean countries have a second change to integrate among themselves and with the rest of the world through Science and Technology. This agrees with the new multi-lateralism being supported by all nations. By integrating the region we are placing the region in a leading role and provide a response to the challenges from other regions. This new renaissance will create new opportunities for business, academia and governments, will help reduce the existing inequalities and create/enhance the human capital needed for the future. With every day that passes, computer networks become more and more important to the lives of most people. This can be clearly observed in the areas of medicine, education, commerce, the environment, economics, finance, engineering, and security, among other sectors. For instance, ICT is critical in the following areas:
  • Academic activities: Education and Research & Development.
  • Economics, commerce, finance, banking, and venture capital.
  • Linking national and international networks (Internet, Internet2, NGI, vBNS).
  • Linking private networks (Intranets, Extranets).
  • Collaborative technologies, from electronic mail to video- conferencing.
  • Health: telemedicine, remote access to distant areas.
  • Education: distance education, digital and virtual libraries, virtual universities, new technologies.
  • Scientific investigation: climate, energy, and biomedical investigation.
  • National Security: high performance global communications, dissemination of information.
  • Environment: early warning, prediction, alarms and responses.
  • Government: provide services and information to citizens and social sectors of production.
  • Emergencies: response to natural disasters, crisis administration.
  • Design and Manufacturing: production and design engineering.
In summary, an idea of the importance and necessity of ICT for the development of a country and a region can be obtained by observing the following indicators (Piaggesi 1998). It is important to observe that the top 15% of the population are the beneficiaries of this technology, the info-rich or upper class. In Latin America and the Caribbean the number of people currently connected to the Internet are 9 million, it is expected this number to grow to 35 million in the next three years. Another important fact in Latin America and the Caribbean is that 62% of the software is pirated.

Teledensity (telephone lines per 100 inhabitants):
Industrialized countries
> 48%
Countries of medium development
~ 10 %
Countries of lesser development
~ 1.5 %
World average
11.5 %
Informatics Gap (PC’s per 100 inhabitants)
Industrialized countries
>18 %
Countries of medium development
~ 2.3 %
Countries of lesser development
~ 0.01 %
Participation in the IT Market:
Rest of the World

Internet Connectivity (% of population)
Latin America and the Caribbean
Eastern Europe
Middle East
Telephone Internet Access
Wash. D.C.

In the US, statistics indicate that 35% of all families have a PC, 50% of teenagers have a PC, 65% of computers sold are for the home and 90% of them come with a CD-ROM because the users demand multimedia applications. The average new car comes with 50 micro controllers for its control. The Internet has more than 140 million users and it is growing at a rate of 10% per month (Negroponte 1995). Moore’s Law indicates a doubling of performance in computing power every 18 months, and in telecommunications, bandwidth is doubled every 9 months and prices drop by 50%. Also, it takes 18 months to go from and idea to a product in the marketplace, and 90 days to launch a company. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 10 million estimated users, and Internet growth in 1997 was at 250%. With similar projections for future growth, in the year 2000 the number of users will surpass 35 million. The fastest growing area on the Internet is Latin America and the Caribbean and with great opportunities. Only 3% if its population is connected to the Internet, and this represents the info-rich, broadening the digital divide.

Telecommunications and computer equipment are constantly becoming more powerful, less expensive, and more accessible to all. For this reason, we can tackle more complex problems, like climate simulation and modeling, including the effects of weather patterns such as El Niño or La Niña. This increase in compute power permits the processing of large amounts of data such as that obtained by remote sensing. This can be used for the identification and proper administration of natural resources. The solutions to many of the problems of this nature require costly and specific resources that not available to everyone; advanced computer networks are needed to provide access to resources like supercomputers available at distant locations.

Like capital and labor, information is considered a vital factor to production. In the decade of 1980, the information sector amounted from 30-50% of GDP and employment in the developed countries of OECD. This sector will increase to 60% among the European Union countries. In the telecommunications context, this is considered a strategic investment to maintain and develop a competitive advantage at national, regional, and hemispheric levels. Countries and industries that do not have access to modern communications systems will not be able to participate effectively in the global economy, and will not fully develop economically or socially. This is a critical reality to those countries in the region that aspire to become developed (World Bank 1994).