Liam Donnelly

Digicel’s business solutions general manager, Liam Donnelly

IT’S TIME to be smart. About Health. Education. Mobility. And Security.

And with a global pandemic that has changed work culture overnight, Digicel’s business solutions general manager, Liam Donnelly, believes T&T could be part of their vision of a Smart City.

For Digicel, a smart city encompasses the use of technology to the benefit of the country’s citizens. And the regional telecommunications company believes it has solutions to make this happen.

In an interview with Express Business last week, Donnelly noted that the world is relying heavily on telecommunications to keep people connected.

“To visit your granny basically you have to rely on your phone or via phone, a video call which uses data internet, etc, right? We’ve seen what’s happening with economies around the world, and the call for everybody to try to still pay their bills, access government services, e-learning courses, etc.

“And of course, this basically leans on what Business Solutions has been working on behind the scenes for a number of years actually, the concept of smart cities and smart countries,” he said.

Donnelly said the concept of Smart Cities has been around for nine years but was primarily based on the company’s ICT portfolio.

He noted that Digicel has implemented similar models- in Barbados for its healthcare system and in Dominica, post Hurricane Maria.

“We were contracted by the government to basically rebuild a full network for governments, both fibre and mobile, satellite and wireless and off platform. We’re working with them to build telemedicine, digitised health products. Next education. So e-learning, learning management systems all built on local government infrastructure. So really in earnest, our smart solutions for cities kicked off in 2015- 2016. And it’s progressed ever since then,” he said.

Smart City

So what exactly is a smart city?

“What that means is putting the right type of infrastructure and then digitising, or providing a cloud or software service that basically enables governments or companies to reach their customers through different platforms,” explained Donnelly.

“At the same time, we are also offering more mobility-based solutions. So this would be around smart services. And in the smart services world, you’d obviously have banking and government payments. So registration online, paying tax online, payroll online, and having integrated services back into government,” he said.

Smart Health

To illustrate his idea, Donnelly used the concept of a hospital and digitised patient history

“What we try to do, which we did in Barbados, is to digitise all that paper, or that type of information back into a single platform that allows them work through tablets, or phones or digital computers. What that allows you to do is actually action and give medical advice or medical support in a faster way,” he said.

“The other aspect of smart health is obviously around consultation. And particularly in the Caribbean, I think, you know, we have some great doctors and great institutions, but at all times where we try and reach out to the international community at the best of times, and this allows similar to what we’re doing here is conference calls or consultations with medical doctors who might be more established in a different region. So if you have a specialist within Barbados, who works on neurology, that person could actually be conferenced in to neurology exam here in Trinidad and could give specialist advice or special recommendations on how to proceed with a procedure. And this can be done live in the full surgery environments as well. But that’s just kind of some of the parts that work around digital health,” he explained.

Smart Education

Donnelly observed that in T&T, like the rest of the world, education has migrated online because schools have been closed since March 16.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia said the third school term for the 2020 school year has been abolished.

Donnelly said Digicel has partnered with the Ministry of Education over the last couple of weeks to provide a lot of their content and education services on Digicel’s digital play TV, application and technology.

“Which means now you have nearly 90,000 homes who have access to that information as part of the digital package straightaway. So we did that as a kind of support to the Government during COVID-19. But that kind of gives you a perspective of how you can obviously manage children regardless of what’s happening within the industry or what’s happening within the markets.

“The other aspect of that is it helps governments and/or education institutions track the performance of their students, and particularly within a classroom, which is something we did a couple years ago and Bermuda was helping to manage different students at different levels while still in the same classroom. So we will always have high, high learners, but you will also have children who unfortunately will suffer from certain restrictions or certain abilities. So managing that in the classroom can be very tough for a teacher but we help provide software that allows them to educate at different levels, on different times, so that they never lose the classroom. And which obviously fits a government agenda of never leaving any child behind,” he said.

Smart Mobility

Smart Mobility, obviously helps tie a lot of these things together, he said.

“In the banking industry, so making online payments and the ability for people to transfer, make payments on their phone, as well as to access Government services. And so whether that’s paying your car parking tickets, or speeding tickets, and we work very closely with the Ministry of Works and Transport around their new ticketing system and the process around that. So we’re a network provider as part of that. And we embrace that type of initiative around digital ticketing systems, digital point systems.

“Also registering your license online, your insurance online for the type of mobility services that we try to kind of share with governments or institutions,” he said.

Smart Security

Smart Security is about helping to reduce crime.

Donnelly said that while incidents will happen, the question is about management of people who continuously reoffend. “So having the ability to capture that information in real time, whether that’s through a CCTV camera, whether that’s through a mobile device, so seeing where they operate or move around the country that can be fed into a national security process. But even simple things like your local KFC or your local baker, who might get robbed, having that CCTV or capability to advance and they’re kind of data sharing with the police, so the regular offenders, that type of model and then also obviously maintaining, you know, that kind of safety net around the country that people feel comfortable at home.

“So it obviously extends into the home security at home security and your work office, and all that sort of stuff. There’s a lot more within national security for police, fire and ambulance services around making them more mobile and sharing information. There’s some stuff I can’t talk about it would be highly sensitive for us. And those type of applications as well add a huge amount of value,” he said.

COVID-19’s tipping point

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tipping point for most businesses.

Digicel, said Donnelly, has had a strong uptake actually across all lines of our business which he estimates to be about 40 per cent.

Donnelly observed that both Government and corporate Trinidad and Tobago has had to change the way it works.

“I think we have to aggressively pursue new technology and new ways of doing things. So I think COVID is a catalyst, and I think it’s confirmed for people we need to do this. And I think the world is gonna look very, very different in 12 months time. I think it could be a fun time.

“We have a very large SME base here. And I’m seeing now certainly clothes shops or certain other industries starting to embrace video on online Instagram as a selling vehicle or as a vehicle to generate revenue. And I think you’re gonna see a change there within the marketplace, where people need to be connected all the time to that infrastructure, and it’s gonna create a huge investment to put an effort for the country as well,” he said.

As for Digicel’s reach?

“I think every telecom rganisation will tell you look, we can’t reach every part of the island, but we do have a very large footprint of fibre, and mobile across the whole country. And so from an infrastructure perspective, we don’t have to do very much. And we have to work with governments and ascertain what areas are critical and key for them to reach,” he said.

“I think COVID is one of these things. It’s an extreme circumstance. So it’s an extreme catalyst because everything had to change within a rapid time frame. I think naturally, what we have seen over the last couple years has been a steady increase year on year of a move towards more data services fibre mobile software clients. So it has been steadily progressing year on year and particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, I think there are a lot more parts and on certain levels, I think have been seen. But I think COVID has, like anything has accelerated mightily. And it will change the perspective of how we use an operation,” he said.

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