I recently saw an interesting guest post on Yashvin’s blog, titled “7 Ideas to Make Mauritius a Cyber Island”. I’ve written on the same topic in the past too, but this post is meant as a reply to and to expand on Yashvin’s guest article.
The ideas mentioned in the post on Yashvin’s blog are mentioned here for simplicity: competition among ISP, removal of VAT on technology items, more international IT companies, improving IT education, computerization of governmental bodies, more emphasis on electronic, mechanic and electric engineering and finally, invest in research.
Good ideas, but the emphasis should be on education first. However…
Education is not sufficient
That’s a fairly big problem. Education alone is not sufficient if you don’t use what you have learnt: you simply forget what you don’t use often. I can’t remember how many times I’ve taught my dad how to attach files in an email. A relatively simple thing: click a button, choose a file, click ok. He never remembers, often forgetting what button to click to start with!
Why is that? Because he rarely sends emails, perhaps once a month at best. Brains are designed like that. Things that are not used often are forgotten while other more common activities are given priority. Attaching a file? Never remembers. Searching for a particular football match on satellite TV? With almost 10 steps to accomplish the task? That he remembers! Why? Because that’s an activity he does very often.
Consider IC3. What does IC3 teach you? To type letters, use spreadsheets and do presentations. Good things, yes? For a student or an office worker. Now, take a bus driver who has just completed her IC3 course. One week after, she knows how to do presentations. How is that useful to her? Does a bus driver make presentations often? I doubt. I am ready to bet that in less than 3 months, she will have forgotten most of IC3. I will also bet that the part she will remember most is how to use the Internet, if she does remember something. Why? Because the Internet is useful to her, to check out videos, Facebook, Loto results or whatever people generally do online.
Making IT useful
So how do we make IT something people use often? By making technology take a center place in people’s lives. Yashvin’s blog proposes to computerize governmental bodies. That’s the way to do it. By providing services.
If the services provided are helpful on a day-to-day basis, people will use them, and they will be motivated to learn the technology required to use the services. Not only will people learn, they will motivate others in their environment to learn too, as the others start appreciating the benefits of servvices being provided.
Teaching people just for the sake of figures, to boast that 300,000 people or whatever are now IC3-educated, is worthless. I believe the approach should be different. Give people a reason to use technology, then after they have started, educate them to use the tool better and discover other tools that could be useful.
The lack of online services
Here is the big problem Mauritius needs to overcome, before calling itself a Cyber Island. The lack of useful services in Mauritius must be filled. Well, we do have a few online services, including online banking, filing your tax forms online, reading newspapers and watching local video programmes, among other things.
However, these things are way too basic, almost a given in today’s times. People were filling forms online in 1999, and it’s only in 2011 (if I remember correctly) that Mauritians were able to fill their tax forms online! Online banking? Yes, through horrible systems that make you jump through hoops just to accomplish simple tasks. Definitely not services that people would be interested in using daily. Useful services, true, but not essential on a daily basis.
So the problem is two-fold: not enough services, and the services already provided tend to have usability issues. Like? Try accessing gov.mu from your mobile. Such a pleasant experience.
A large, large number of useful services. That’s what we’re missing. We hardly have any useful eServices to use! Want proof?
Allow me to list 20 simple things that would be very useful to you, things that you would do almost daily, but are unable to do through technology in Mauritius to start:
- Check live bus schedules to know when the next bus is due, depending on your location. You can still check which bus to take, but not live schedules.
- Get live traffic information so as to avoid congested roads at peak hour.
- Have an electronic travel card, so you don’t have to carry loose change when paying for transport. Just touch the card to a device and you travel.
- Check the stock of a shop / supermarket / bookstore / store from their website.
- If the stock is available, reserve the item for pickup. Otherwise, order and reserve it, with the shop notifying you when your item is ready. This assumes ePayment services are not available.
- Order pizza online for delivery.
- Buy your groceries online.
- Buy something online from a local store, anything at all such as a simple pen.
- Book a seat at your favorite restaurant for a dinner or a seat at the cinema so you don’t have to queue.
- Book a taxi online (or even over the phone – who do you call? 150?)
- Watch a live football match or live programme that is currently being broadcast by MBC online, BBC iPlayer style.
- Top up your mobile from your network provider’s website, and perhaps put a standing order to auto-topup your mobile every month through your credit card.
- Book an appointment with your doctor / optician / mechanic / car retailer online.
- Local search – find the best dhol puri seller in your region according to user reviews.
- Subscribe to a newspaper online, access the full content and download an offline copy to your phone / tablet.
- Get an SMS notification when you have mail waiting for you at the post office / customs
- Search for shops / businesses around you on a map, even Google Map (try “computer shops in Port Louis” as a search query for example, see what you get)
- Get free online videos from the national Universities about general topics of interest, setting aside specialist videos for now
- See what events are being organized by your city / town / municipality / village council and register your participation online.
- Find / Join a sports / activity / hobbies club in your region online.
Convinced that the eServices we already have are not so useful yet? I’ve tried to include only things people do almost daily in the list above. Granted, you yourself probably don’t join a sports club daily, but that’s something people do quite often. These services are probably more useful to your bus-driver. She would probably be more motivated to learn technology if in doing so, she’d be able to use these services (were they available).
You can argue against these point by saying that some of them are available over the phone, such as checking the stock of a shop – you just call. There are no formal commitments by phone. If you reserve online, they will have your details and can pester you if you don’t commit to pick your item or get your seat. You can also manage your reservations and cancellations alone, without having to rely on a person to ensure she got what you want right. Just try booking a cinema seat over the phone in Mauritius and see what happens!
A lack of will
I can’t understand how our local shops can afford not to have websites in 2012. I would understand if the small corner shop doesn’t have a website, but what reason do large companies have?
Let’s see the websites of a few big Mauritian companies, shall we? This is just to illustrate my point, not to badmouth them. But seriously, they should get their game together by now!
United Bus Service (UBS) – No website available through a quick Google search.
J. Kalachand – A big name furniture, electronics, vehicle retailer. Website still under construction.
Jumbo Score Hypermarket – No website that I could find, thus no way to find stock / promotions. Shoprite has a website, but doesn’t list any of the products they sell.
Bookcourt Mauritius – A well-stocked bookstore. No website that lists stock.
Galaxy Mauritius – Website available, with serious usability issues. Prices are listed inside images (not searchable). Some sections just have images, and no prices. Clicking on them just increases the size of the image, without giving a description or price. Copyright notice at the bottom of page shows 2009.
This gives the impression that some of our local companies simply don’t care about their online image and presence.
Fortunately, that’s not the case for other companies, who seem to care more about their online presence. Companies like Orange and Emtel have better designed sites and services. Why can’t I make online topups from their websites? You’d think as local ISPs, they’d be setting the standard for online presence, but sadly, even they lag behind.
Interestingly, the Government of Mauritius might be leading the way towards the introduction of eServices! At least, if you believe all the measures announced in the Budget 2012 will be implemented. Let’s hope they are, and that they inspire the rest to implement their own.
So long as we don’t have meaningful online services, Mauritius cannot claim the title of Cyber Island. You start with the general population. The rest follows. Just to compare with Yashvin’s guest post to finish:
You want to provide eServices? You will need good Internet infrastructure, which encourages competition among ISPs. More companies would want to settle in to provide services if customers are interested. To do so, they would need qualified local labour, which demands increases in IT education standards and investment in research. After companies start providing services, Government would be motivated to follow suit, encouraging computerization of its own services. Just a simple scenario, but you can see how introducing eServices help build the IT sector of a country.
You want to turn Mauritius in a Cyber Island? Start by providing useful services, and getting local companies to provide same. We seriously need our local services to become up and ready. You provide useful services, people start using these services and in the process, learn IT and embrace technology. That’s a “cyber island”, if there’s any such thing.