In July, I had the opportunity to join a team of 37 people and spend a week helping the citizens in Progresso, Belize, a remote village of approximately 2,000 people. By design, I was fairly disconnected from my “regular life,” but still I thought about what I could learn from a technology perspective during this unique experience. There were certainly some surprises in this area as well as some reminders for when you (or your clients) travel internationally.
There was limited electricity, some running water (but no hot water) and dirt roads in Progresso, and yet I had five bars on my AT&T iPhone because of the single cell tower in the center of the village, which was operated by BTL, the government-owned telecommunications service.
The connection speed from this one cell tower was surprisingly fast considering the remoteness of our location. I could have conducted a number of work tasks fairly efficiently if I had wanted to (don’t tell my office associates — they were very forgiving about my “inaccessibility”). In fact, I was surprised by the large number of adults and teenagers in the village who owned smartphones. Granted it often wasn’t the latest version of the iPhone or Galaxy, but it was still surprising given the lack of other resources. They might not have a bank account, but they had smartphones, and they were very proficient in using them.
This is a powerful example of the reach of today’s technology, and it shows how intuitive it is, regardless of your background, environment or level of education. Yet we still struggle to achieve adoption by our employees and clients of various features of our current technology. This is a reminder to focus on the simplicity of your technology, and to regularly challenge assumptions regarding users’ familiarity or capabilities.
One of my favorite signs I noticed during my trip was the “Today’s Special” menu board at a small restaurant in Belize City. It said “Chicken with Rice and Beans and Free Wi-Fi!” I loved it, and immediately quizzed other members of our team regarding the risks of using the free Wi-Fi connection. Several members of the team understood the many risks of using a free Wi-Fi connection, but there were too many who were not concerned, particularly the high school and college age group. Once I illustrated several real-life scenarios (email fraud, financial risks, identity theft, etc.), they understood quickly and appreciated the new knowledge. We can never talk about this enough in order to better protect our clients.
When traveling internationally, it is quite common for tourists to have money belts, backpacks or other means to prevent theft of their money, credit cards and passports. However, you often don’t see the same level of cautious behavior with their smartphones. Unfortunately, we have all heard stories of these devices being stolen. Of course, this happens in the U.S. as well, but it can be much more challenging to deal with when it occurs in a foreign country. Here are a few reminders: First, always have a passcode on your smartphone. Second, know the action plan in the event it is stolen. Who do you contact to shut it down quickly? Is it the same number when you are out of the country? You don’t want to give a thief any extra time to use the voice and data connection.
A final observation while on the trip was watching how our group of 37 people used technology to stay connected (or not) while traveling in Belize. By far, texting and social media led the way as the preferred communication method. Some team members checked their email too, but that was the exception. You need to be prepared to use multiple channels to communicate with your clients. This is especially important when you are sharing time-critical information. You never know, but they might be in Belize for a week and using Twitter as their primary source of information.