It won’t be the strongest or the most intelligent species that survive and flourish as a result of digitalisation; it will be those most adaptable to change.
That was the message of Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin as he cited Charles Darwin and his scientific book, “On the Origin of Species,” when delivering the opening address to attendees of the one-day Cayman Islands Digital Economy Conference at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa on June 21.
Noting that the Cayman Islands of today bears little resemblance to the Cayman Islands he grew up in, McLaughlin said the country had to nevertheless embrace the changes technology is bringing to the world.
“Whether we live in Belarus or the Cayman Islands, the pace of change is increasing and we must not only keep up, but we must also ensure that we utilise emerging new tools and technology to our advantage,” he said.
McLaughlin said the Cayman Islands is embracing e-government in a way that supports the needs of businesses and positions the country as the jurisdiction of choice “for a new breeding ground of financial services business whose innovations are changing the traditional face of the financial services sector.”
He also said the government wants to ensure that residents benefit from the technological advances of e-government. He cited the recent introduction of services that allow residents to apply online for police clearance certificates, drivers’ licences and motor vehicle registrations. Other e-government initiatives, such as creating a digital identification that could prove a person is Caymanian and potentially also serve as a voter ID and driver’s licence, are also under consideration.
“The potential, we believe, is great,” he said. “We intend to make a lot of progress over the next three years to move our e-government initiatives forward and ensure that government is doing its part for Cayman’s digital economy.”
Transition to e-government
Arvo Ott, one of the morning speakers, helped the country of Estonia establish one of the world’s most dynamic e-government models with an initiative started in 1993. Ott said Estonians have embraced their “e-way of life” and research has shown they save one entire working week every year by using e-government services.
“It terms of economic effect, that’s 2 per cent of the GDP,” said Ott.
Converting a country to e-government, however, is more than just implementing new hardware and software solutions.
“People think e-government is all about technology, but there are also a lot of non-technical issues — political and conceptual issues — that arise,” he said. “The main challenges are in organisation and planning, not in money or technology.” In Estonia, the banks were a driving force in pushing e-government, Ott said. Getting people to learn and use e-government services wasn’t difficult.
“Fees are a good way to motivate people to use e-services for banking and government,” he said, explaining that many services that are free online now have a fee if done in person.
There’s also attractive time savings. One example is the time savings of establishing a company online in Estonia. Ott said it takes only 30 minutes to establish a company online and 510 minutes to do the same thing in person, a savings of 480 minutes — an entire working day.
Speaking about the Cayman Islands e-government initiatives, Director of e-Government Ian Tibbetts said there were four main objectives: improving customer experience for all; reducing cost and time to all parties; improving the perception and competitiveness of the Cayman Islands Government and the jurisdiction; and consolidating government and enabling a joined-up approach to policy and service delivery.
Although some in the community think that one of the first e-government initiatives — applying for a police clearance online — hasn’t been as valuable as it could be because people still have physically pick it up, Tibbetts said only the first of three phases of the project are in place now.
“There are two more phases to come that will be just as beneficial and exciting as the first one,” he said.
Several of the speakers acknowledged that adopting e-government would bring challenges. Some government employees working in front-line services will have to be redeployed. Adopting an e-voting system would require earning the public’s trust that the system would work and produce honest results.
Speaker Giles Watkins said digitalisation — the fourth industrial revolution — is the merging of the digital and physical worlds.
“It sounds kind of creepy and science-fiction-like, but it’s happening without a doubt,” he said. “Technology is a fundamental game-changer in many industries.”
One of those industries is financial services. Watkins cited a 2017 PwC report that found that 77 per cent of global financial institutions plan to adopt blockchain technology by 2020.
“They did not say they were going to give it a try,” he said. “They said they were going to adopt it.”
Watkins offered a prediction that the world was going to see “the tokenisation of everything,” including cryptocurrencies, crypto commodities, crypto securities, property tokens and decision tokens.
“There will be instantaneous settlement of all kinds of transactions.”
The advancements won’t impact only the financial services industry, he said. “The impact in non-financial services is going to be absolutely huge. This technology can be revolutionary in many areas,” he said, citing medical research and e-voting as examples.
Before all that can happen, however, Watkins said there needs to be more mature and stable technologies, trusted exchanges and legal and regulatory clarity.
“All this technology is nothing without trust,” he said. “And you can’t forget ethics. There are some really nasty moral challenges people are going to have to reckon with.” As an example, Watkins spoke about a hypothetical situation where a self-driving car has to make a choice of either getting into an accident that is likely to kill the occupants of the car, or veering and killing a pedestrian. Programming the car’s response is a moral dilemma, Watkins said, wondering if insurance companies’ interests then come into the decision.
The shift to a digitised economy is unstoppable, a panel of experts concluded during the conference. For example, Jason Blick, the CEO of EQI, said it was inevitable that more people would be using blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin in the future.
“You can now buy a cup of coffee with cryptocurrency in the Brisbane airport,” he said. “Our staff prefer to get paid in Ether than with other currencies.”Watkins said the Cayman Islands has everything in place to enable the market in blockchain technology, an opinion with which Blick agreed.
“Cayman is clearly positioned to become a think tank in this space,” Blick said.
Paul Byles, the founder and director of FTS Cayman, said one of the reasons he organised the conference was to bring professionals from various segments of the Cayman Islands community together to discuss the digital economy opportunities and plan for the future.
“Our competitors are already taking steps and we need to get the broader community on board so we can get our policies and plan in place,” he said.