Five countries lead the region, both in the state and the rate of digital progress: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay. These countries have done well in improving institutional stability and predictability, such as with competitive policies and a fair institutional environment. They are also good at promoting growth by attracting investment in digital innovation.

 

Trailing them are the middle-momentum countries that have strong consumer demand but are hindered by a lack of adequate investment in infrastructure and institutional impetus to speed up their digital evolution. Argentina, Panama, and Peru are in this stage. Brazil is losing steam due to a deteriorating institutional environment. The worst performers are El Salvador and Venezuela.

 

The leaders in the region share three attributes in common: the first is a steep rate of digital adoption; and the second is their institutional stability and quality – a necessary condition for attracting investments into the digital ecosystem. Third, their ICT infrastructure growth has been strong.

 

The five countries are evolving quickly enough to suggest they have the potential to become strong digital economies. But unlike demand, which can grow rapidly and in spurts, it takes time and hard work by the public and private sectors to improve the strength of the government and institutions. These countries would do well to benchmark against Estonia, a pioneer of borderless, secure, and virtual government.

 

Mexico is making the right moves. In 2014, it launched an e-government project. It has digitally linked government services and information as well as the citizen participation process across a single platform. On gob.mx, people can download forms, make appointments, send in applications, and pay online. Getting something as simple as a birth certificate, once a long, unreliable and error-prone process, has been streamlined so that newborns can be registered within minutes and without mistakes by logging onto the one-stop website, all without, as the government says, “wasting your time.”[1]

Thanks to the project, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) now ranks Mexico “among the top performers of online services in the world.”[2] McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, says the platform has made Mexico’s digital standing “laudable” compared with other countries with similar per-capita GDPs, even though it still lags the e-government stalwarts like Estonia and Malaysia.[3]

 

Uruguay is another outstanding example. In 2017, its government launched the Uruguay Digital Agenda 2020 to address current challenges and those that may arise. This, according to the Uruguayan government, is not just about deploying “infrastructure and technological tools to improve and support traditional processes,” but is about expanding “the capacity for innovation that triggers transformation of processes, without disregarding solutions to pending needs in the access and use of digital technologies.”[4]

As part of the digital agenda, the government distributes laptops to schools and trains teachers on using them in class. It has set up free wi-fi areas in cities and a universal internet access plan, and handed out computers to families. Uruguay had the first full mobile network coverage in the region and was the first to implement a 4G LTE network. According to the United Nations, Uruguay ranks 26th globally for its e-government index, the highest in LAC.[5]

 

These institutional innovation initiatives by Mexico and Uruguay have gained these countries entry into what is now called the Digital Nine, an elite group of advanced digital governments including Estonia, New Zealand, Israel, Canada, South Korea, and the UK. These countries are collaborating to make their public sectors as efficient as possible using the best available digital technologies.

 

[1] Mexico’s Office of th Presidency: https://www.gob.mx/en/what-is-gobmx

[2] OECD: http://www.oecd.org/fr/gov/gouvernement-numerique/oecde-governmentstudiesmexico.htm

[3] McKinsey Insights: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/how-mexico-can-become-latin-americas-digital-government-powerhouse

[4] Uruguayan Presidency: https://uruguaydigital.gub.uy/wps/wcm/connect/urudigital/44f1500c-6415-4e21-aa33-1e5210527d94/Download+Digital+Agenda+%28English+Version%29.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=44f1500c-6415-4e21-aa33-1e5210527d94

[5] United Nations: https://publicadministration.un.org/egovkb#.W1DX_tJKiUk