Emerging Technologies

Why Latin America should embrace the Internet of Things

Jordi Botifoll
President, Latin America, Cisco
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Latin America faces major challenges in terms of development and competitiveness, but at the same time has a great opportunity to rethink its future and take huge steps forward. The next phase of the Internet, the Internet of Everything (IoE) – a comprehensive ‘nervous system’ of networks that connect people, processes, data and things – offers incommensurate possibilities to transform the region, with important implications for its development, employment and competitiveness.

The Internet of Everything makes networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.

Over 99% of physical objects that may one day be part of the Internet of Everything are still unconnected. With only about 10 billion out of 1.5 trillion things currently connected globally, there is vast potential to “connect the unconnected.” Cisco predicts that $19 trillion of potential value will be “at stake” over the next decade, driven by connecting people-to-people, people-to-machines, machines-to-machines, etc, via the Internet of Everything.

The value at stake is the potential bottom-line value that can be created, or that will migrate among private and public sector companies and industries, based on their ability to harness the Internet of Everything over the next decade. Of these, $860 billion correspond to Latin America. If the IoE is not implemented, this sum may be left on the table. The challenge is clear: the digitization of countries, cities, companies and organizations is an opportunity that Latin America cannot miss; an unprecedented opportunity to make a leap in productivity and competitiveness.

This region, a market of over 600 million people, has strong fundamentals. However, economic and social indicators highlight the need to increase productivity in the region to sustain economic and social momentum. The low rate of growth of the world economy and the changing patterns of investment combined with challenges in education, health, infrastructure and technology are issues to be resolved. Gone was the cycle of major economic growth based on commodity demand and easy credit. We are now in a new cycle where the macroeconomic environment is more complex and difficult and therefore requires structural reforms in the region.

The main challenge for the future in the region is not as economic instability but low growth, which could be around 1-2% annually, which is not enough for the high expectations of the population, especially the emerging middle class. The only way to grow at a higher rate is increasing productivity: improving education, increasing innovation, improving the infrastructure and achieving greater competitiveness. Within this context, the digitization of the region and especially Internet of Everything will play a decisive role.

Leaders of government and cities have very clear and ambitious agendas and digital visions. However, these contrast with reality. According to the latest Global Information Technology Report, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, although they have made progress, are still too low in the ranking. In the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), a measure of 143 countries based on the environment, preparation, use and impact of ICTs, the first country from the region is Chile, occupying the 38th position in the ranking.

Broadband penetration in Latin America is below the world average. This is a limiting factor for the adoption of the Internet of Everything. Countries in the region should implement policies to boost the growth of broadband connections. We believe this is one of the priority factors to increase the productivity and competitiveness of our economies at all levels and improve the quality of life of our citizens.

I invite the leaders of the region to consider the possibilities offered by the Internet of Everything, not only for governments but also for the private sector. The first step is to increase the availability and adoption of broadband, including policies to achieve universal access, affordability, increase digital skills and close the gender gap. Additionally, the region must double its investment in infrastructure in general and in particular in technology to increase productivity. The Internet of Everything also requires a change of mentality and a willingness to innovate.

These are measures to be taken to ensure that the region can enjoy the benefits of the next phase of the internet. Digitization through IoE may be several times greater in magnitude compared to what has gone before it.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015 takes place in Riviera Maya, Mexico, from 6-8 May.

Author: Jordi Botifoll, President, Cisco Latin America

Image: Fiber optic cables carrying internet providers are seen running into a server room at Intergate.Manhattan, a data center in lower Manhattan, in New York, March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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