|Issue:||Latin America 2007|
|Topic:||E-commerce: gateway to business solutions|
|Author:||the Hon. Manniram Prashad|
|Title:||Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce|
The Hon. Manniram Prashad is Guyanaís Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce; he served as the Presidential Advisor on Investment and Trade at the Office of the President prior to his appointment as Minister. Additionally, Minister Prashad served as the Chairman of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Guyana National Shipping Cooperation and Property Holdings Guyana Ltd and Vice Chairman of the Guyana Office for Investment and Caribbean Export Development Agency (Barbados). He was also President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Director of the Pegasus Hotel and the Guyana Airways Cooperation and a member of the University of Guyana Council. An established businessman, he served in a managerial capacity at the Guyana Trinidad Mutual and Hand in Hand Insurance Companies and later established his own insurance brokerage for local and oversees clients.
E-commerce is growing rapidly. Its growth closely parallels the evolution of information and communication technology and the availability of the appropriate ICT infrastructure in each region. As the number of Internet users grows, e-commerce grows. For many developing countries, e-commerce is often the only viable way to reach new markets with local goods. Governments in these countries need to align their policies and regulations with the new market reality and encourage investment in the infrastructure needed to make it flourish.
Trade, investment and business, regionally and internally, continue to grow rapidly at an ever-increasing rate. Since the universal introduction of the Internet, which propelled electronic commerce, commonly known as e-commerce, people from all over the world have to capitalize upon, and maximize, the use of technology to do business. They realise that the union of computer and telecommunication technologies has revolutionised the way information for business is obtained, stored, retrieved and transmitted throughout the world. Global consumers from various walks of life constantly use the options provided by e-commerce to roam and explore the market. They locate sellers, evaluate products and services, compare prices and ascertain what is influencing the local and international markets. Without any doubt, a culture of e-activity continues to emerge as millions of homes and offices are connected with email and Internet services. In this era of immense change and development, competition in the market takes place at a level that only those who are technologically equipped will be able to manage effectively and successfully. This will increase as e-commerce continues to impact society as a whole and the very nature of the way business is transacted. Management and development The managers of successful businesses understand the role of e-commerce in this dynamic era of technological advancement. Consequently, they position themselves to effectively impact the market place. What is important to note is that the managers of many new Internet-based companies and traditional producers of goods and services are deliberately working to transform their business processes into e-commerce processes in an effort to lower costs, improve customer service and increase productivity. These attempts of e-commerce managers have resulted in varying degrees of success, but they understand that while there are common features and benefits involved in the process, each business must craft its own strategy to suit its unique needs. Countries at the forefront that have emerged as leaders in e-business services have shown high levels of Internet literacy of 50-60 per cent of the population, a high per capita ICT spending, and mobile penetration of 80-90 per cent. These, and other critical factors combined with effective technological leadership, promote a favourable environment for companies wishing to invest in online operations. Undeniably, there are wide ranging policy issues, which will, to a large extent, contribute and influence the future of e-commerce as a valid, viable tool and strategy in the business arena. Benefits and advantages E-commerce has brought about a revolution as significant as, and arguably even greater than, the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. This may be so as the underlying technologies involved in e-commerce are evolving at such an astronomical rate that the realities of its impact are continually felt in every home, business, government office, religious circle and market place. Geographical boundaries and logistical barriers have relentlessly diminished since the introduction of e-commerce. It no longer matters whether your business is situated in the heart of a thriving shopping centre or in a small, obscure location. What really matters now is the quality and availability of products in a secure, user-friendly environment. Thus, the successful e-commerce organization is versatile and provides users with an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It allows people to exchange goods and services immediately with no barriers of time or distance. This means that any time of the day or night and from any location, a consumer can access the market to locate or buy any services or products of their choice. Through e-commerce, a level playing field is provided for the smaller businesses to position themselves at a higher level of competitiveness and international recognition. This is significant because millions of people all around the world who use the World Wide Web view products marketed and showcased on websites. For example, people living in a city or those passing though the city itself might visit a furniture or car showroom there. An online business, though, stands a chance of appealing to a wider market because of the great number of people who actively search the net on a daily basis. Consequently, a business whether large or small is more likely to benefit from engaging in e-commerce since the modern technology offers exposure to a much broader market than otherwise available. The fact of the matter is that we have moved far beyond the fascination and convenience of electronic services to a domain of commercialized operation. There is no longer debate – e-commerce is quickly reshaping the way businesses operate and rewriting established practices and customs within the business sector. Challenges and setbacks What are some of the challenges and setbacks in relying on such an e-commerce system? This critical question must be posed and answered. To my mind, one of the most basic challenges is successfully devising a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework that addresses consumer rights, taxation, trade relations, intellectual property and data protection among other significant issues. The implementation of such a framework will serve to establish a more secure e-commerce environment for businesses, users and consumers alike. We need to recognise that in this part of the world, e-commerce and Internet largely rely on what is still a developing telecommunication system. Therefore, any expansion of e-commerce, as we seek to connect the world, will call for a well-defined national ICT strategy to provide enhanced data and telecommunication services, as a positive correlation exists between growth and per capita ICT investment. From a regional standpoint, strategies and protocols have been formulated, thus paving the pathway for an advanced ëinfo-structureí connected to and supporting the economy. The potential benefits of e-commerce to countries in the region are numerous and eclipse likely setbacks. The region, therefore, stands to gain significantly through increased employment and improved lives, enhanced business efficiency, reduced cost and improved customer services, reduced supply chain costs and economic advancement for all. Future of e-commerce The question on the minds of some potential investors and managers of businesses is what will the next decade and beyond look like on the global e-commerce scene? Experts forecast a bright future for e-activity, with e-commerce further confirming itself as the foremost sales and market development tool. In developing countries such as Guyana, the infrastructural framework – in terms of connectivity, reliability and affordability – plays a pivotal role in how quickly the nation can enhance its e-readiness. In a number of countries, policies and legal frameworks for ICTs are still in their infancy, but there remains a strong commitment by various heads of government to provide the leadership necessary to make e-commerce a sustainable and more viable option. There are no doubts that e-commerce, which has become a common denominator connecting businesses all across the world, is here to stay.