TECH  ME  TO  2010

MANILA, JULY 11, 2007 (STAR) By Kathy Moran - How do we sell the Philippines? And, if you could, would there be any takers?

“Regional competition is becoming more and more the reality due to the ever-increasing global interdependence,” said Bonifacio Belen, chairman of the 2007 ICT (Information and Communication Technology) 2007 Congress held in Cebu recently. “In essence, this year’s Cebu ICT 2007 hopes to contribute its share toward Asian integration in the ICT industry.”

The tourism industry hereabouts is growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to the untiring efforts of the Department of Tourism to get people to take another look at this wonderful country of ours.

And then there is the IT industry.

Indeed, Gil Genio, CEO of Innove, a subsidiary of Globe Telecom, who was one of the keynote speakers at the congress, cited the infrastructure developments for information technology in the country.

“There is a need for investments in the infrastructure for the ecosystem in terms of real estate, office grade buildings, a good transport infrastructure for staff, and an overall image or lifestyle that attract the young and highly skilled population segment to ensure that this sector continues to be an employer of choice,” he said.

“We also cannot forget significant investments, typically private sector-led, in robust telecommunications networks, including incorporating the lessons of the December 2006 earthquake,” he added.

Genio hit it on the dot when he brought up the degree of broadband penetration and use in the country. After all, he pointed out, pervasive broadband networks allow people and companies to experience the benefits of the Internet and this, in turn, helps improve their skills and competitiveness in the world.

When talk of IT begins, many minds tune out. Why? Because the jargon and terms can be so daunting that only the techies and their cohorts may have any real use for them. But in the Philippines and in many countries in Asia, the growing industry is one that can put us back on the global map. At least, that is what these techno experts say.

For sure. Even President Arroyo, who was represented at the congress by Presidential Management Staff director Cerge Remonde, said (in a prepared speech), “Competition for ICT and BPO (business process outsourcing) investments has gone global, and, as one of the four most desirable outsourcing destinations in the world, Southeast Asia is in the thick of the fight,” she said. “However, we hope to chart a course that would transform the rest of Asia, including Southeast Asia, as the world’s premier ICT investment destination and outsourcing center.”

Being in the audience of what seemed to be largely male-dominated group was quite interesting. One couldn’t help but wonder how much more palatable and interesting all the technospeak would be if the guys in the suits and barongs made a little more effort at using more hip language.

Out of the question.

Genio noted that one of the Philippines’ many attractions today is the lifestyle that we have to offer to people who want to invest here. He pointed to low manpower costs, relatively good English skills, and very good productivity levels.

“We have an extremely attractive set of these three factors. Real estate, transport and of course, lifestyle — whether you are in Cebu or in Greenbelt, in Makati or Libis, in Pasig or the Fort in Taguig,” shared Genio. “Many of the factors that attract both upwardly mobile business class, which is a source of our great talent, and expats, who run many of these companies, are the great opportunities for them to experience the good lifestyle.”

It is precisely because of the kind of lifestyle the country offers that some expats have opted to bring their companies here, said Genio. They like the life here and that is why they move here. “The indirect benefits of the broadband revolution is something that we cannot underestimate,” he added.

How true.

The past 10 years have brought changes in the way people deal with technology, as it becomes more and more available and accessible to more people. If in the past it used to frighten people, today the lack of knowledge on the use of IT and developments in the IT world can make or break a business. One key indicator of that has been in the use of mobile services, and the growth in the telecommunication sector. One sure sign is that the newer cellphones are no longer just for making calls and sending text messages. Many more people are looking to those devices that will allow them access to e-mail, surf the Internet and even do streaming.

Genio added that this knowledge provides a very good barometer of how comfortable people are with technology.

“But at the same time, when it comes to broadband, when homes and lots of other institutions see the power of the Internet delivered fast to where they are, then it does make the overall competitiveness of people and institutions,” he said.

“Our company, for example, as an Internet provider is spending lots of money, basically putting in broadband access. With an increased rate of broadband penetration in the country, we should be able to see an improvement in the ICT skills of the population,” he added.

Moving forward

There is much that the government is doing to meet its goals in 2010. Remonde named at least six of them.

First is the Disaster Mitigation through Enhanced Forecasts Using Numerical Prediction Products and Satellite Data, which is a cluster computing solution developed by PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) for a fraction of the price to replace its old supercomputers to provide timely and accurate forecasts based on the newest meteorological models.

Second is the Open Source and Low Cost Computing Program, which develops and delivers alternative and low-cost system applications to government agencies, schools and small businesses to reduce their dependence on propriety software. One of its desktop solutions, Bayanihan Linux version 4.0, was launched this year.

Third is the Philippine Research, Education and Government Information Network, which serves as the Philippines’ only research and education network with links to international research and development networks such as the Asia-Pacific Advanced Network, the Asian Internet Interconnection Initiative and the TransEurasia Information Network 2. One of its milestones is the launching of the Philippine Open Internet Exchange for IPv4 and IPv6 this year.

Fourth is the PAGASA Interactive Climate and Weather Information Network, which includes the rehabilitation of the radar system to strengthen the weather bureau’s information and communication system, the acquisition of hardware and the development of the required software for field stations.

Fifth is the Test Analysis and Calibration Information System. This project refers to the computerization of laboratory operations and management through the use of information systems.

And the sixth is the Electronic Library. This project integrates current libraries into a single network system to standardize services and provide wider information databases that are available and accessible to all individuals and qualified users with Phil e-Lib prepaid cards.

And it is not lost on the government that there is a need to develop people who can run these programs it had set in place. The government has implemented the comprehensive MS and PhD scholarship program aimed at accelerating the production of high-level human resources needed for science and technology, particularly in the areas of research and development, innovation and ICT.

There is still much that needs to be done in order for the Philippines to become the IT hub of Asia. Genio said the Philippine government has taken several steps to help companies achieve desired cost savings and make the country a hospitable place for foreign direct investment.

Government incentives — in areas such as income tax holidays, foreign ownership of Philippine-based companies, deductions for training expenses, and duty exemptions on capital equipment — are at par with those of other Asian countries.

“The challenge is indeed huge, the task is daunting,” Genio said. “But if we pull our resources together, share among ourselves the best practices and commit ourselves to better quality of services, the future will indeed be better for the IT industry in the ASEAN region.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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