THE CIRCUIT BOARD

Colombia 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alberto Samuel Yohai, President of the Colombian Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications, on the organization's role in the ICT sector, coordinating with the Ministry of ICT, and important developments in the sector.

Alberto Samuel Yohai
BIOGRAPHY
Alberto Samuel Yohai was founder and president for SAY Solutions. He has been a director and member of several boards including Financial Engineering Colombia, Room33 Colombia, Satellite Networks, the Chamber of Commerce Colombia-Israel and JackBe Corporation, among others. He has been characterized as an entrepreneur known for his dynamism and international business experience, focused on the telecommunications world, and on introducing new technologies to the market. He has also worked with Ericsson Telecom in Stockholm and Mexico City, the Embassy of Colombia in Spain and the World Bank (IFC) in Washington, DC. Since June 2012, he has served as the CEO of the Colombian Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications (CCIT).

The amount of affiliated companies has now risen to 69 from just 25 a few years ago. What explains this increase in membership?

The CCIT has existed since 1993. And as with much else in business, trade associations are also cyclical. When I arrived there were twenty-six member companies. All of them were relevant in terms of the Colombian ICT sector—but few in number. Over the past two and a half years we have grown almost three-fold to 69 companies, which of course brings me satisfaction by confirming that people have confidence in what we do. These numbers show that there is no better way to add value than through a trade association such as CCIT. Our vision statement is that, with the ample and proper use of ICT—telecommunications, internet, hardware, or software—we will be able to better the lives of all the Colombians in both rural and urban areas. It means creating employment, and providing online education, e-health, and all types of vertical solutions that can tremendously impact the quality of life in Colombia. We exist to promote orderly growth of the ICT sector. That means combating software piracy, where Colombia still has a high share of illegal software in use at over 50%. This has to be addressed to spur local IT development.

How effective a job of coordinating are the CCIT, the Ministry of ICT, and other bodies doing to ensure orderly and equitable sector growth?

On most occasions, we see eye to eye with the government. That being said, ours is a private trade association. Our bylaws stipulate that for a company to be a member, it must be subject to over 50% private sector voting. We think that Minister Molano and his team have done a fantastic job over the past four years with their first Live Digital Plan, and that the second plan is also on track in terms of stimulating demand. However, they must remember the importance of supply, which is what the first four years were all about.

What would you say are the main points of consensus between yourselves, the Ministry, and your affiliate companies regarding the types of technology you intend to focus on over the coming few years?

There is a general consensus in terms of the convergence of IT and Telecom. We have been talking about convergence in the market for fifteen years now. We cannot think of networks alone, and need to incorporate IT security. The Colombian government has drafted a plan to directly invest a portion of mining industry royalties into the ICT sector. Accordingly, 10%, amounting to about $1.25 billion, is destined for projects related to science, innovation, and technology. We need to ensure that the private sector, and specifically our member companies, are comfortable undertaking joint projects with the public sector. Given a medium-term investment in terms of human resources and brainpower, key projects to the tune of $1.2 billion have the potential to materialize.

What areas of the Colombian ICT sector are of the greatest interest to international investors?

CCIT proudly represents companies from 18 countries. We have four chapters: operators, telco providers, IT companies, and content providers. Colombian entrepreneurship will present a tremendous opportunity moving forward. We maintain regular contact with Minister Molano and various public entities regarding the creation of the necessary ecosystem to start a company, develop and implement an idea, create an application, present a new business model, and so on. There is no reason to hesitate before investing in Colombia.