Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wiring Asia's Governments (March 1997)

(This was my first international writing assignment for the defunct World Executive Digest. These were my notes then. Part of it was used for the article "Wiring Asia's Governments".)

The Tiger of Asia has truly realized the importance of information technology and its hitting critical mass in government offices. The vision of the government towards SMART Philippines through I.T. will empower its people to work more productively, intelligently, and enjoy a better quality of life. "I.T. will fuel the achievement of the government's goal towards an online Philippines 2000," said Cynthia Topacio, Acting Managing Director of National Computer Center.

The Philippine government never took I.T. that seriously from the start. The officers of the government were scared of information technology at that time and find it too expensive and luxurious to be implemented.

There were a few government offices who began using I.T., but mostly those involved in developing computer programs in certain departments having access to it. There was no standard as well.

When the government officers realized the value of I.T., they have different interpretations. To each its own kind of hardware and software. But with the realization of a SMART Philippines vision, events are taking a major turnaround.

I.T. Champions
Through the Fidel V. Ramos' administration, the Philippines found I.T. champions which new I.T. leaders in the Senate, Congress, and members of the cabinet. The new IT champions s the battlecry for better government through full utilization of IT. Senators and congressmen are now filing bills that intends to create better computer systems and strategies for the government.

NITP 2000
To support this I.T. momentum, it created the National I.T. Council (NITC) with its TIGERS committees (Telecommunications, Industry, Government, Education, Research, Service).

TIGERS will oversee the implementation and update of the National Information Technology Plan (NITP) 2000 from time to time. The ultimate goal is I.T. diffusion where IT will be used pervasively in society.

The NITP 2000 is stucturally integrated into the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP). Development programs are being undertaken such as the:

  • Value-Added Network/Value Added Service Program
  • IT Export
  • IT Investment Promotion
  • National and Local Government Computerization Program
  • IT Literacy Program
  • IT Manpower Program
  • R&D Industry-Academe Alliance
  • Network R&D Centers and Specialists
  • Certification programs

Government I.T. Projects
The government had undertaken massive high-tech I.T. projects such as:

  • Tax Administration Computerization of BIR
  • Customs and Duties Computerization of the Bureau of Customs
  • Computer Resources Upgrade of the GSIS
  • Civil Registry Computerization of the National Statistics Office
  • Motor Vehicle Registration System of LTO
  • National Manpower Information System of TESDA
  • ARMM Election Computerization of Comelec
  • National Crime Information System of NAPOLCOM.

More I.T. projects on the way in various 130 offices in government such as the:

  • Government Information Sharing Technology Network (GISTNET) that will facilitate inter-agency, sectoral, and regional information sharing and cooperation.
  • The RPWeb that will electronically link up via the internet the entire government organization.
  • The Office of the President Web (TOPWEB) will interconnect the Office of the President, the offices of Cabinet secretaries, and eight Presidential management groups in a real-time and online mode.
  • The Philippines Information Infrastructure (PII) which will enable the Filipinos to be part of the Asia Pacific Information Infrastructure where they can participate fully in the global information society.
  • The FinLink
  • Advisory Network for the Government Executive and Legislature (ANGEL)
  • PowerNet
  • Security and Intelligence Information Gathering Network (SIGNET)
  • Agri-Net
  • National ID System
  • AFP Information System Modernization Plan

The road ahead
The country has started undertaking IT projects in the early 90's. What was stopping it from being successful at that time?

Topacio: The government recognized its stumbling blocks in implementation of I.T. projects before. The orientation on the mindset of government employees and officials towards I.T. was a major challenge for the government.

High turnover of I.T. workers in government has also been a critical factor. For these reasons, the policy of I.T. projects now is solution outsourcing, build-operate-transfer scheme, and increased I.T. use and spending. Aside from not making us too dependent to the government employees who mostly leave us because of better job opportunities, we are also giving good outsourcing projects to the private sector.

No looking back
Is SMART Philippines achievable?

Topacio: The development of I.T. in government has never been this intense and presents a major challenge. We are foreseeing the entry of I.T. giant companies investing in the Philippines. They will find it interesting to participate in I.T. projects the government is undertaking."

How far is the Philippines in achieving its goal of SMART Philippines?

Topacio: We've done around 30% of the work needed at end of 1996. With the leadership of the country's I.T. champions in government, we will achieve more this year.

National Computer Center
National Computer Center, under the leadership of Cynthia Topacio, plays a strategic and critical role in the development of public-service-oriented, revenue-generating, and operations-enhancing computer systems in government.

  • It provides assistance in the formulation of various documents necessary in the acquisition of IT resources and services, provision of technical guidelines in the conduct of bid, implementation of IT projects, IT contracts, and the like.
  • It also formulates policies, guidelines and advocacies.
  • Last year, it launched the Philippine Software Development Institute and IT2000 laboratory showcasing technologies in imaging, finger scan, point-of-sale, barcode, RDBMS, presentation solutions, CAD, multimedia, video conferencing, desktop publishing. It was designed as an avenue for advance IT training for manpower development in government.
Social Security System
The Social Security System has been considered as one of the major practitioners and users of I.T. in social security applications and in government offices. It is one of oldest social security institution in the region, being frequently visited by Asian counterparts, to learn from its experience.

For the past ten years, the agency has undertaken a lot of I.T. projects under the initiative of SSS Administrator Renato Valencia. He is one of the fearless advocates of IT in government.

Under his leadership, SSS made a lot of first in I.T such as:

  • first implementor of relational database management system in the country
  • first users of the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) in government
  • first users of VSAT technology in government
  • first implementor of system in government.
  • first government office piloting Electronic Data Interchange. Through this, SSS will service 300,000 member employers online where they can pay their contributions and submit the necessary reports electronically.

This goverment agency will do everything in its power to provide quality service to its members. It has more projects on its way such as:

  • Upgrading of the Interactive Voice Response System nationwide which intends to provide automated response 24 hours.
  • Business Recovery Center for disaster recovery cases whether man-made or not.
  • Hospital Point of Service Terminals which intends to verify a patient's eligibility for Medicare benefits, capture the patients transaction, and facilitate the reimbursements. (under pilot)
  • SSS ID System utilizing biometrics technology
  • SSS Web System
  • Information Kiosk

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