In all these Digital Talanoa columns, I’ll go on and on about any number of things as they relate to new business, online strategy, customer experience and on a handful of occasions, even potholes. I’m tempted to take on a bit more of a serious note this week for no other reason that it’s been one of those weeks.
I read a quote this week from Walter Chrysler, an American automobile pioneer from the early 1940s. He said, “Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.”
I’ve been thinking about this quote as it relates to business in Fiji and, more specifically, the industry I work in. In the past five years, the emergence of a fledgling ICT industry has certainly been newsworthy. If I had a saqamoli for every announcement about a new ICT business planning to launch yet doesn’t, well...I’d have a lot of saqamolis. We all see the announcements but rarely do we hear the follow up if the idea doesn’t come to fruition. India is often cited as an example of where Fiji could be yet this country is lacking the key components which allowed India’s ICT industry to flourish. Some might disagree but if I’m correct, it means Fiji will need to carve out its own niche.
In the mid 1990s, India was not the ICT centre it is today. The investment made by international companies to build an infrastructure in the late 1990s is what ultimately made a difference. Prior to that growth, it was the technology companies in the United States (mostly) who drove the overwhelming majority of innovation around the world. An article I recently came across described why America was better positioned than India at that time. It pointed out that America had a large domestic market, unlimited access to intellectual capital, low cost communications that worked, a well developed venture capital industry and a culture that rewarded innovation and risk taking. All of these attributes gave America an advantage. With the exception of the large domestic market, India did not have any of the other components.
Let’s ignore for a moment how Fiji compares to India right now in 2008. How does Fiji compare to the India of ten years ago? We do not have a large domestic market, we don’t have access to to a great deal of intellectual capital, our telecommunications costs are coming down a bit but reliability is still not in line with more developed global economies, and there is almost a total lack of venture capital in the country. Most important, in my opinion, is the absence of a culture that rewards risk-taking.
As unfortunate as this may appear on the surface, there continues to be an underlying interest in both promoting ICT projects and developing the industry further and for good reason. There is money to be made for the country and no one can argue that point.
The big challenge we face in Fiji, however, is simply admitting where we might come up a bit short and realising that success is not guaranteed by following India’s playbook. We’ll need to find our own ICT flavour. It’s great to see some companies take the initiative and invest in call centres and BPO businesses here but until the foundations of the ICT industry are more stable, I think we’ll continue to wonder why the industry isn’t bringing in more revenue.
Of all the above-listed advantages India and America have, I believe the biggest challenge faced locally is the absence of a business culture that rewards risk taking and innovation. This is not a blanket comment on the entire workforce, of course. There are some very motivated people in Fiji but compared to the energy brought to the table by a typical, young ICT worker in Mumbai, the differences are glaring.
Ok...the negative stuff out of the way then, what are the positives and what can be done?
Well, there is a desire deep-down in this country for growth and development. No one can argue that the foundation isn’t there. Industry is not born overnight, especially one like ICT which relies so much on human capital and education. The universities must begin to demonstrate and teach their students what they’ll need to compete in the global arena and as an employer in Fiji, I just haven’t seen this happen. So many students walking out of their universities with degrees don’t seem to be able to just sit down and get to work. That’s a problem.
For students, I wouldn’t be waiting for the universities to get their act together either. They have the tools available in order to begin making a difference. If Fiji is going to truly compete with other countries in this industry, it’s going to require a great deal of initiative on the part of students.
Going back to Chrysler’s quote about the lazy man, we need to strive for an industry where such a man doesn’t exist.
From Fiji Times 12 January 2008
Jonathan Segal is the Managing Director and CEO of Oceanic Communications (www.oceanic.com.fj), an advertising, marketing and technology agency in Suva. Feel free to send comments and topic suggestions to email@example.com