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Colombia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: SOFTWARE

Colombia's ICT sector has established a reputation for regulatory discipline and a skilled workforce capable of raising the volume of software solutions and interested investors alike.

The fact that Colombia got the nod as a 'leading country in defining ICT policies' at the 2012 Barcelona Mobility Fair 2012 confirms dedicated government efforts toward promulgating the use of technology and fostering the level of entrepreneurship that will drive the economy over the decades to come. US market research outfit IDC data reveals that between 2007 and 2012 IT sector revenue in Colombia rose 177% to $6.8 billion. For 2013 hardware took the lion's share of total tech market at 58%, with software on 12% and services on 30%. Meanwhile, Colombia Reports has indicated YoY ICT and software sector growth of 170% over the past five years.

ICT in its broadest sense is a core component of the “Bring IT On" campaign championed by Proexport Colombia, keen to identify the nation as an address for IT solutions and software. IDC foresees Colombia's IT and software sector expanding from $3 billion to $6 billion by 2018. Indeed, behind Brazil and Mexico the nation is already in the third spot on the Latin American podium. One result Proexport Colombia expects is increased foreign investment in the sector. The results were there to see, when in February of 2014 US software giant Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) launched direct national operations in Bogotá. The firm produces widely implemented Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Location Analytics software voicing its “commitment to the local economy."

Many citizens in Colombia are unbanked, and the drive is on to reverse this trend through software solutions and mobile services. These software solutions also extend the facilities available to the banked citizen, a prime example being Medellín-based MYTIC, recipient of undisclosed investment from international venture capital company GITP Ventures. The MYTIC product that largely attracted attention is Finaxion, a financial software platform devised to link people seeking loans with the most appropriate financial institution, remotely.

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Colombia's service sector accounts for over 50% of GDP, a large portion of which is accounted for by ICT-related businesses, including outsourcing (alone accounting for 55% of GDP). A major challenge to the vendors of original products, and potential danger to its users is pirated software. This not only curbs revenue stream, but also jeopardizes the content integrity of firms that use illegal copies. Aware of this, the government has taken the swash-bucklers to task to the extent that Colombia's software piracy rate had dropped to the 2nd lowest in its region of 52% 2013—down 1 percentage point (pp) rise from 2011. And yet the sector witnessed a revenue drain of close to $400 million according to Software Alliance (BSA) research cited to Colombia Today. The regional average was 59% (amounting to an $8.4 billion loss), and the lowest figure was registered by Brazil, at 50%. Meanwhile, the bi-annual study revealed the global rate of unlicensed software at 43% in 2013, marking a 1pp rise from 2011. By comparison the worst offender in 2013 was the Asia-Pacific region at a felonious 62%, up 2pp from 2011, and syphoning a staggering $21 billion from the formal economy. Meanwhile, the US, tough on piracy, and the lowest offender, still registered 19% software theft. Be it ironic or predictable, a full half of the 24,000 respondents themselves had installed unlicensed software at their businesses.

Colombia boasts a highly skilled technical workforce, with its second major city, Medellín, having become something of a high-tech hub, attracting foreign investment and developing solutions that cater to sectors from finance to call centers and IT outsourcing. The government's watchful countering of piracy, and its programs to expand access to technology will keep Colombia's modem well and truly on.