2019 Imperative: A national digital readiness blueprint
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2018 - 12:00am

Today digital technology permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. Advances in areas such as AI, robotics, Big Data, Cloud computing, IOT and blockchain have led to quantum leaps in productivity and precision for a whole host of applications that impact on society and the economy. It has democratized opportunities and consumption by making them more affordable and accessible to practically everyone. The digital economy offers the promise of inclusive growth and of leapfrogging traditional limitations to economic growth.

As of today, we are being left behind unless the government and private sector provide the requisites of a digital economy.

DICT Secretary (designate)

I understand that a new head of DICT is about to be confirmed. 

Section 11 of RA 10844 (DICT Law) has specified required qualifications. I understand that Senator Gregorio Honasan is about to be confirmed by the CA.  Once confirmed, I will presume that he has complied with the requirements of the law.  In turn, allow me to enumerate some thoughts which may be of assistance to the secretary designate.

Public buy-in

The new DICT Secretary should be citizen focused — one who would view everyone dealing with government as a customer whose needs and wants would have to be satisfied by every government agency. He would also have to be process-oriented so he can view government service as a seamless interaction of multiple agencies for better public service. He would have to navigate through the bureaucracy to start breaking down the resistance of current government agencies to the integration of existing systems.

Section 2h of the DICT Law (RA 10844) specifies that it is the policy of the state: “To promote the use of ICT for the enhancement of key public services such as education, public health and safety, revenue generation, and socio-civic purposes.” Further, Section 3c defines “Electronic Government or e-Government shall mean the use of ICT by the government and the public to enhance the access to and delivery of government services to bring about efficient, responsive, ethical, accountable and transparent government service.”

Access to such services, however, requires an electronic means of identification (e-ID). Countries that currently deploy such e-IDs (more than 60 including developing countries like Malaysia and India) use it to rationalize services and processes in areas such as social services, taxes, local voting, and administration. In the process, by providing such unique identity they help promote private sector provided online services, thus, stimulating the digital economy while reducing costs and simplifying access to transactions.

Starting in 2019, a national ID system will be rolled out that will eventually encompass the country by 2023. The National Statistical Commission (NSC) is the agency in charge of its implementation, with the DICT providing the technical support. The system will eventually be turned over to DICT once it is fully deployed. It behooves DICT to demonstrate the benefits from such a system and generate buy-in from a still skeptical public by making as many public services accessible online. Moreover, DICT should be fully engaged in the design and deployment of such an e-ID, including ensuring inter-operability among providers of platforms and services. Dr. Peter Lovelock (in his study for ABAC) observes that given the breadth of potential e-government initiatives, priority should be given within government to the establishment of an Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) and the appointment of a CIO to steer cross-department  and cross-agency e-government initiatives and to ensure their compliance with related laws such as personal data privacy laws and cyber-security and data protection regulations.” It is a advice that we should heed as we move forward to a digital Philippines.

Independent Digital Readiness Commission

A recent study of Dr. Lovelock was commissioned by the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) on the contribution of digital technology to structural reform-enabled economic growth. He said the process starts with a national digital plan or blueprint. Among several recommendations of Dr. Lovelock were: “Clearly-defined structures of governance are required to produce visionary national digital plans, along with policies for their implementation and regulations to make them happen.”

According to Dr. Lovelock: “All APEC economies have national digital plans of one kind or another, but while many are specific as to the priorities and ways forward, others remain at the aspirational level.”

A whole-of-government approach with the participation of the private sector is the way to get the Philippines ready for the coming ‘digital tsunaami’ that will transform our lives.

I think we can learn from the experience of our Singaporean friends, as well as others in ASEAN — Malaysia and Indonesia in particular. In their experience, an independent commission led by government working with the private sector offers the best mechanism. Perhaps we can consider creating a similar Independent Digital Readiness Commission (IDRC) tasked with firstly, preparing a checklist of what needs to be done to make the country digital ready and secondly, from that develop a blueprint on how we get to full digital readiness. That blueprint will likely recommend a number of legislative actions and regulatory reforms to create the necessary environment for digital readiness — a robust and affordable communications infrastructure, a digital ready work force, tech entrepreneurship and savvy consumers. It may require some institutional reform and even creation of new ones.

The IDRC will be composed of two committees — the public sector and the private sector committees. The DICT secretary would chair the public sector committee, working hand-in-glove with the private sector committee. The private sector committee will be represented by a cross-section of telco operators, platform providers and firms engaged in the use of digital technology in some form.  Global digital economy businesses — including Facebook, Google, Grab, Huawei, Ali Baba and fintechs for example — should also be invited as resource persons. The IDRC in turn will report to a Cabinet-level Council, ideally chaired by NEDA because of the digital economy’s multi-faceted dimensions. The other reason why it should be NEDA is the fact that we believe that we should change our treatment of the digital economy as merely a subsector of the entire economy. Our mindset now should be from a digital economy standpoint. Virtually everything now is part of the digital economy or has the potential to be.

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