In today’s high-speed, globalized economy, familiarity with computer technology and accessibility to the Internet are not just useful skills, they’re critical for successful business. But with studies showing Latin America lagging in the information arena, companies operating offices in the region might need to invest more time and energy into facilitating organizational knowledge sharing and technical competence.
“Much more can be done,” said Jeanne Belliveau-Dunn, general manager of learning at Cisco, a technology solutions provider. She pointed to the World Bank’s 2007 Knowledge Economy Index that showed Latin America surpassing only Africa and South Asia in information-sharing maturity.
The issue might stem in part from poor integration and application of technology in higher education. Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo conducted a survey in 2005 on the state of information technology in Latin American colleges and universities and found that campus portals offering students IT tutorials and training, which are fixtures on U.S. campuses, are scarce. The survey also found that in Latin America, academic and administrative IT functions are managed separately, whereas they are combined in the U.S.
Such statistics might mean that those students who have learned technology in school have a hard time translating that knowledge into applicable, real-world skills. As Belliveau-Dunn said, “The linkages between universities and private industry are still not well-developed.”
Yet Latin American governments fully understand the tremendous gains that can be achieved through increased technological capability, Belliveau-Dunn said. Likewise, organizations recognize the usefulness of tools such as e-learning to reach a significant number of employees scattered across the vast region. Therefore, Cisco is working extensively to speed up the process of globalization in Latin America.
“Over the past 10 years, Cisco has invested in more than 10,000 networking academies located in universities and other education centers in over 150 countries,” she said. “We have made additional investments in learning partnerships that provide commercial learning solutions to universities, government and local businesses. An educated and skilled population that can create and use knowledge is directly linked to a country’s ability to transition more quickly to a knowledge-based economy.”
Debora Palermo, chief learning officer at Sun Microsystems Brazil, said the most important thing is for organizations to stress the business case for increased technological capability because when there is a recognized, tangible need, Latin American governments snap into action.
“For example, Brazil has got the world’s most modern electronic voting system,” she said. “So in the last presidential election [in the year 2000], they had over 100 million votes cast nationally. [Results] were completely tabulated within 24 hours. This has evolved more than the Internet because it was a need to make sure people could vote.”
To prove the need for IT maturity and to help build the necessary infrastructure for knowledge-based economies, organizations should partner with local governments, universities and public initiatives, Palermo said.
“We need to make sure that they can fit together and execute on it and get something started,” she said.