Each year since 2000 the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) has published an annual e-readiness ranking of the world’s largest or fastest growing economies, with the 2007 edition encompassing 69 countries.

“E-readiness is the ‘state of play’ of a country’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and the ability of its consumers, businesses and governments to use ICT to their benefit … e-readiness derives from more than just the number of computers, broadband connections and mobile phones in the country; also critical are citizens’ ability to utilise technology skilfully, the transparency of the business and legal systems, and the extent to which governments encourage the use of digital technologies.” (The 2007 e-readiness rankings: Raising the bar, a white paper from the Economic Intelligence Unit)

While Barbados is not yet included in the list, a review of its performance over the past decade or so shows tremendous strides and significant progress under each of the six categories now used by the EIU to evaluate the technological, economic, political and social assets of nations, namely:

  • Connectivity and technology infrastructure
  • Business environment
  • Social and cultural environment
  • Legal environment
  • Government policy and vision
  • Consumer and business adoption

The basic premise of the EIU definition of e-readiness is that each country possesses an interconnected set of infrastructural, political, commercial, legal and social attributes that, when combined effectively, help the economy to grow and government and society to improve (i). However it is critical to remember that rapidly changing technologies and business and consumer imperatives mean that the measures used to determine success have also metamorphosed with time in order to remain relevant, current and practical.

Like many other small developing-country governments, Barbados has recognised the future for digital commerce and has made significant investments in ICT and in many aspects of e-government. This commitment is critical since as the EIU notes: the role of the government as a promoter and adopter of ICT was a key determinant in whether countries moved up or down [in the e-readiness ranking].

A brief review of the Barbados situation is instructive:

Connectivity and technology infrastructure

This category looks at the extent to which individuals and businesses can access mobile networks and the Internet primarily in terms of penetration and affordability. Metrics include penetration of PCs, mobile phone subscriptions, overall Internet users and affordability of broadband Internet accounts as indicative of the extent to which voice and data services are accessible to a country’s residents.

The trend in terms of penetration of phones and mobiles (1,265 per thousand), Internet users and PCs in households in Barbados is shown in the graph below and demonstrates a tremendous increase during the past five years, significantly narrowing the gap between Barbados and the established e-readiness leaders Denmark and the US, where the numbers per 1000 people are 1,629 and 1,286 respectively(ii).

The affordability of the lowest-priced broadband subscription, measured as a percentage of the median monthly household income, is used by EIU as another measure of digital service affordability. On this score Barbados continues to advance (particularly during the last 2-3 years) as it strives to achieve more globally competitive levels. This metric is expected to further improve as new players, i.e. utility companies and cable companies, have entered the market in the past few years offering alternative broadband capability at competitive prices.

Business environment

This category is intended to present a comprehensive and forward-looking view of each country’s attractiveness as a trading economy and as a destination for business investment from 2007-11. The criteria include such factors as the strength of the economy, political stability, taxation provisions, competition policies, the labour market and openness to trade and investment.

Once again, in most of these areas Barbados continues to enjoy an enviable reputation, one that has grown steadily during the past decade. With an economy with a BBB+ rating from Standard & Poor’s (albeit down from A- approximately four to five years ago) and political stability renowned in the Caribbean and globally since political independence 40 years ago, Barbados also measures up well in this respect. Specific recent initiatives on the part of the government which can only enhance this standing include the formation of Invest Barbados, an entity designed to foster and encourage trade and investment in services with a mandate to develop, market and promote international business, both in traditional forms of investment and in new and indigenous sectors, and steady planned phased reductions in levels of personal and business taxation since 2002.

The labour market continues to be a stable one, in no small part due to the maturity and pragmatism of the original architects of and current participants in the unique, longstanding and successful tripartite social partnership between the public sector, private sector and trade unions. The Government has also maintained positive policies towards private enterprise, an enlightened foreign investment policy and creative and imaginative foreign trade and exchange regimes.

Social and cultural environment

The composition of the criteria in this category reflects the critical reality that literacy and basic education are preconditions for utilising Internet services effectively. The category also takes into account a population’s literacy – its experience using the Internet and its receptivity to it – and the technical skills of the workforce. Specific criteria include the level of education, level of Internet literacy, the degree of entrepreneurship/innovation and the technical skills of the workforce.

By any measure education and literacy are two areas in which Barbados has invested and excelled over the years, with the adult literacy rate being one of the highest in the world (99.7% in 2006 up from 97.4% in 1995). The Government of Barbados also currently spends 6.9% of GDP on education (2006) and 16.4% of total government expenditure, both of which compare favourably with, and actually exceed, both Canada and the US.(iii)

Expenditure on Education 2006
as a % of GDP

BarbadosCanadaUnited States
6.95.25.9

as a % of total government expenditure

BarbadosCanadaUnited States
16.412.515.3

The Barbados Government has also invested heavily in IT education programmes. EDUTECH, which started in 1997 aimed at primary and secondary schools, provided computers for each classroom, thereby ensuring that students who leave the system have reasonable familiarity with ICT and adequate skills in using it.

In seeking to increase e-literacy, the Ministry of Social Transformation has also set up a number of centres around the island where individuals with no access to technology and the Internet can learn how to use ICT and can also use it for their personal and educational development. The Government has further increased the number of centres nationally by also using a number of the EDUTECH schools for that purpose outside of school hours.

Finally, the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies have excellent degree and certification programmes in place, while the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity (BIMAP) and the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic also have specific technical IT and computer programmes. These investments have produced and continue to produce a knowledgeable workforce that is highly skilled in IT and able to support e-commerce and other technology-enabled business.

However, areas in which Barbados has not performed as well over the years are innovation and entrepreneurship and this has been recognised by the Government. A number of initiatives and incentives have therefore been identified not only in the recently published (2007) Barbados’ National ICT Strategic Plan (NISP) but also in the National Strategic Plan (NSP 2006 – 2025) itself, which envisages – a society symbolised by creativity, innovation, productivity, entrepreneurship and intellectual excellence, in which the arts flourish and all enjoy a rich cultural life.

Legal environment

This category reflects those legal frameworks that directly affect the use of digital technology to inform, communicate and transact business, and recognises that e-business development depends both on a country’s overall legal framework and on specific laws governing Internet use. Barbados enacted its Electronic Transactions Act over five years ago in 2001, one of the first Caribbean countries to do so. In addition it recently passed the Computer Misuse Act with the Data Protection and Privacy Act expected to be enacted later in 2007. These enactments bring Barbados into the 21st century with respect to legal recognition of electronic records, penalties for abuse and misuse of information and recognition of the paramount importance of privacy and confidentiality of personally identifiable information (PII).

The number of organisations actually engaged in e-commerce in Barbados (40%) has almost tripled between 2002 and 2006 (iv) although it still lags behind corporate e-commerce penetration in many countries in North America and Europe. Moreover, the Barbados Government continues to be proactive in the creation and enhancement of the legal frameworks required to cater to Internet commerce and intellectual property protection. However, just as importantly, it has also been diligent in trying to create a legal atmosphere, which seeks to minimise abuses including provisions in areas such as consumer protection.

Government policy and vision

This category is centred around the EIU premise that an e-ready government supplies its constituents, both citizens and organisations, with a clear roadmap for the adoption of technology and also leads by example in its use of technology to create efficiencies.

This is another area where in some respects Barbados performs strongly. As the NSP document indicates, the nation is already well on the way to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (v) and associated targets by 2015. Throughout this document are specific indications of instances where technology is recognised as a key enabler in achievement of many of the targets. This is further evidenced in the NISP published in 2007 which sets out specifically the activities and projects the government plans in order to achieve its ICT vision To transform Barbados into a major information, communications and services’ hub where progressive technology sectors are nurtured and where innovation fuels efficiency, drives competitiveness, strengthens export capacity, stimulates local knowledge creation, empowers citizens, preserves security and sustains equitable growth (vi).

The Digital Opportunity Index (DOI) is a new International Telecommunication Union (ITU) metric that assesses a country’s progress in creating digital opportunity and bridging the digital divide (vii). On this index Barbados ranks 38 out of 180 countries globally and in this hemisphere is only surpassed by Canada (14), the US (21), and Bahamas (30).

Consumer and business adoption

This category reflects EIU’s belief that while connectivity, societal adoption and legal and policy environments are necessary enabling platforms for e-readiness, another important indicator of successful implementation is the actual utilisation of digital channels by people and companies.

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in ICT usage in Barbados by both individuals and businesses. Many banks now allow customers to complete transactions on-line including transferring between accounts and payments for credit cards and utilities. Supermarkets and other local retail sites also allow for on-line ordering (with subsequent delivery) for an increasingly varied basket of goods.

The Barbados Government has itself kept pace by providing increasing numbers of digital channels for accessing government services. This is best exemplified by the National Insurance Portal which provides all citizens and businesses with on-line access to their individual accounts, where they can view contributions credited, track the status of claims, claim refunds, use the benefit estimator to approximate the value of the benefit claims (pensions at retirement age as well as short term) based on current contributions, submit their earnings electronically and clarify or correct erroneous information in real-time and interactively. In addition, the Barbados Integrated Government Portal (BIG) is now in place and allows citizens and businesses to carry out, on-line, a variety of enquiries and transactions with many Government departments i.e. Customs, Philatelic Bureau, etc.

Closing thoughts

As the preceding paragraphs have indicated, with respect to e-readiness Barbados is keeping pace and measuring up well in many areas. Indeed it scores nearly top of the class worldwide for a few of the metrics, a commendable feat in light of its developing country status. However, given the ambitious goals set for itself from a developmental perspective, and the critical role that ICT and e-capability have in today’s interconnected and globally competitive world, it is apparent that the Government cannot rest on its laurels but must continue to demonstrate its commitment to digital development, not only through broad policy, but also in practical ways such as delivering public services to its citizenry and businesses via electronic channels and encouraging the private sector to do the same.

In short, as a country Barbados must deliver on the objective so clearly stated in the national ICT plan – to redesign services in ways that empower citizens, guests, businesses and international clients with the goal of establishing Barbados as an advanced information or knowledge-based society. This means using the Internet and evolving digital ICTs to improve transparency, service quality, competitiveness, and community development.”

(i) The 2007 e-readiness rankings: Raising the bar, a white paper from the Economic Intelligence Unit 2007

(ii) World Bank – ICT at a glance. http://web.worldbank.org/wbsite/external/datastatisticsStrategic Plan of Barbados 2006 – 2025: Global Excellence, Barbadian Traditions, 2006

(vi) National ICT Strategic Plan – Mobile Barbados: Building the Networked Nation, 2007

(vii) World Information Society Report 2006, International Telecommunication Union

(iii) UNESCO Institute for Statistics http://stats.uis.unesco.org

(iv) KPMG Information Security Survey, 2006 and 2002

(v) National

About the Authors

Brenda Pope
Brenda Pope -

Partner Advisory Services, KPMG Barbados

Ian Wood
Ian Wood -

IT Advisory, KPMG