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Artificial Intelligence – The Future of Business Operations

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Ready or not, here it comes! Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an ever-present reality that no one should ignore. At first, there were warnings of the imminent danger of AI on the longevity of traditional jobs and occupations. But now, as the extent of the machine learning revolution becomes known, the attitude shifted toward acceptance.

Inevitably, with the advent of artificial intelligence, certain traditional jobs will go extinct. Businesses will be forced to change their systems to incorporate AI as a normal part of their production processes. This change or adaptation means retooling, reallocating human resources, and retraining staff. This process, however, costs money that few Jamaican businesses can afford.

So, is Jamaican businesses ready for artificial intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is good for Business, Economy

What started out as warnings against the inevitable take over of human jobs by intelligent machines has now become pleas for the government to put in place policies and mechanisms to embrace AI. This attitude shift occurred within five years.

In 2018, then Minister of Science, Energy, and Technology Dr. Andrew Wheatley acknowledged that with more powerful technologies available, business process operations are transforming. Technologies including cloud computing, software and automation, and social media are increasingly used by businesses to reduce costs and accelerate growth.

Studies, including one cited by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in a report this year, suggest that artificial intelligence will boost the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Risks of Job Losses but AI is Inevitable

That study, done for the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL), however, presented the risks of job losses in the region. Approximately 10 to 65 percent of the region’s labour force is at risk of losing jobs to AI. In the Latin American region alone, the estimated job loss is between 36 and 43 percent.

On the other hand, Jamaica, with its lower gross domestic product (GDP) and greater inequality is at higher risk of significant job losses.

Naturally, Jamaica cannot afford to reverse any gains it has achieved over the last five years in its employment numbers. Not when the mantra of the government is job creation, job creation, job creation! According to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), the country’s unemployment rate in January 2019 was an encouraging 8.0 percent (in April 2018 it was at 9.7 percent).

Closer examination of the sectors accounting for the growth in employment in Jamaica’s workforce points to the increase in jobs in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. That is the explosion of “call center” jobs, particularly for young persons.

That said, the World Economic Forum and the IDB’s prediction that the global adaptation of advanced technology will create major labour market shifts as early as 2022 should be taken seriously by Jamaica’s government and the private sector. There is no question that the adaptation of artificial intelligence in business and other processes is inevitable.

More Funding Needed for the Sciences

Former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding in an address to the graduating class at Ardenne High School in 2018, cited the need for additional funding in science and technology fields. The need for more funding in these areas has been made many times before. Apparently, the desired level of funding has not materialized. Then again, student preferences remain fixed in traditional areas, rather than in the sciences.

Evidently, Jamaicans have a morbid fear of mathematics and the sciences. To get the typical student to embrace STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) seems like a tall order. Very few secondary and tertiary students excel in these subjects. Secondary students who managed to matriculate into tertiary education with maths and science subjects soon find the cost of completing their degrees rather daunting. Consequently, some students dropped out or switched their majors to survive.

While access to funding is a pressing concern for the development of science and technology in Jamaica, flaws in the education system and the quality of STEM subject teachers are to be addressed as well. In order to push Jamaica into the 21st century of technology, radical changes in the island’s educational system are, therefore, necessary.

New Occupations with Machine Learning

Jamaicans need to equip themselves to take advantage of the many opportunities created by the fusion of technologies. But this will be a tall order that requires a higher level of commitment for the long haul.  But as the saying goes, “delay is danger“.  The evolution of machine learning is moving to replace humans in certain functions. Such functions as customer service, retail, information and data processing, analysis, will become jobs for machines.

In its study,  Future of Jobs 2018,  the World Economic Forum suggests that machines programmed for pattern recognition and the ability to function without humans are on the horizon. At the same time, smart machines will replace humans in other jobs. One of its key findings, however, is that AI and other technologies will drive advances in automation and create new occupations. The study estimates that 75 million jobs worldwide may be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between machines and humans. Concurrently, 133 million new roles may emerge.

New Skills Required

Naturally, there will be changes in the kind of skills necessary to perform new functions in conjunction with machines. Indeed, digital technology will be vital in how industries adapt and change their processes worldwide. Fortunately, Jamaica ranks among the top 50 digital nations in the Thalons Services Globalisation Index for the adoption of innovation. Unfortunately, with its high percentage of unskilled labour, high poverty rates, and low GDP, Jamaica remains at a disadvantage. To emerge from this disadvantage, Jamaica must implement policies for productive development, innovation, and investment in human talent. An apt quote from Alvin Toffler illustrates the challenge Jamaica currently faces:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but rather will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” Alvin Toffler

The Jamaican education system is not yet prepared to accommodate the wholesale adoption of artificial intelligence as a norm. But, inevitably, for the nation’s survival, it needs to get there.

Peter Parchment is a highly trained professional with twelve (12) years senior executive experience in Policy Formulation, Monitoring & Evaluation, Strategic Planning in the Public Sector, and Social Research. A strategic thinker with strong problem-solving skills, people and resource management skills and the ability to think outside the box. Equipped with sound technical report writing and consultation facilitation skills and knowledgeable in the workings of Government and the Public Service. Experienced in working with rural and urban communities in a variety of locally and externally funded projects. He is also trained in Media and Communications and writes for online clients and publications. [email protected]

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Modernising Jamaican Workplaces

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A lot of changes are being seen in Jamaica, which are steadily improving the economy and the standard of living of our people. A cultural explosion is happening; where our art, music, food and dances are being tapped into and used for various events and initiatives. As we are modernising in most aspects, the state of our workplaces and the archaic structures need to experience a fresh and invigorating renovation as well.

The world as we know it is actively changing. The development of technologies and the ease of accessing information are continuously being revised, improved and refined. Societies have come a long way due to the benefits of globalization and international trade.

Competing in the Global Arena

Recently, JAMPRO had a Future of Work Conference and it shed light on many things, in particular, our great need to change our structures. One of the speakers, Ms. Gloria Henry, the President of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), instilled that:

“We need to look at communities that support the wellbeing, the cognitive development, the lifestyles and the new mind-set that we are seeking to cultivate.”

This is a stark realization that Jamaica has a need to make changes within. This changing global environment has our current structures and processes seeming completely obsolete. We are no longer in a bubble, we are in a global arena, where our people have to compete with many others. Competition is fierce, and only the best of the best are drafted onto teams for many world-leading organizations.

Unlocking Our Potential

As the world is revolutionising itself, Jamaica needs to be adequately equipped to be on the track and not on the side-lines. Our potential for greatness is unmatched and we are truly a force. Jamaica is a blessed country with talented individuals who continue to make a mark on this Earth. A quick scroll through social media will see many Jamaicans flying the flag high in various countries, golden representations.

It is puzzling though how the Jamaican work environment remains stagnant with all these changes. The practices that we have are no longer serving us but drastically limiting us. The management of our organizations need to start building and not restricting individuals.

Structures such as flexi-work and work from home need to be implemented in order to contribute to our productivity, innovation and creativity. Employees need to start experiencing more autonomy and not be stuck at a role for years that doesn’t challenge them. Why are we moving at a snail’s pace with this needed change to our structures?

Building Anew

It is clear as day that employees have no need to remain in this strict nine to five atmosphere that is stifling creativity and creating misery. This traditional style of management is surely becoming a hindrance to our nation, and many young persons are voicing their displeasure. A work environment that is constantly being likened to slavery is a cause for concern. A look at the state of the actual environment is also a matter to discuss for another day, or at least another article, “Better Work Spaces, Increased Productivity“. Work is only one aspect of our lives, where we have to be juggling many other issues and situations, but the nature of work in Jamaica seems like a vise grip to many nowadays.

In shaping and changing our infrastructures and practices, the creation of a modern work environment will boast many benefits to our standard of living and the way in which we do business. In defining a modern workplace, the website NH Learning Solutions remarked that “An organization must evolve into a flexible environment that allows for continued communication and collaboration.” The innovation and creativity of our organizations are guaranteed to also impact the society. A modern workplace will increase productivity and improve our work-life balance, where factors of health and wellness can be better adapted. Jamaica needs to enter this path of growth, our future leaders need it.

 

 

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Govt. Extends EPOC: It Will Continue After IMF Ends November

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The Economic Programme Oversight Committee, EPOC will continue to operate after Jamaica’s programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ends in November 2019. That is the word from the Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr. Nigel Clarke recently. The work of EPOC was supposed to end at the same time the three-year Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement (PSBA) with the IMF terminates in November.

MOU Signed

The Finance Minister and the Chairman of EPOC, Keith Duncan, on August 22, 2019, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Finance Ministry that will see EPOC operating beyond 2019. The President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Howard Mitchell was among other signatories to this MOU.

Under this MOU, EPOC will continue to monitor Jamaica’s economic reforms after the current arrangement with the IMF expires. EPOC’s work will continue until the Government of Jamaica establishes the Fiscal Council and puts in place the institutional framework that enables the Bank of Jamaica to become an independent monetary entity. The Cabinet already approved the creation of the independent Fiscal Council.

The independent Fiscal Council will be a permanent institution established by law to promote fiscal policies that are economically sustainable. Such policies would transcend partisan considerations. Government’s extension of EPOC is also part of its agreement with the IMF to keep its office operating for another two years once the Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement ends in November.

Legal Arrangements to be made for Fiscal Council and BOJ

In his address to the audience at the signing ceremony, Minister Clarke stated that  “the government is far advanced in enacting legislation to modernise the Bank of Jamaica, inclusive of the institutionalising independence in the implementation of monetary policy. We are working to table legislation by April 2020 to implement the Fiscal Council that will strengthen Jamaica’s fiscal responsible framework and be an independent arbiter of Jamaica’s fiscal rules.”

He further emphasised that the government is “committed to empowering EPOC to continue in a monitoring role until our central bank and Fiscal Council policy commitments are operationalised.” Jamaica is far advanced in its steps to complete the Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF. This achievement marks another success as the country had brought the previous IMF Extended Fund Facility arrangement to a successful early end in November 2016.

Legislation to be tabled, April 2020

Jamaica’s approximately six-and-a-half-years of collaborating with the IMF has been described as successful. The Finance Minister indicated that Jamaica’s macroeconomic achievements have been recognised around the world as a success story. He attributed the success to the effort and sacrifice that the people of Jamaica made throughout the six and a half years. “..we owe it to the Jamaican people to preserve and build on these gains even as we work to address the other important challenges.” He said.

While the Finance Minister was not able to indicate the expected duration of EPOC’s extension, he explained that the duration depends on Parliament approval of the legislative arrangements for the fiscal council and enabling the independence of the central bank. He indicated, however, that the tabling of the legislative arrangements will occur by April 2020.

 

EPOC Monitoring Continues

Meanwhile, Keith Duncan expressed his pleasure in serving in this interim period. He promised to keep the public abreast on the government’s economic reform programme. He declared that EPOC will communicate any concerns with the economic reform programme to the Jamaican public, as it has been doing since it was established in 2013.

Among the items on EPOC’s agenda is its focus on Jamaica achieving its fiscal rules including a 60 percent debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio by 2025/2026. Jamaica is already seeing the benefits of the GoJ’s fiscal responsibility programme and EPOC’s chairman expressed confidence that the country will continue along this fiscal discipline path.

About EPOC

EPOC is made up of 11 representatives from the private and public sectors and civil society. This group receives and assesses information from the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) to track Jamaica’s progress against the agreed targets outlined in the 2016 PSBA with the IMF.

It monitors the monetary, fiscal, and financial sector indicators agreed under the standby agreement. Through these targets, the GOJ expects to maintain the macroeconomic stability that was achieved under the previous agreement with the IMF. Jamaica’s renewed focus is on growth and job creation as well as the maintenance of fiscal responsibility.

The EPOC committee meets quarterly for monitoring based on the quarterly targets and the semi-annual IMF reviews. A technical sub-committee also meets monthly to carry out ongoing analysis of the Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement.

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Jamaica is Ready to Exit IMF

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“Jamaica is ready to exit IMF financial support”. That is the word from Dr. Constant Longeng Ngouana, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Resident Representative in Jamaica. He was speaking at a recent media interview where he shared his views on Jamaica’s economic performance. The IMF resident representative expressed his belief that Jamaica’s success in its economic performance over the past few years has placed the country in a position to exit the IMF programme and take care of its economic affairs.

Jamaica is currently benefitting from a US$1.6-billion Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement (PSBA) with the IMF. Previously, the island was in an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) between 2013 to 2016. Jamaica first entered into a standby agreement with the international lending institution in 2010.

Borrowing Relationship with IMF to end in September

Jamaica’s existing arrangement with the IMF is to end in September 2019. According to the IMF resident representative, the Fund will continue the partnership with the island. The nature of the future relationship with Jamaica will be consultative and not involve new financial support. The expected change in the relationship between the country and the IMF is in recognition of Jamaica’s maturity in policymaking and the economy. Jamaica expects to graduate from the borrowing arrangement with the IMF as projected barring unforeseen circumstances.

Ngouana praised Jamaica’ achievement which he acknowledged has taken place over a relatively short time. Since 2013, Jamaica has exceeded the various targets that were agreed between itself and the IMF. The results were the tremendous economic turn around that the country experienced. Initial doubts that Jamaica would have successfully transitioned economically from its dire position to its much-improved position disappeared.

… everybody is in agreement that this has been a tremendous turnaround and we get calls all the time asking how did the Jamaican people do it. It’s really an economic transformation for such a short period,” Ngouana said.

An ingredient that enabled Jamaica’s success is the sound policymaking that is based on a broad consensus from stakeholders. Consequently, Jamaica was able to achieve positive economic growth within a short period.

Jamaica’s Achievements

Among Jamaica’s impressive achievements were:

  • The reduction of the public debt from 147 percent of GDP in March 2013 to 95 percent by March 2019
  • An increase in the Net International Reserves (NIR) from US $1 billion in 2013 to more than US$ 3 billion
  • The reduction in inflation from double-digits to single digits within six years
  • A reduction in the unemployment rate from 16.3 percent in April 2013 to 7.8 percent in April 2019
  • A 1.9 percent growth in the Jamaica economy in 2018-19.

Although the rate of Jamaica’s economic growth was not at the targeted levels, the actual performance of a 1.9 percent growth in 2018-19 represents the best performance compared to the past 20 years.

Crime, however, remains a serious concern. Although Jamaica continues to grapple the crime problem, the island needs to do more to increase the gains achieved to date. Ngouana also indicated that the modernisation of Jamaica’s agriculture is also a reform that is necessary to further stimulate economic growth. Another structural impediment to growth is the limited access to financing that the country currently experiences.

IMF Team’s Latest Assessment

Previously, a staff team from the IMF led by Uma Ramakrishnan was in Jamaica from June 10 to 14, 2019. That visit came ahead of the sixth and final review under the IMF’s Stand-By Agreement to be held in September 2019. After the visit, the IMF team leader released a statement. Included in that statement were the following observations by the IMF team.

Jamaica’s improved economic growth in FY2018/19 was buoyed by construction and mining. Unemployment is now at an all-time low of 8 percent. The inflation outturn was 3.9 percent (y/y) in April, closer to the Bank of Jamaica’s (BOJ) target range of 4–6 percent. The primary surplus was almost 7½ percent of GDP in FY2018/19, with public debt falling to about 95 percent of GDP at end-March 2019—the lowest since FY2000/01. Non-borrowed reserves were US$430 million above target at end-March 2019, providing (a) critical buffer against unforeseen global economic shocks.”

The statement lauded the BOJ’s recent accommodative policies to restore inflation to the target range.  It further commended Jamaica’s reduction in the Cash Reserve Requirement by 5 percentage points during the current fiscal year and the successive policy rate cuts to 0.75 percent. The IMF noted that these actions should support private credit expansion as the government continues to deleverage.  Furthermore, strengthened central bank supervision and risk management practices at lending institutions will be vital to ensure careful assessment of risks for financial stability.

Also, the IMF statement noted that the execution of the budget for the fiscal year 2019/20 is underpinned by continued buoyant tax collections in April and above budget capital expenditure which is regarded as an encouraging new normal for Jamaica.

IMF’s Recommendations for Jamaica

Among the other recommendations from the IMF is that the central bank should limit its interventions in the foreign exchange market to “episodes of significant market dislocations.”  At the same time, the IMF noted,  the continued shifts in the value of the currency indicate an urgent need for the central bank to adopt a foreign exchange trading platform. This platform should enhance market transparency and price discovery. Hedging instruments for FX trading may also be developed.

In order to entrench the hard-fought gains Jamaica has achieved, the IMF recommended that the Jamaican government keep its commitment to:

(i) enact amendments to the BOJ Act to adopt a full-fledged inflation targeting framework,

(ii) create a policy framework for natural disasters risk financing, and

(iii) table legislation for the establishment of an independent Fiscal Council

The Fund also recommended that the country strengthen efforts to enhance the special resolution regime and consolidated supervision of financial conglomerates. This action was recommended by the recent IMF Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP).  The IMF, however, noted that these actions “require strong coordination among the BOJ and the Financial Services Commission (FSC).”

The IMF statement also reiterated the need for the Jamaican government to implement new streamlined and performance-based compensation framework for its employees. This recommended action should take place before the next round of wage negotiations. The Fund noted that this reform action will ultimately result in a more cost-effective and efficient public sector.

Meanwhile, Ngouana encouraged Jamaicans to remain on the present growth and reform path. He insisted that

“Jamaica has come too far to allow for any reversal. Sacrifice has been far-reaching by all Jamaicans and we (IMF) encourage the Jamaican people to stay the course.”

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