Digital postal services, a bridge for small island economies
Posts of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have the potential to support and facilitate vital digital transformations to benefit Posts, economies, and governments, according to global and regional experts who spoke on 26 July at the Universal Postal Union’s webinar “ICT for SIDS: Small posts at the forefront of digital transformation.”
Digitalization brings opportunities and challenges for SIDS, whose markets are limited and distant from the main global ones. Lack of funding and equipment, unstable Internet connection, and gaps in staff skillsets top the list of challenges that impede digital transformation. Still, the panelists see digitalization as vital for SIDS.
“There are many opportunities, many challenges, and hopefully, collectively, as we work together, we can help those countries around the world,” said Rodney Taylor, Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). “Everyone thought that the Internet was the death of postal services. It was quite the opposite.”
The COVID-19 pandemic proved Posts’ ability to adapt their networks to their customers’ needs. “Posts have embraced technology to be able to continue to provide relevant services, government services, e-commerce services, e-payment services, that help the economies of SIDS continue to be relevant,” said Paul Donohoe, Digital Policies and Trade Coordinator at the UPU.
The pandemic accelerated the transition to online services, which could help SIDS overcome some of their challenges related to size and distance, said Andrea Giacomelli, who is Aid-for-Trade and Trade Policy Advisor at the Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the United Nations. “For some services, the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ can be completely eliminated by the application of ICT-enabled technology to commerce,” he added.
Posts, however, are sometimes left out of governments’ development strategies that address digital policies, Donohoe said. Yet when Posts are included, both governments and postal operators perform better.
“At the UPU, we’re really reinforcing our efforts to strengthen the work that we put into Small Island Developing States and encouraging greater awareness among governments and regulators to integrate Posts in their national strategies,” Donohoe said.
Posts can also be incubators of start-ups, providing innovators with access to networks that help them reach everyone in the country. “We’ve seen that in a number of countries around the world where some of the most exciting innovations now are coming out of Nairobi and out of cafes in Nigeria, not from the Silicon Valley,” he added.
Getting to this point, though, requires clear communication about the benefits and data security of ICT, according to Sarai Tevita, ICT Director at the National University of Samoa. “If we don’t change the mindset of our people (…) using the technologies available, then we can’t compete with the world,” Tevita said.
And if Posts can’t compete, private providers will take over, agrees Franklin Sluis, CEO of the Bureau Telecommunicatie en Post, Regulatory Authority Curaçao. “It is not a matter of choice – if we do not take the needed steps towards digitalization today, (…) we will need to hang the ‘Out of Business’ sign forever,” Sluis concluded.
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