With experience since 2005 in Internet use studies in 15 Latin American countries, the CEO of research company Tendencias Digitales, Carlos Jiménez believes that Venezuela has great potential to move towards being an information-based society and its cities finally being digital
Finding out through an e-mail that the garbage truck is nearby; submitting forms at government offices without the need to go out, and the fact that security agencies can know the exact location of their officers or control traffic lights and emergency units through satellite images, all of these look like scenes taken from a futuristic film. However, they are very close to reality in Chacao.
Chacao was the only municipality appearing among the first places as representative of Venezuela in the Latin American ranking of Motorola digital cities (2009).
For Carlos Jiménez, an economist and expert in technology market studies, Chacao could no more alone if intensive national plans on technology education are to be implemented.
Why should cities go digital?
There is a linear and positive relationship between technology and development. The more technologies are used, the more countries will progress. Chacao ranked number 9 in the digital city ranking sponsored by Motorola every two years, followed by Valencia ranking number 25, but more cities could be included.
What is the case with Chacao?
In Chacao, the Internet penetration is 70 percent, similar to that of the United States with 78 percent. In the business area, however, Chacao has a long way to go. The municipal government is trying to do things and its citizens have welcomed the subject of social networks. Chacao is the city hall with more Twitter followers, for example.
What is happening to companies?
Users have taken the elevator and companies have taken the stairs. Whilst incredible things are happening with users, companies are afraid to take chances. We rank number 2 in Latin America, both in Facebook and in Twitter. Great things are happening at citizen level, but companies are lagging behind due to myths and distrust.
Who are the players that need to be present to have a digital city?
Local governments could set policies to foster use among citizens and businessmen, but contributions from the three parties are needed. The government controls the first tier, the electronic stage, which is the basic one. This tier deals with an official website for the citizens to be informed. Most government's offices, mayor's offices and institutions already have it. The second tier is related to services. How much paper work can I process online? We are still going through this stage where governments have to look for efficiency. Next "e-democracy" comes, that deals with beginning to consult citizens. The same applies to companies. The greatest advantage of social networks is to be close to their clients. Local governments can also assess constituents' reactions to their actions through them.
Where do we stand in Venezuela regarding the use of electronic means to process government paperwork?
This government has worried about the issue of technology, about standardizing web pages. E-government refers to services. The online processing of (government financial agencies) Seniat, Cadivi and Saime forms and procedures is a great initiative. Some people have visited Internet just for that. But the profile of people who wish to obtain a passport, pay taxes o apply for foreign exchange also needs to be considered: most of them already had access to technology. A study undertaken by Tendencias Digitales found that by the end of 2010, 32 percent of Internet users in Venezuela processed certain kind of paper work on a government website. This percentage is lower for Latin America, at 24 percent the same period. Based on that, over 33 percent more online tasks are processed in Venezuela compared with the region's average.
What actions are necessary for that index to improve?
I have proposed that the Government should make the population technology literate given all the communication channels it controls. An attempt was made with the Infocenters, but their maintenance is difficult due to their infrastructure. We also made an analysis of the digital gap, and established that problems are not of an economic nature, but of a teaching nature. The goal of Google in California, the city where it was born, is to make free Internet available to everyone. This is an advantage and an incentive to get connected.
Could that example be applied here?
In Venezuela more laptops than desktop computers are sold. We then have the large number of smart cell phones. However, insecurity could become a neutralizing agent of that policy. I would rather focus on having Internet in enclosed spaces such as libraries or shopping malls where people feel relatively safe.
Where do we stand regarding technology?
Internet penetration in Venezuela is 36 percent, but we are including the southern part of the country where it is very low and other areas as the capital with over 50 percent. Within the capital, Chacao alone averages 70 percent Internet presence. As a country, we have much to improve, but we have great potential: people are eager to participate in social networks, and local governments can exploit this eagerness. This should be coordinated with technology developments to improve security, road traffic, education, and health. I think that wonders can work.
Translated by Mercedes Alonso
María Magaly Contreras (55) is Venezuelan. She lives in Zulia state, northwestern Venezuela, and advertises herself as a "tarot card reader, clairvoyant and spiritual guide" on her @marletmaga Twitter account.