In the search for Puerto Rico's next great engine for economic development, technology may point the way, specifically with the development of software applications. However, significant hurdles remain before the island can ever be regarded as a powerhouse in this area.
The Puerto Rico Information Technology Cluster (PRITC), an industry group comprising most of the sector's homegrown tech companies, will hold its first-ever conference to chart the development agenda for the island's burgeoning technology industry.
The "CIO & IT Leadership Conference," scheduled for Feb. 7 at the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan's Convention Center District, will focus primarily on maximizing opportunities for exporting services to markets in the mainland U.S., and catering particularly to the federal government.
In an interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, several PRITC members revealed areas for growth from the perspective of IT and CIOs (chief information officers), as well as the difficulties the sector faces.
"We can bet on the development of the technology products and services industry as the island's economic engine, just as manufacturing or construction once were," said Víctor López Rosario, a partner at Excellere Consulting Associates & board president of the PRITC.
However, before maximizing its potential for further development, especially as a way to export services to offshore markets, the industry must address a chronic local shortage of human resources.
"One reason the cluster got together in the first place is that, while the local tech companies that comprise it are sufficiently big for the Puerto Rico market, they don't have the necessary workers to tackle the big markets in the mainland U.S. and Mexico," said Alberto Cordero, a main partner at e3 Consulting.
While pooling their resources under the cluster has moved the industry closer to its goal of reaching out to offshore markets, the sector still hasn't reached the needed critical mass in terms of human resources. Nevertheless, the group has made several inroads in the federal procurement market, holding several recent meetings with federal government officials, Rosario said.
The government must play also a more active role, Cordero added. "Education must be addressed in its early stages, and raise awareness about how valuable a tech-oriented career can be. Public universities, such as University of Puerto Rico's Mayagüez campus, must also increase their quotas in areas such as computer science and engineering."
Hermán Viruet, senior business-development manager at Integratek, has witnessed how Puerto Rico's educational system shortchanges prospective players in the island's tech sector. "I've held seminars at several universities, and each time I ask how many students want to be entrepreneurs, they all raise their hands. When I ask how many of them know what the necessary tools are to become an entrepreneur, almost none of them say they do. Our system focuses too much on the theoretical side of things and not enough on the practical or everyday," he said.
Cordero also mentioned another aspect in which government could step up its game. "Most subsidized job-training programs concentrate on skills that pay relatively low wages. On the other hand, there are no similar training programs that focus on programming, for example, which is always in high demand and, on average, pays better," Cordero added.
The PRITC event is slated to bring together more than 300 professionals, including guest speaker & investor Nicholas Prouty of Putnam Bridge Funding; CIOs of leading local companies such as Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Triple- S Group, Bella International and Serrallés Distillery; executives of multinational companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Oracle; and local government officials such as Antonio L. Medina, executive director of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co., and Giancarlo González, government CIO.