This is the second part of a series of reports on FutureGov Breakfast Briefings around Asia. The first breakfast briefing of 2013 was held in Manila, the Philippines, on 23 January. (Read the first report here.)
The FutureGov Breakfast Briefing, sponsored by Red Hat, brought together 17 ICT decision-makers of the Philippine government to discuss the role of cloud computing in government using open source tools. The delegates discussed the issues they face in adopting cloud computing in their agencies and ways to resolve these challenges.
Protecting data sovereignty was the first concern raised by the delegates, especially in the context of public-private partnerships. “One of the most important things for government is to distinguish the ‘sovereign’ data from ‘mass’ data”, said expert speaker Teo Chin Seng, Executive Director of iCity Labs at Singapore Management University. “Once the data is divided, organisations can identify what can be release through open source cloud and what needs to be protected. This will open up many opportunities for innovation through open data”.
Alvin Marcelo, CIO of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, discussed the case of his organisation. “We found certified IT vendors who passed our compliance tests, and empowered them to provide services to the hospitals”, he said. “We didn’t have the necessary resources to build the services, so we set transparent standards and let the private sector join the fray. However, we made sure that hospitals retained their data sovereignty and used data liberation formats that would allow them to shift to another vendor if necessary.”
There can also be legal issues around data sovereignty that have to be considered. Regulations in the country might, for example, require citizen data to be stored within the borders of the nation. “The law of the country has to change”, explained Teo. “In the Philippines, this can take almost five years - it has to be approved by all the stakeholders in the legal system before it can be enacted as legislation.”
Lack of clarity in auditing procedures and government procurement policy was another issue that the delegates raised at the briefing. “Many of the services and infrastructure we need are not in the procurement guidelines or the central portal”, exclaims Lilia Guillermo, Deputy Commissioner and CIO of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. “’Infrastructure’ means roads and bridges, not ICT. Lack of education of the auditors is keeping us from spending on cloud. We have to consider how they will look at the expense”. In the Philippines, policies on e-payment too need to be updated and clarified to ease ICT adoption in the public sector.
According to Ike Seneres, CIO of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the Philippine government is now updating its procurement guidelines for public sector officials. “I think the government will fast-track the development of procurement policy dealing with cloud services”, he said. “At the same time, vendors have to clean up the morass of technical language and terms that are used.” Popular ‘buzzwords’ and technical terms are hindering the understanding of ICT officials as well as auditors.
Delegates discussed these concerns and shared personal experiences of resolving these challenges. Ensuring continuity of projects was another challenge that was discussed. Cancellation or delay in projects, especially the ones in early stages, is common when elections lead to a change in government. The delegates agreed that keeping projects on schedule and hastening their implementation and expansion helps keep the projects alive - “once we reach critical mass and are helping people, we won’t be shut down”, as Marcelo said.
Other strategies included building strong public-private partnerships to take advantage of the relative permanence of the private sector, and using social media to showcase the advantages of ICT projects and develop strong support amongst the public. Delegated agreed that building networks within government and learning from peers through events like the FutureGov Breakfast Briefing are also very helpful to ensure the success of innovative projects such as deployment of cloud technology.
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