Wednesday, February 25, 2009

National Center for Information Technology

Times have changed, world have changed, technology has evolved. MCST/NCC/NCIT never changed, or progressed. Many of you may not even know about NCIT (National Center for Information Technology); don't be surprised. Many of the existing government top level official also have no idea. Maybe it was one of the best kept secrets in the government of Maldives.

Prior to being called NCIT, it was called NCC (National Computer Center) which was under Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology. If I recall it was established in the mid 1990's. The e-government project has been active since early 2000 or 2002. The first major project was the establishment of the fiber network which was first awarded to CET Technologies Pte Ltd in early 2005. It was also projected that Installation and Commissioning of the network and selected applications will be completed by 2006. The project at the time was almost 100% driven by NCIT. Hardly advise of the privet sector or other government Ministries was considered, I was told that there were meetings held to get views but it was never practical. This is the feedback I have from friends who attended some of these meetings, including government employees from presidents office, other government owned originations and National registration.

The scope at the time was

(i)networking of government agencies in Male by installation of a fiber optic cable, and connecting 20 atolls by carrier service for government agencies to share their information and for the public to get access to government information electronically

(ii)enabling electronic delivery of public services including the provision of applications for national citizen identification; public health services; and registration for vessels, vehicles, and aircraft

(iii) establishment of the National Computer Center, which will centrally coordinate ICT policies, standards, and practices for government work;

(iv) building of Internet kiosks, which will provide the public with better access to government information and services; and

(v) implementation of telecommunications sector reform, which will eventually enable the public to get access to the Internet at an affordable price.

I must agree if the responsible parties did deliver this would have been great. However if you think today in 2009 how much of this was delivered. Ultimately this became the biggest among other “BIG IT Projects" in this country. Funded by ADB (It is estimated that the ADB loan is worth US $9.50 million or more). Now the way I see it NCIT is under pressure to deliver what they started a few years back. All they achieved was a big building with a nice lift, big meeting room and an expensive data center. Which services no purpose. Today they are talking on TV about a portal (kind of like web site) which will have a lot of content from all of the Ministries that say what you should do, etc. This is much like the travel web sites, where you get all the information about the resorts. Maybe a few services included. The point to note here is after almost 5 years or so, this is what we get?. Surely somethings have gone wrong, or need to be reevaluated.

There was also a committee established under the name of Information Technology Advisory Committee. I am not sure who were in this committee or if it ever existed, but according to the published documents the mandate of this committee was as follows.

1. To review policies, procedures, guidelines and strategies with respect to issues concerning information technology deployment in the Maldives and make recommendations on these issues

2. To periodically review and advise the NCC on the implementation of Information Technology policies and plans

3. To ensure that IT policies are in line with the nation's development objectives, mission and goals.

4. To review the strategic IT planning processes and to make recommendations to ensure that the Government's policies on IT are fully realized.

5. To review, assess and make recommendations on the IT programs, initiatives and projects

6. Advise on the changes including (but not necessarily limited to) process changes, innovative ways of deploying IT that will result in bringing about the full benefits of information technology to the government and citizens of Maldives.

7. To assess and advise on the mechanisms that is in place to evaluate the success of IT policies and strategies.

8. To review, assess and make recommendations on the IT standards and guidelines

9. To advise on human resource and training requirements for Information Technology

10. To advise on any legal changes that may need to be taken into consideration for the deployment and use of Information Technology in the Maldives.

I am not sure how much of this was completed. For sure I don't see any policies, standards and guidelines. Maybe we have them as top secret documents. Maybe we just don't know are are not well informed.

However I must agree that at the foundation level we had good visions or a plan. If this materialized at that stage and if the people who were given the responsibility did a good job, it must have be something to be proud of. Sadly this is not so.

I think we don't have people with the visions, the interest and the know how. Even today if you look at the NCIT web site you see them requesting for the so called “IT Experts” to help them with the e-government deployment. I don't know how many guys came with Masters and PHD's in computer science yet we are seeking outside help to implement our projects. What have we been doing?. I think they are now procurement officers. They release PO's to the vendors and sign contracts. At least if they don't wanna do the dirty jobs, least the policies and standards document could have been some contribution. Which too we don't have.

Next NCIT will tell no one is willing to help or no good staff is willing to work for NCIT. Maybe so, but if that is the case, for sure there must be something wrong about NCIT or the way they operate. You can't blame all the potential staff and other IT staff in public sector. I've been told by people who left the center that there is no room for them. None of their views are heard or will be heard. Simply the place has outdated philosophies and sticking to out dated methods or depends too much on the vendors. There is no internal developments or R&D work.

Today we need to analyze and think or rather rethink the whole model of e-government and the role of NCIT. NCIT was a hope when it came in to existence. One of the stated objectives of the NCIT was to help diversify the economic base by attracting IT companies and IT enabled service companies to be established in Maldives, and provide job opportunities for Maldivians in this sector.

Furthermore it was stated the following.

  • ICT Infrastructure: ICT Precinct; assist in providing key infrastructure necessary in seeding joint ventures with offshore firms.
  • ICT Infrastructure: Applications Development Centre; act as the catalyst required to establish necessary capabilities in application development expertise.
  • ICT Infrastructure: Technology Incubator; provide a vibrant environment for young people to establish IT ventures and to learn valuable business and technical skills.
  • ICT Usage: Project Loan Support; ready access to development funds and financing.
  • ICT Usage; Mobile Commerce and Payments Trial; provide a new base line of activity and facilitate a real working demonstration of the broader benefits and efficiency of electronic based commerce to the Maldives.
  • ICT Facilitation: Strategic Alliance Program; creating the right environment for skill, knowledge and technology transfer and promote partnerships between local enterprises and offshore companies.
  • ICT Facilitation: ICT Cadets; provide the opportunity for young individuals to explore career and entrepreneurial opportunities in the IT sector.
  • ICT Facilitation: Skills Certification; aims to raise the level of professionalism and commercial orientation of the Maldives local industry capability.
How much of this was archived?. Where is the IT industry in the Maldives. Just cos we have a few shops selling computers does not mean we have an IT industry. This is not what is called an IT industry. Today India is a leading country in this industry, Sri Lanka is catching up. Malaysia is another example. Where are we?. The government never saw this, or does see this. Economically speaking this could have been a potential industry. Which would have been highly profitable but no we were blinded and still are blinded ONLY by tourism and fishing. Selling our land and seas and making money is all we think of. Maybe again there is so much I don't know or maybe I have a different view. Then they tell me IT guys are lazy and can't depend on them. At the same time they proudly tell you we have the best telecommunications infrastructures banking facilities and hospitality solutions. Who implemented them the fishermen?, the finance guys?. There have been a lot of projected implemented by local Maldivians which we should be proud of even in the IT industry. However they come with proper funding and project management. So who ever says IT guys are lazy can fu*k off! Most of us work 7 days a week and work more then 12 hours a day just to earn for the bread and butter or rather for the peanuts that you guys pay and to meet with the sky high demands of yours. On top of that we love what we do and most of all we enjoy what we do. Very often contributions done by the guys in this industry is taken for granted. Things we have done, for no money, unlike the lawyers and the doctors in this country. Simple things like when someone's PC is broken you just call the next IT guy you know and fix it for FREE. Maybe pay the guy with a coffee. Where when you take a lawyer even for a coffee they charge you minimum Mrf 1,000 per hour.

Today NCIT it on TV talking about the e-government after almost 10 years and blaming the rest of the Ministries for no cooperation. I don't get it or understand it. I still feel the foundations are wrong, the method that we are going is not the way it should be in 2009 and we can build a better e-governance system just by looking at how others in the world are deploying e-government projects and the present trends in the industry. You don't need to listen to a few of us in the public. However I am personally totally against things like vendor-lock in the government where we go on closed technologies and pay royalties.

I think NCIT is making simple things complex and taking us all for a ride. I think what we are trying to do is since ADB paid us and will demand some results, we are just trying to meet that. Get rid of this, and say “we done it”. Not looking at how we done it.


Control Freak said...
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