Friday, November 28, 2008

Do we need an IT Commission?

This article was first published in Sun.Star last July 10, 2003.


HUGE FUND. Did you know that the government recently mandated all agencies to use one percent to two percent of maintenance, operating expenses and capital outlay to fund e-government projects in support of the mandate of the E-Commerce Law. It is estimated that this could reach from P1 billion to P3 billion. That is good news indeed.

However, if there’s one thing that troubles me and several friends, it is how come this administration is so eager, especially the Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC), to push for the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

The common reason used to justify the creation of DICT is that we have lagged behind our neighbor countries for not having one. My question is, does having a DICT make us better or less of a nation? Will the creation of this department create jobs and put food on our table? Can it perform tasks that none of our existing government agencies can do? Whose agenda is really being satisfied here?

In the process of pushing it in Congress, there were lawmakers contesting it and even arguing that there are far more important departments that need to be created.

To overcome this stumbling block, the President recently created a technical working group to draft the guidelines for an IT Commission within 30 days.

Some functions to be performed by the IT Commission, if created, are the management of government IT projects and identifying where the P1 billion to P3 billion for e-government would be spent. Whether it is constitutionally possible for a department to decide on where the savings of its peer government departments can be spent, rather than the department secretary or Congress, remains to be seen.

If we don’t have a growing budget deficit, by all means, create the departments you like.

However, with limited resources, it is better that money be spent prudently and by the government agencies that need it the most. What can be done instead is to restructure or realign the mandate of existing government agencies like the National Computer Center to allow it to perform better. The same goes for the National Telecommunications Commission.

NO DEBATE. Another concern is the lack of interest by the Itecc to debate this issue. Last year, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) was supposed to organize a debate on the merits of a DICT. Since MAP is not an IT organization, the debate would have been held on neutral ground.

The No group, to have been led by BayanTrade’s Carol Carreon, tapped peers in the industry to put a strong position together. Atty. JJ Disini, former Department of Trade and Industry assistant secretary Toby Monsod and I exchanged email messages contributing issue points why DICT is not the way to our desired progress.

When the organizers were finally scheduling the date, the Yes camp backed out for fear that such a debate might endanger its DICT proposal. If Itecc is not even confident enough to defend its bill, then it puts a lot of doubt on its real intent.

But as my friend told me: “Don’t waste your time. It is a done deal.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Problems in bringing Paypal to the Philippines

This article appeared last October 16, 2006 in Manila Times.

There are ongoing discussions on how to bring Paypal to the Philippines. Paypal is a payment processor based in the US where members process payment and transfer funds through their respective accounts.

Last Thursday, Paypal just had an upgrade that finally included (at last!) the Philippines where one can sign up and have an account for purposes of sending money overseas. However, it can’t be used for receiving money yet, which in fact, hinders us to take full advantage of e-commerce, locally.

In discussion with industry players, I believe that these are the following reasons why we don’t have the likes of Paypal in the Philippines and what would it take to attract them:

  • Demonstrate that we are capable of prosecuting cybercriminals in the country. I have no qualms on the dedication of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police in this area. They are fortunate to have people like Col. Gilbert Sosa and Atty. Palmer Mallari who passionately perform their jobs. However, for as long as the government does not allot serious funding to boost cybercrime infrastructure and training of personnel, our efforts will always be dependent on dole outs from international agencies. It is unfortunate to see that our leaders can fund multimillion annual community e-Center projects and yet cold in allotting money to combat cybercrime despite being made aware of the situation repeatedly.

  • Full e-consumer and merchant protection implementation mechanism is a must. The lack of concrete consumer protection programs on e-commerce, value-added services, e-banking shows great fear as to how e-commerce can be abused in the country by both consumers and merchants. It is not enough that the guidelines are in place—it should be put in practice as well. For instance, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) issued circular #542 meant to provide consumer protection guidelines on e-banking. However, the order does not cover how consumers can complain to the BSP if there’s a deadlock between the bank and its customer. A separate BSP circular is in the works for that.

  • An efficient banking system that supports interbank fund transfer is critical. We have existing banking services that are very much anticonsumer. I have a friend based in the province who deposited an amount to my bank account and the branch in her location charged P100 for the transaction. What is the point of being hightech, implementing Internet banking and all? These banks exploit numerous ways to charge the consumer for the most ridiculous reason.
As Paypal relies on interbank fund transfer, the lack of such system in the country is the biggest deterrent for bringing Paypal in the Philippines. Yes, we may be high-tech in our banking systems but still, same day clearing and interbank fund transfer from interbanking networks to rural banks, is vaguely in place. This is sad.

During the lobbying days of the e-Commerce Law, BSP’s real time gross settlement system (RTGS) was very promising and made an impression that it can benefit the traditional small and medium enterprises in the country. Up to this time—yes the banking community can use it already —the traditional Juan de la Cruz, being high-tech himself, ended up with obnoxious bank charges and in other cases, interbank fund transfer is still much of a dream. Perhaps it is time that someone out there will come up and define what modern banking really is—that is if we really want to attract the likes of Paypal in the Philippines.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Work at home

This article was published in Sun.Star last July 27, 2006

I got an interesting e-mail recently from a friend in Davao City about possible work-at-home scheme. From personal experience and observation, there are many ways to earn and work at home. Here are some of them.

Writing. I started my freelancing career as contributor to the networking section of PC World Philippines. Afterwards, I offered my writing services to other publication and gradually found myself writing for international magazines and websites. If you are persistent enough, you'll find writing to be quite fulfilling. How do you go about it? First, you must be an avid reader of the publication you are aiming for. Think of stories or feature articles that you can confidently write about and send a pitch to the editor.

Technical consulting. If you know your stuff, you can offer your services as a consultant, research or analyst, and do most of the nitty-gritty work at home. Although, I must admit that it can be hard to concentrate at times with a very relaxing setting, especially if your workplace is your bedroom.

Online secretariat. This is especially true for organizations or companies that don't have time to read inquiries and respond to them professionally.

Event marketer. Companies that are into seminars and training but are not so tech-savvy with their marketing are potential clients. This is where your investment in putting up an online newsletter can be most strategic.
The database that you are able to build can serve as a good start in marketing them.

Internet marketing analyst. If you are knowledgeable in optimizing websites to make it search engine friendly and in performing analysis of website traffic, and capable of making recommendations for improvements, then this can be another work for you.

E-learning instructor or tutor. If you have a knack for teaching, you can also develop e-learning materials where interested parties can sign up and receive lessons or assignments through e-mail.

If you need to create a portfolio first, then this is where creating a website or blog can be most helpful for you. This is where started, in my case.

Your website or blog can help attract leads for your services. Just update it as often as possible with the most relevant stuff to increase its visibility. Make sure to have a newsletter service so you can contact them for future updates.

You can also make your website self-sustaining or even profitable by integrating passive revenue opportunities. This can be in the form of joining an advertising network like Google AdSense.

Another way is to join an affiliate program. This is where you can sell books, products, and services of other entities and earn a commission for every sale that your site generates.

With the Internet and a phone, there are many things you can do to work at home and make it a rewarding experience. Creativity, aggressiveness, patience and diligence are "musts" to succeed.

Remember, in a work at home arrangement, you set your income. How high you'll earn will all depend as to how aggressive you will be in marketing your services.

Bold Moves

This article appeared last March 20, 2006 in Manila Times.

One of the challenges that we are facing in the country is that there’s little seriousness in complying with existing laws. As soon as a law is passed, you’ll find people immediately pushing for amendments. However, what I learned from the late Sen. Raul Roco, one can’t push for an amendment to an existing law unless there’s sufficient court ruling indicating its futility or uselessness in performing its purpose.

Take the case of the e-Commerce Law. As soon it was passed, different parties were lobbying to amend or create new laws on cybercrime, electronic signature and even targeting government agency assigned to monitor it. Instead of working together to ensure that the law will work, it became sort of a trend to push for revision or new legislation to be passed.

This mentality, I believe, lead to where we are today.

Republic Act 8792 required that government agencies should be compliant to its e-government provisions (section 27) in 2002. To date, only a handful is complying with the law.

In order to make the e-Commerce Law work, it requires stakeholders to make bold moves to set the direction. Revenue-generating government agencies should take the initiative in assessing their compliance to the law. They should not wait for Congress or the Commission on Audit or the Department of Trade and Industry to knock on their doors asking about the status of their compliance. It is not a matter of funds but rather leadership decisiveness to get it done.

Section 39 of the law’s implementing rules and regulations require government to update their respective information system plan and be aligned with the intent of RA 8792. There’s much to be done in computerizing the government. However, instead of aiming for everything, our leaders should focus on areas where it matters most- first in the priority should be those who are submitting the most revenues to the National Treasury. Investing on them will make it more productive and can lead to better revenues.

Take the case of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs. Their adoption of e-Commerce and ICT allowed them to sustain or grow their current revenues. Without it, increase in their revenue would not be maintained with the same number of resources. If the revenue generating agencies are prioritized, they in turn will able to build the needed resources to fund other ICT needs of less performing or non-revenue collecting agencies.

The e-Commerce Law will be 6 years old this June 14. This law paved the way for the surge of ICT related investments in the country.

I recall before the term outsourcing or e-services became popular, call centers were referred to as business-to-business e-Commerce. As much as the law became a catalyst for so many things, there’s a lot that needs to be done in order to be fiercely competitive in the market.

Getting our act together, resolve confusing executive orders, budgetary accountability, and a vigilant private sector are all critical in making e-Commerce a reality in our country. Be bold!