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Opportunities and Challenges for Philippine e-Governance

It has already been two weeks, but the euphoria brought about by the FutureGov Forum Philippines 2012— held on 23 May—still lingers, as e-mails from quite a number of our delegates greet me in my inbox asking on when the next FutureGov Philippines event will be.

The Forum, which brought together 130 senior decision maker from all the major agencies, became a platform for the Philippine Government’s IT champions to discuss their progress, successes, and challenges in e-Governance.

The event comes at the perfect time as quite a number of stakeholders are curious as to how the country is doing after President Benigno Aquino III issued an executive order to abolish the Commission on ICT (CICT) last year, and transfer its functions to an agency under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)—a move which rattled the country’s ICT sector and sent its many IT organisations into panic.

The CICT was abolished on 23 June 2011 as part of the President’s programme to streamline the government bureaucracy. I remember just hours after its announcement, Industry executives moved quickly to ask the President to recall the Executive Order and restore the CICT.

According to the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP), stripping the CICT of its powers and turning it into advisory office under the DOST would slow down the country’s ICT development and also hold back the modernisation of various government services. “The CICT has been the most effective champion of ICT development in our country for the last 10 years,” it said.

However, these efforts did not change the President’s mind, and he moved forward to abolish the CICT.

Curiously, less than two weeks before its abolition, CICT issued the Philippine Digital Strategy Plan for 2011-2015, identifying a number of initiatives along four strategic thrusts: 1) transparent government and efficient service delivery; 2) internet opportunities for all; 3) investing in people—digital literacy for all; and 4) ICT industry and business innovation for national development.

A year has passed since then. How has the country progressed so far? Is the government undertaking of the various ICT projects well on course? What does the future look like for Philippine e-Governance?

And lastly, was it right to fix something that wasn’t broken?

Let me share a few ongoing projects to give you a glimpse of what is currently going on at multiple fronts of government ICT development.

“People Power” through Open Government

This year, the government has taken bold steps to embrace Open Government as a way to operationalise and institutionalise “People Power”. The Government will be taking on the grand challenges of improving public services, increasing public integrity, and more effectively managing resources starting with the establishment of a sound public financial management system.

The latter mission is critical for any government to jumpstart its thrust towards institutional transparency. By establishing this system, the government would be able to channel funds to where they are intended and will do the greatest good and set off alarms whenever deviations occur. Most importantly, it would help inform citizens where their taxes go and how they will be spent.

The agencies committed in pursuing this initiative are the Commission on Audit, the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Finance, and the Bureau of Treasury.

How is this progressing now?

Establishing a Government Financial Management Information System is a long journey, one that requires decision makers to really think about policies and legal changes that would support this vital infrastructure. Since the Government is eyeing big, fast results, the steering committee thought it wise to start first on several components which make up the GIFMIS.

“Given that the implementation of the GIFMIS would require some policy and legal changes, we came to the conclusion that we cannot wait for all those to happen. So in the meantime we started on the components that we could already roll out and implement—hence the decision to start working on the National Payroll System (NPS),” said Richard Moya, CIO of the Department of Budget and Management.

The NPS will help in managing government manpower requirements and improve accountability in the disbursement of funds for personal services. At present, 32 per cent of the government’s budget is spent on personnel services. Once this system is in place, it will automatically make that percentage of its spending transparent.

Other projects included under the Open Government partnership program are: Procurement Cards system, Electronic Bidding, and Interactive Fiscal transparency.

“Private Sector Aggressiveness” on cloud adoption

Cloud computing is definitely on the radar of many CIOs such as Richard Moya (Department of Budget and Management), Alvin Marcelo (PhilHealth), and Juan Philip Evangelista (Government Service Insurance System). However, based from my discussions with them and the other delegates at the event, what’s keeping them from exploring cloud is the lack of a comprehensive enterprise architecture to guide the management on which services to offload to the cloud and which ones to keep on-premise.

According to Richard Moya, the problem lay on the policy side of things: IT is used to meeting the business needs of the organisation, however the Government itself now is not very efficient as far as technology is concerned, so that neutralises all the gains of efficiency through the cloud.

“We should start a conversation on how we can reap the benefits of leveraging cloud using private sector aggressiveness and yet find a way to operate this in a manner that prevents people from using information inappropriately,” he says.

Meanwhile, Juan Philip Evangelista adds that since cost plays a very important part in cloud adoption, he recommends that there should be an area where decision makers can share resources—not only the machine and skillsets—but also on baseline studies and best practices.

Agencies that have adopted cloud computing are the Department of Budget and Management, the Government Service Insurance System, and local government units such as the City of San Fernando, Pampanga.

Handling Big Data

By December 2012, the Government will implement a National Justice Information System (NJIS), an integrated criminal justice database system that will facilitate the efficient recording, monitoring, tracking and reporting of crimes, cases, offenders and victims.

The first phase of NJIS, which will integrate the systems of law enforcement, prosecution and corrective agencies, is envisioned for completion by the end of 2014. It is expected that the project will lead to more efficient coordination of efforts among different government departments, the counter crime agencies and the general public.

Other big data projects that the government is currently undertaking are: the Department of Finance’s Financial Analytics and Data Warehouse, the Bureau of Customs’ Online X-ray imaging system and Petroleum inventory system, the Department of Transport and Communication’s Infrastructure and Information Systems Project, and many more.

Cyber Security

As response to the increasing number of cyber crimes in the country, Php 5 million (US$117,000) will be invested by DOJ to create an Office dedicated to countering Cybercrime. This office will put up a crime information network that will link up with various law enforcement and government investigation agencies.

But still..

We could see that the projects are progressing in the stipulated directions—and many of these projects are achieving good results. However, without a stronger coordinating body, not only does each department have to figure out many things for itself, recreating the wheel oftentimes, but also many good initiatives are hindered or rendered less effective because of the lack of standards, collaboration, policy framework and leadership.

Now do you agree? What are your thoughts about the current progress? If you are participating in or have participated in government ICT development in the Philippines, please feel free to share your comments here.

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