Friday, February 27, 2009

Test Post!

According to CIA 5.5% of our (Maldivian) GDP is the Military expenditure. We rank 15th in the world. Yeah! Something to be proud of? Sure I am.

It's a dream job we all should be proud of, being maybe an officer in the MNDF. You get to enjoy a motorbike , a car with a driver and value adds like the best food. This is on top of all the other benefits you'd get to enjoy. Why should they not?. After all they will be the people who will be saving our asses WHEN/IF AND WHEN someone will come and bomb us or shoot at us (even in the islands).

Even though on Nov 3rd 1988, the NSS was locked inside the base; that won't be the case next time. Hell yes!. Even on that day if they were not locked in, they would have kicked the asses of those terrorists/Baagee's and we did not had to ask the Indian Army to come help us. Even on days like DEC 26th 2004, when the tsunami hit us, if the weather was good they would have left the same day to help the islanders.

No one can even beat MNDF when it comes to entertainment too. There is so much that the Maldivian movie industry can learn from MNDF (even Hollywood). They always make us happy and give us a good time. These are services that we should always admire and appreciate. So all that money that is spend is well worth it all. God yes! I am really proud of them.

My next request for them is to invest on R&D into such a system like in minority report. "Huh bul" .. "Watan"!

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Standardization of IT in GOM

Recently the cabinet of the present government decided that they will ensure that within 3 years all government offices will use licensed software. This was a good start, maybe technology was not the main reason behind the decision but it was a good move in the right direction.

Furthermore I was told that there were discussions on “Developing standards and guidelines for system procurement based on need, OS to be installed, basic criteria for websites – to enable easy procurement and significant savings, as well as harmonization” and “Full assessment of ICT capacity, capability and competency (equipment, systems, software and liveware) of all GOM”

We must again welcome this. I feel having standards for procurement purposes is good but based on what? I feel what is lacking is some kind of government IT Interoperability Standards which very clearly defines and supports the fundamentals of e-governance and general IT standards to be deployed government wide. Such standard should be recommended in all public sector procurements and major upgrades to other legacy systems.

Some of the focus of the technical policies which are essential for such standards/policies should be Interconnectivity, Data Interoperability, and Information Access. However again considering the evolution of technology the main thrust of the specification should be to adopt Internet and World Wide Web standards for all Government systems. While we are going ahead and deploying the present “e-government” systems we should also be discussing and looking at data coherence across Government. The ministries along with NCIT need to agree upon data schemas for use throughout the public sector. Maybe as of now these are dictated by the NCIT (In reality the vendor(s) from Singapore), but I feel these should be open for discussions and views outside the vendors and NCIT should be considered. As discussed in a previous post the e-government project should not be limited to NCIT alone. Successful deployment of e-government is the responsibility of all government ministries, state owned organizations and citizens (stakeholders); should not be limited to one or few departments/Ministries. This is a complex task and an on-going process. The technical standards must not only support and enhance government’s business processes, but must also ensure that new technological advances and innovations are leveraged to their full advantage. Maybe the best approach should be to review and update such standards on an annual basis.

While formulating such standards we should also consider Interoperability, Market support, Scalability, Security and Open Standards. Key emphasis should be put on open standards. Definition of open standards may vary, however most commonly standards maintained by a non-commercial organization are considered to be open which are possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost. It is also important to consider standards which have multiple implementations and are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached. Maybe the best approach is to follow standards set by standards development organizations (SDOs) like ISO, IETF, OASIS, W3C, ITU, IEC, ECMA, IEEE, ANSI, OGC, FIPS, ITU-T and ETSI.

After such standards are set then funding and purchasing of IT products and solutions should dependent on compliance to these standards. Making sure the compliance of these standards are met should be the responsibility of the Finance/IT departments in the individual Ministries/Departments and the Auditor General.

Finally standards for what and where might be the question. The answer is simple. It’s for everything from Security, Network, e-Mail , Directory , Domain Naming, FTP, Terminal Emulation, Data Interoperability, Content Delivery, Web-Services, Enterprise Architecture, Digital Signatures, Encryption algorithms, Document formats, Character sets and alphabets are a just few examples.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


OpenDocument is a file format (ODF) created by Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium based on the XML format originally created and implemented by the office suite by Sun Microsystems.

ODF is a file format for electronic office documents such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents.

Might not sound big, but if you look at the adoption of ODF in governments and other organizations around the world it's become huge. These are some of the "small things" that governments like Maldives chooses to ignore but will have a major impact financially and technically.

Among the governments who have adopted ODF include India.
Chandershekhar, India's secretary of Ministry of Information and Technology, said, "We are glad to note that with formation of a National ODF alliance, India too would be playing a pivotal role in spearheading the ODF revolution. Further, considering the huge potential of eGovernance in the nation as well as the need to adopt open standards to make our data systems more inter-operable and independent of any limiting proprietary tools, we feel that ODF is a great technological leap and a big boon to further propel IT right to India's grass root levels. I congratulate this initiative of leading private & public organisations and wish them all the best in this endeavor."

The Allahabad High Court of India has decided, as policy, to use OpenDocument format for its documents.

- from Wikipedia
Other countries in Asia include Japan and Malaysia who have made the use of ODF mandatory within the public sector from April 2008.

In Europe countries like Belgium, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden and United Kingdom.

NATO with its 26 members (Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the USA) uses ODF as a mandatory standard for all members.

Other nations include Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

Why ODF?

One objective of open formats like OpenDocument is to guarantee long-term access to data without legal or technical barriers, and some governments have come to view open formats as a public policy issue. OpenDocument is intended to be an alternative to proprietary formats, including the commonly used DOC, XLS, and PPT formats used by Microsoft Office and other applications. Up until Feb 15th 2008, the specification for the Microsoft Office binary formats were only obtainable by writing directly to Microsoft Corporation signing a license to use the formats. As of Feb 15th 2008, the specifications for the Microsoft Office binary documents are available for download. Microsoft will support the use of OpenDocument in Microsoft Office 2007 starting with Service Pack 2. Several plugins allow use of Opendocument in earlier Microsoft Office versions. - From Wikipedia

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Male' Road Project ?

I am not sure how many of you remember the Male' Road Project (cement roads) which paved the roads with concrete then destroyed and replaced with bricks. I am not sure how much money we did spend on this project. Maybe Millions?

Did we not learn from those experiences?. I don't know we are still doing things the same old way. That road project was a big joke, paving the roads was nothing new to the world. We did not have to reinvent the wheel, but we did.

I think the same concept is being applied for the existing e-government project. Where it's obvious that we know that this is not the best approach or the right way. Still we have to do it, the way it's documented 10 years back, since we have invested and have committed.

The sad part is there is no concerns over this. We don't have any proper standards or policies, rather now it's a massive IT project. In my view this is not the ideal approach. It should be more about establishing common standards across government, delivering services more effectively, and providing ways for Ministries to work together using technology.

It is obvious that the public money need to be spent efficiently to improve the service continuously, and e-government is the key. The government should give more priority to this project which I feel is lacking right now. The actual delivery of e-government should be the responsibility of all government Ministries. NCIT should work with government Ministries to achieve the Government's vision for e-government. The NCIT should lead, facilitate and coordinate e-government activities. However I don't know how many individuals know what is this vision or if we really have any; or is it just an idea?.

To transform Maldives towards e-governance there needs to be goals set for the government. These goals should reflect judgments about the key things that need to change at a system-wide level if we are to advance to the overall goal of establishing an e-government in the Maldives. Some of the key dependencies include : Content, Confidence and Connection. These needs to be addressed before we can move on technically. I feel before we move on with the technical implementations of the existing e-government model, we need to revise our visions and objectives of e-governance. Better understand and plan the so called "e-government project". To do so we need to start with the basic fundamentals, like setting up government wide IT standards, etc.

E-government should not be a fashion item; it should be a major step forward in communications that has been accepted internationally. It's not an option. It's important the government helps minimize the time the public and business community spend on transactions with government.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Work in progress

It's been a long time since I have been trying to establish a company based on the open source software business model. I guess there is no better time to do it then now, so along with a close friend of mine we started it off.

Our philosophy is to follow open standards and open architecture and be open minded. We feel the success of such a start up is based on a few key factors. I see good potential if we can keep up with the demands. At some areas we have to create demand and confidence. I know it's a challenge but I am confident that we can make it.

Obviously financing such a start up is one of the hardest things. Presently we are trying to keep our expenses to a minimum. A work space, a motivated team and some level of funding is what we have now. I am sure this is more then enough, though it's tight we can see a good future.

Personally for me I can't quit my day job as of now, but I am really looking forward to being full time involved with the teams on the projects. I feel exciting times are ahead.