In November 2015, The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) and the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) hosted an ICT Sustainability Forum at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre. This event was the culmination of a three year project between both entities which focused on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with the overall objective of improving business performance and competitiveness in the Food and Beverage and Plastics, Printing and Packaging sectors.

As the executing agency, CARIRI had the mission of sensitising over 350 companies; this was the first objective of the project. CARIRI went into the field and found companies that were interested in ICT or those that just wanted to find out more information about technology that could benefit their business.

The second step of the project saw the 350 companies being given an opportunity to have their business diagnosed. This meant that the CARIRI project team went into the individual businesses and did a thorough investigation of their ICT needs and developed a plan on the way forward. A total of 80 diagnostics were concluded.

The final stage of the project was the implementation stage. The proposed systems and software suggested in the previous stage were implemented in the companies. Some of the solutions that were proposed as implementations ranged from point of sale systems to websites to inventory management systems, depending on the nature of the business.

At the ICT Sustainability Forum, Mr Tomas Bermudez, the IDB Country Representative spoke on the tremendous success that has been borne out of the project in the specific sectors and the IDB’s commitment to continuing the ICT implementations is the new sectors.

Although the Minister of Planing and Development, the Honourable Camille Robinson Regis was unable to attend due to last minute commitments, Dr Rickhie Permanand was able to bring greetings and deliver a rousing feature address on her behalf. Dr Permanand spoke about competitiveness and Trinidad and Tobago’s own ranking in the global index, he noted that ICT created a bridge to overcome significant gaps and as a way to improve the country’s ranking.

Mr Liaquat Ali Shah, Chief Executive Officer of CARIRI was able to further expound on ICT but delved into how being innovative can actually thrust you forward into a new way of thinking that can lead to empowerment for you and your business. He further explained that the programme’s purpose was to create a positive intervention with SMES to connect to the dots in order to uplift entrepreneurial capacity and increase competitiveness. He further stated that ICT must always be user friendly and CARIRI has strived to be innovative for such demands by creating easy workable approaches to software and hardware operations.

The highlight of the morning’s proceedings was the panel discussion hosted by Vashtie Dookiesingh, Multilateral Investment Fund Specialist at the IDB. This session was entitled ‘Beneficiaries Speak’, and the persons on the panel actually went through the three stages of this project and spoke about their experiences and their interaction with the CARIRI team. They all agreed that CARIRI aimed to understand their business rather than just providing ‘consultations’; they were happy with the results and stated that that they would definitely recommend this project to their partners. Also in high praise of CARIRI, Ms Dookiesingh said that CARIRI was adaptable to the consistent changes that took place working with different businesses and congratulated CARIRI for a steady governance and management system.

CARIRI team members were also able to showcase a few of the software that were developed in-house as a result of their experiences on the various projects. Specifically, CARIRI has successfully developed an application known as the CARIRI Box that is geared towards the health sector. This mobile application allows medical practitioners to access their patient databases on the go. This is just one of the many innovations that CARIRI is working on.

From the feedback received over the last few days, the programme was much needed and it was well accepted by the participants who were looking forward to the next session to be held by CARIRI and the IDB.