SYLVIA CONSTAÍN

Colombia 2020 | ICT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sylvia Constaín, Minister at the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications, on milestones reached in 2019, 5G in Colombia, and gender diversity.

What were the main areas of focus and milestones in 2019?

2019 was an important year in terms of the development of the telecom sector in Colombia. We had a major overhaul in terms of regulation and framework. The new regulation features several elements that are crucial for the future of Colombia's telecommunications sector. The first element is spectrum allocation, which creates a much more certain environment and allows a greater investment. Under the Law of Modernization of the ICT sector (law 1978 of 2019) our policy has changed from maximizing financial income to maximizing social wellbeing. In 2019, not only we were able to modify the legal framework, we also established a convergent regulator. This was one element that the OECD was particularly insistent on. Notably, we set up the entire spectrum allocation process within a couple of months. We created free internet zones across the country. Nowadays, there are 1,000 of them in rural areas and 870 in urban areas. The government's policy for the sector can be divided between connectivity and digital transformation. We are undertaking the most ambitious social connectivity program that the country has ever seen.

How is Colombia implementing its 5G plan?

Colombia is one of the few countries in the region with a 5G plan. We took a lot of input from different sources and integrate it into our 5G plan. We have already opened an expression of interest process for companies, telecoms operators, and anybody else who has projects that can bring use cases for 5G to Colombia. Once we have those, we will evaluate them and promote them in medium-sized cities. We all know 5G is probably more suited for big cities, but we still encourage thinking out of the box.

What is the ambition of the government for Colombia's digital transformation?

We have the WEF-certified Center For the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Medellin. We are creating a digital ecosystem, connecting certain infrastructure and services to enable sharing and analyzing of information needed for IoT. Our goal is to not just be a participant but a leader in Latin America.

How is the ministry ensuring that Colombia has the talent to bring IoT to real life?

We are working with the Ministry of Education on several initiatives. One such initiative is Coding for Kids, a program that is currently serving 23,000 students in public schools. 30% of these students are from rural areas. In 2020, we aim to cover more than 60,000 students. We need or must to ensure that we have relevant programs in universities and educational institutions to prepare the youth for the future. Employability is at the root of what we do. In 2020, we will also launch the pilot data science course called Data Science for All. We introduced a similar program online for AI in 2019 and remarkably, we received 50,000 applications for 12,000 slots. This shows that Colombians want to learn skills related to the fourth industrial revolution. We are doing this as SENA, which is our technical education organization. We will continue to find new ways to create the optimal digital ecosystem for a digital society.

How are you implementing digital transformation in the public sector?

Things should start at home and that is exactly what we are doing. President Iván Duque Márquez is fully aware of the importance of the fourth industrial revolution, which is why he hired a presidential advisor on digital transformation. Instead of taking small steps forward, we are working with other governments that have successfully applied digital transformation strategies. We adopted the X Road platform from Estonia and the digital government model from México. The digital transformation of the government is based on the fact that what we do has to have an impact on the citizen. We have already launched the beta version of the single government website called gov.co. We redesign processes and ways of doing things before integrating them into the single government platform. Last year, we worked hard on the architecture of the platform and we will push it out to citizens in 2020. We are bringing connectivity to rural areas, and this will change the way people learn, work, and interact with the rest of the world.

What are your goals for the next few years?

My ambition is to connect all the parts of the country. This is a difficult task to achieve in a country like Colombia. Every other sector is building on the IT and communications sector. I cannot imagine any entrepreneur, business, or academic endeavor that does not need this industry to thrive. As digital services become a part of daily life, we have the perfect window to transform into a digital society. Being able to do things like pay taxes digitally will generate curiosity among citizens about other things that the digital ecosystem can provide. We play our part in creating a more equal society.

Can you comment on the gender diversity within the government?

We still have challenges, but the cabinet is a gender parity cabinet. In fact, at present, more women are part of the government, which is in line with the president's vision to create equal opportunities. In the tech sector specifically, gender parity is a challenge as women are underrepresented in terms of CEO and engineers. We are working on policies to make sure we can attract more women to be part of the sector.