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Digital transformation in governance is not new and has been laid out early on in many governance blueprints. A decade ago, digitalisation became an effective strategy and continues to amplify business frameworks and trigger economic stability in many markets today. In fact, notable achievements in government transactions have been recorded as far back as 2009, thanks to a shift to innovative digital methods.

While the term ‘digital technology’ may not have an exact definition, the term broadly encompasses technological advancement and its impacts on organisations. One of the goals of government agencies across the globe as information technology or IT gets more sophisticated, is to scale up procedures while decreasing costs.

Nonetheless, despite the plethora of benefits brought by technology, several key challenges continue to hinder digital transformation strategies. In a survey released in 2018, federal IT heads voiced concerns about security regarding the adoption of cloud technology. They also encountered difficulty in transferring legacy programmes to the cloud. Lack of skills in the workforce likewise constituted a major hurdle.

Necessity is the mother of invention, says the adage. In less than a year, the world saw the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the digital landscape and accelerating digital transformation. The onslaught of the pandemic put governments on their toes to adjust their operational models and adapt rapidly to an innovative ‘remote everything’ mindset.

Pre-pandemic, the shift was meant to be gradual and incorporate standard change-management timelines. The reality today is that governments are trying to complete their digital journey, not within the coming years, but in months.

For this to happen, cloud computing and data sharing are necessary and irreplaceable lynchpins.  The scope expansion and speed needed to serve and meet the demands of their citizens in the new normal can only be done by strategies that rest solidly on these two pillars.

To get a deeper insight on cloud technology and its adoption by government organisations during the pandemic, OpenGov Asia spoke with top executives of cloud tech giants Microsoft and SUSE for an in-depth interview.

Sherie Ng: The pandemic has accelerated the digital shift and is driving governments to do things remotely to cope with the crisis.

Restrictions due to COVID-19 resulted in disruptions that fuelled the need for cloud technologies to ensure operational continuity. Sherie Ng, General Manager for Public Sector in the Asia Pacific at Microsoft, confirmed that digital technology is at its height with organisations accelerating their digital transformation in the last couple of months. This is particularly the case in public healthcare but is also being witnessed in other government sectors.

The pandemic accelerated the need for the digitalisation of public services for operational and business continuity. Governments needed to urgently cultivate a growth mindset, alongside efforts to ramp up relief operations and recover the economic landscape. The good news is that many governments have partnered with the company to move into the cloud platform.

In fact, in countries like Singapore, a billion-dollar increase in IT spending has been recorded. Similarly, government leaders in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have been vocal about the need for e-government that is heavily backed by cloud solutions.

To allow rapid uptake and migration, Sherie explained that experts at Microsoft have deployed cloud solutions in different arenas to help governments transform their processes and services. One such area is ‘e-citizen services’, which deals with the tracking of critical resources and contact tracing for clients in the healthcare industry.

Microsoft has so far supported agencies in this area through a holistic and secure platform that enables businesses to configure patient profiles and incorporate them into the entire value chain. They have also organised envisioning workshops that help customers digitise current operational processes and transform their customer experience.

Sherie added that in healthcare, it isn’t just about adopting Microsoft Azure, but a re-evaluation of the entire digital infrastructure to ensure the organisation is able to manage the current crisis and become resilient to future incidents.

Sherie detailed the intricacies of cloud economics, quashing the misconception that upgrading to the cloud would have a massive impact on expenses. In fact, organisations save more from the flexibility provided by cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure. Organisations can optimise costs by seamlessly moving their existing on-prem investments, whether open-source software or proprietary, by leveraging a hybrid cloud model.

Sherie likened the concept of cloud economics to governments going up a ladder as improvements in the cloud are recorded. The cost decreases as agencies go up this ladder. The key is to think big but start small. The secret is not going all out at the outset but incremental investments in infrastructure as the needs of the organisation grow.

The most important thing, Sherie indicated, is for every business to have a paradigm shift in organisational perspective. Leaders must be stewards of innovation, with employees re-skilled and re-trained. Governments must also empower the next generation with the digital skills needed for a resilient economic future.

To address trust, security and confidentiality, Sherie added that Microsoft believes in the timeless value of privacy and preserves the ability for customers to control their data. She shared three areas that are paramount to boosting confidentiality.

  1. Compliance – Microsoft respects local laws and regulations and meeting compliance obligations in a dynamic regulatory environment is complex. Consulting a team of legal experts to oversee compliance is one of the methods used by the company to help businesses navigate this ever-changing landscape.
  2. Agility is essential – what started as a slow transition toward digital transformation pre-pandemic is now marked with speed, flexibility and adaptivity.
  3. Scale – although governments have proven that they can initiate a whole value chain of operations management in a few months, there must be a correlative obligation on governments to ramp up operations to scale responsibly and in line with sustainable development goals.

Studies have also shown that the transition to Microsoft Azure has resulted in 93% better energy efficiency, all thanks to a much-needed shift to automation and cloud tech.

Hak Beng: Innovation is about helping clients simplify, accelerate and modernise their digital transformation

According to Ng Hak Beng, Sales Engineer Manager, Asia at SUSE, COVID-19 is one of the major triggers for governments to fast-track their investments in cloud technology. However, this journey continues to be marred by challenges.

One of these issues is apprehension due to data security. To address this, Hak Beng stressed that some government agencies have taken the initiative in teaming up with expert public cloud service providers. He cited the current situation in Singapore, where agencies have banked on secure cloud infrastructure to streamline their transactions.

While Hak Beng admitted that issues on confidentiality may linger and that it may take a while before people change and trust the system, he emphasised that technology is gradually evolving into a hybrid cloud environment that can help address issues on confidential data.

There is now a marked improvement in the time it takes for applications to be developed. Application development used to take years when done through traditional application design methodologies. Today, native cloud programmes have enabled faster turnaround time.

The same is true in terms of scalability. Governments with large populations face scalability issues. The challenge has been addressed by cloud-native apps which are designed primarily to scale as demand increases.

In terms of costs, Hak Beng agreed with the points raised by Sherie. He dispelled the common notion that cloud technology will put a big dent in capital expenditure. The opposite, he said, is true. Cloud systems decrease operational costs because they adapt quickly to changes in the work environment. New features can be dropped and added at little to no extra cost.

This is especially true for clients of SUSE, who are reaping the benefits of using open source software for free and pay only for charges when the need arises. Hak Beng shared the advantages of open cloud technology through SUSE’s acquisition of Rancher Labs earlier this year. With this type of system, products are developed collaboratively. This makes open source technology applicable to a wide variety of industries, including the public sector.

Simplify, modernise and accelerate. Hak Beng added that this motto resonates as SUSE strives to lend a helping hand to governments who wish to simplify existing infrastructure while achieving agility and scalability to meet increasing demands.

To further explain, Hak Beng proposed that government entities consider shifting to Platform as a Service (PaaS). Agencies can dispatch non-core company functions to cloud service providers, allowing agencies to prioritise their core services. Software as a Service (SaaS) further boosts this agility by outsourcing software operation and maintenance.

OpenGov Asia also had the opportunity to get more insights from SUSE on deterring cyber threats. As cybercrime continues to take on new and more sophisticated forms, governments have become adamant about shifting to innovative operational solutions.

For SUSE, which has been at the fore of the cyber frontlines, the answer is simple. Organisations must embrace artificial intelligence which can help in detecting potential cyber threats. Additionally, security products that can scan software source codes for malware-installing multi-cloud programmes can help prevent critical cyberattacks.

When it comes to confidentiality concerns, cloud experts at SUSE believe a hybrid cloud model can assist in allaying these doubts. Under this system, data can be stored safely in one location while other applications can be stored in another cloud infrastructure. This way, the confidentiality of data can be preserved while allowing greater flexibility of services.

The enlightening conversation concluded with both SUSE and Microsoft strongly reaffirming the benefits of shifting to cloud technology in terms of agility, scalability, and flexibility. With the pandemic far from over, for now, the journey of governments across the world toward digitalisation must continue aggressively. The role of cloud service providers, then, remains critical to improving public service and sustaining economic growth.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching impacts on the global economy. Tighter restrictions in export controls are making huge dents in global markets and leaving these economies in a slump. 

report from the World Economic Forum showed that exports from giant economies like China and the U.S. recorded dips in exports. In China, exports fell in February last year but they rose quickly by the following month. The U.S., however, was not able to get up on its feet as quickly. While bike exports rose last year, exports for cars dropped by billions in countries like Spain, Canada, Japan and the U.S. 

Other Asian economies share the same struggle, with most governments looking at veering away from traditional means to shore up exports and shifting their gaze to newer, more innovative remedies. This is particularly the case for Indonesia, which set goals early on to streamline processes in its various sectors even before the pandemic hit. These goals were set to be realised by ramping up investments in technology and using these as tools to enhance its digital economy. 

In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of Industry announced that it is accelerating its digital transformation this year by integrating human resource development and by being more adaptive to technological advancements. The Ministry noted that the workforce must be able to adapt quickly to new technology to contribute to overall operations. 

In line with this initiative, Minister of Agriculture Syahrul Yasin Limpo in a statement encouraged the Agricultural Quarantine Agency to continue to maintain the quality of agricultural products through its Three-Time Export Movement (Geratieks) project. Pursuant to this, he pushed for the adoption of digital technology and improved synergy with existing entities and players within the agency.  

The directive, given during the Agency’s National Working Meeting, is aimed at boosting exports and has proven to be effective during its run last year. The minister said, “Indeed, this is not an easy task, but we have proven it in the first phase of 2020, where we succeeded in achieving the target of increasing the value of 12% according to the three-fold increase scheme.” 

He noted that the agricultural sector has been at the fore of supporting economic growth despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector still allows for improvement which can be achieved by setting up integrated programmes. Building upon the economic achievements of the sector, the ministry has encouraged stakeholders to ensure that agricultural products are globally competitive. By doing this, such products can improve the flow of exports in the country and also fortify its position in the global market.

The importance of “understanding the duties and responsibilities of each work unit to be able to execute the agricultural export multiplication agenda” was something he highlighted as well. Such an understanding aligns with the earlier mandate given by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. 

The minister took the opportunity to remind the audience that the task of the agency and other departments within the ministry is to ensure that agricultural products are of high quality not just as exports but to meet the needs of the Indonesian population. 

Ali Jamil, Head of the Agricultural Quarantine Agency, added to this discourse during the virtual meeting. He explained that the main agenda behind the event is to follow up on efforts in increasing the department’s overall supervision of agricultural products. He noted: “In essence, we will carry out the direction of the President and Minister regarding the prevention of pests and food security. Then [the Agency] will also certify agricultural products for export. Therefore, I ask all quarantine ranks to continue to analyse existing agricultural products.” 

Like other innovative programmes, data automation has become part and parcel of organisations’ digital frameworks, particularly in workplaces where a more seamless flow of data gathering and analysis is needed to scale up operations. This is the trend today as most government agencies migrate toward digitalisation to boost their services. 

The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) is at the lead in harnessing the advantages of the automation technology. According to a statement, the department urged various local government units of LGUs to set up their own electronic Business One-Stop Shop (e-BOSS) in order to beat the June 17 deadline for automating their transactions as required by the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) and Efficient Delivery of Government Service Act. 

The statement comes after Jeremiah Belgica, ARTA Director General, led on-the-spot inspections in LGU offices, including those in Malabon, Quezon City and Pasig City, to ensure that they are complying with the EODB law which mandates that government offices must put up BOSS applications to provide improved public service. 

The BOSS is an application that runs on a single-window system. It is integrated into most agencies’ work models to expedite the processing of application forms and submission of documents in government offices. 

Improvisations were later introduced to this programme by digitalising it. The e-BOSS currently utilises the Electronic Business Permitting and Licensing System or eBPLS, a software that was developed by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). With the implementation of the e-BOSS, transactions with the government were integrated and were allowed to be undertaken virtually. 

It likewise allows the use of e-signatures in public documents and features for online payment of transaction fees.  

Compliance with ease of doing business measures 

The ARTA Director General expressed his approval over the efforts of city governments to comply with measures aimed at promoting ease and convenience in public transactions. He emphasised: “This is compliance with the President’s directive to put everything online. The local governments’ initiatives were in line with their motto that we can see through the facilitation of online payments.” 

He lauded Pasig City’s e-BOSS programme for permit applications and renewal processes. The Director General slipped in a quick reminder for other LGUs to fully automate within the coming months and before the deadline for compliance. 

Under the EODB law, all LGUs, government-owned or controlled corporations and other government instrumentalities both in the Philippines and abroad which are providing services, are required to promote ease of accomplishing business and government transactions by establishing applications that can streamline operations. The goal behind this measure is to ensure compliance with the standard turnaround time for transactions, automated business processes and improved government transparency and accountability among government agencies and personnel. 

One of these methods is through the establishment of an e-BOSS. The ARTA Chief said: “LGUs who will be found to be non-compliant with the requirements of the law shall receive Notice of Deficiencies and may be subjected to a formal investigation which may result in an administrative case.” 

As provided under the law, officials and employees who violate provisions of the EODB measure shall be meted with administrative and criminal sanctions. These violations include refusal to accept and process government application or permits, the imposition of additional fees, collusion with “fixers” and missing deadlines. 

In promoting ease of doing business in the country, several key reforms have been introduced by the Philippine government. Among them is the establishment of online platforms to assist startup enterprises. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) announced the launch of an application that will allow owners of businesses located outside the country’s capital to showcase their products and services. 

The astronomical rates of transmission and a lack of a sure cure for COVID-19 till now has been reason enough for global leaders and citizens to have grave concerns. With the promise of a slew of vaccines, this panic has been somewhat assuaged but extreme caution is still the order of the day.

To their credit, many countries were quick to realise technology’s potential in effectively managing the impact of the virus. Tech giants across the globe supported governments by launching AI-powered solutions and applications to help citizens control risk.

Solutions had to be created under extreme pressure and absurdly tight timelines, leading to phenomenal creativity. Here are some of the significant ways in which technology has and can help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic:

Using AI to Identify, Track and Forecast Outbreaks

AI-based solutions have been designed to detect an outbreak with the premise that the better one can track the virus, the better chances of dealing with it. Such solutions can detect an outbreak by analysing news reports, social media platforms and government platforms.

Canadian startup BlueDot’s, San Francisco’s Metabiota, and Boston’s health map are few examples where the power of AI was harnessed to warn people of the threat days before the WHO issued its public warnings.

Liberty and Passage by Access Anywhere is a prime example of this technological application. Developed by Access Anywhere, it is a total outbreak management system that combines a plethora of cutting-edge technologies on a single platform. Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations and the entire travel industry.

Extremely versatile, it can be deployed across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. Its ease of use, flexibility and scalability means it can be a significant tool for organisations in almost any sector to restart their business safely.

Using AI to Help Diagnose the Virus

Infervision, an AI company had launched a coronavirus AI solution that helps front line healthcare workers detect and monitor the disease efficiently. It also has the capacity to improve the speed of a CT diagnosis. Alibaba has built an AI-powered diagnosis system, which is 96% accurate in diagnosing the virus in seconds.

Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies

Drone delivery is considered the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies during a disease outbreak. For example, Terra Drones is using their unmanned aerial vehicles to transport medical samples and quarantine material with minimal risk. Additionally, drones are being used to patrol public spaces and track non-compliance of quarantine mandates.

Using Chatbots To Share Information

Chatbots are an effective way for people to get specific information and advice. For instance, Tencent operates WeChat, where people can access free online health consultation services. Similarly, the travel and tourism sector has immensely benefited from the use of chatbots.

Using AI to Identify Infected Individuals

As the COVID-19 virus transitioned from an outbreak to a full-on pandemic, China’s sophisticated surveillance system used facial recognition technology and temperature detection software from SenseTime to identify people who have developed a fever and were likely to have been infected by the virus.

Technological innovations like ‘Smart Helmets’ are also being used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with raised temperatures. Additionally, the Chinese Government’s monitoring system, Health Code, uses big data to identify and assess the risk of each individual based on their travel history.

Innovation in technology is helping to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic by keeping people informed and abreast with the latest developments and encouraging them to take all the necessary precautions.

With the discovery of the new COVID-19 strain and experts declaring the pandemic to be a recurring feature in the future one can only see technologies like AI and Machine learning playing a pertinent role in keeping people and organisations up and running.

Tracking infections and their geographical location are of paramount importance in managing the transmission of a contagious disease. The manual ways of collecting data and tracking numbers in similar situations, which was in use until the recent past, is been an extremely labour-intensive activity, rife with opportunities for error. Digital technology (track and trace applications on mobiles) has proved to be a game-changer in the current pandemic.

Manual processes are long, complicated and can be flawed. The interviewee may not remember or know everyone they came into physical contact with. And even if they do, it may not be possible to trace each person. To compound the hazard, the tracers put themselves at risk through their proximity to likely carriers as they navigate complicated encounters with people who have been traced.

Today, contact tracing apps are being developed and deployed across the world fall into two broad categories:

  1. CENTRALISED
    The centralised approach takes data from your phone and stores it on a central system that ‘trusted experts’ can access, using data gathered in ways they think most useful.
  2. DECENTRALISED
    The decentralised approach, which is at the heart of the recent partnership between Apple and Google. This aims to put the user in control and minimise the risk of privacy violations, producing alerts for them automatically with no intervention from a third party.

For the most part, apps rely on the short-range Bluetooth connectively that usually comes with smartphones. Bluetooth enables the phone to keep a log of everyone a person has come into close contact over a specific period, provided those people also have a similar and compatible app. If one of them has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and this has been registered with the app, the technology can alert all the people who have been linked. The app will notify these contacts, allowing them to take appropriate action, such as getting tested or undertaking quarantine. Users can be alerted without knowing the identity of the ‘positive’ case.

While the technology itself cannot stop the spread of the disease, it plays a vital role in educating and empowering people to be aware of their surrounding and take the right measures to minimise the impact. The advantage of this technology is that it can help people avoid spreading the disease they may have been potentially exposed to it without physically having to track them down.

One such solution that combines health data with travel data to build a monitoring system and provide real-time updates is Liberty and Passage.

Liberty & Passage developed by Access Anywhere is a total outbreak management system that combines a plethora of cutting-edge technologies on a single platform. Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations and the entire travel industry.

Extremely versatile, it can be deployed across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. Its ease of use, flexibility and scalability means it can be a significant tool for organisations in almost any sector to restart their business safely.

Liberty & Passage, using AI and ML, has been designed to help provide relevant timely information and build the confidence required to restart free movement between countries and continents. It gives travellers confidence when crossing borders and assurance of authenticity to authorities when processing foreign visitors at borders.

The application is of high value in the corporate world as it can help check the spread of the virus within the workforce. It is able to identify high-risk employees through data analysis and constantly review their health records to ensure their daily well being.

It is technological innovations like this that will instil in individuals and nations the confidence to manage the pandemic better and move forward on their path to recovery. Outbreak management systems will be the key to mitigating risk and enhancing safety in everyday life.

For more information on how the Liberty Solution works, please visit www.libertyandpassage.com

As we enter the new year, many tourism-reliant ASEAN countries are still struggling to recover from the pandemic-induced economic slump as neither the volume nor the travel experience is even close to the usual. Some parts of the world did witness some travel-related activity in quarter four, but for the most part, ASEAN borders remained tightly closed. The unavailability of significant stimulus packages combined with the unpredictability of transmission discouraged countries from actively opening up for business.

Initiation of travel bubbles in the region

The year-end did see the opening of some exclusive corridors and bubbles with numerous safety measures and procedures in place, envisaged to promote sustainable tourism in the new normal.  Brunei, Cambodia and Vietnam have resumed some international flights but Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Timor-Leste remain closed to foreign arrivals. Similarly,  non-essential travel for leisure and tourism has is not allowed in the Philippines.

A pilot scheme in Thailand was deployed to grant special tourist visas for long-stay travellers, which would have allowed healthy international tourists to go anywhere within the country after serving a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“Travellers can come to Thailand, and they can choose Bangkok or Phuket for their state quarantines,” Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor for marketing communications at the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Unfortunately, the scheme almost immediately floundered after a new case was reported, scuttling any hopes of an imminent reopening. Tanes named Singapore and China as countries Thailand is keeping its sights on for possible travel bubbles in the future, which would allow residents from only these countries to move between each other. Singapore is progressively reopening limited safe travel arrangements with other countries, including its Southeast Asian neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and most recently, Indonesia.

Easing of travel restrictions and the implementation of “green lanes of air travel” – which allow visitors from specific countries to enter – could be premature as policymakers and hoteliers alike juggle to balance public health with the economic growth.

Outbreak Management System will be key in 2021

Despite limited and highly regulated travel within the ASEAN region, the risk of contagion cannot be ruled out. Passengers need the confidence to travel across borders while managing various health risks and immigration requirements on a single platform.

This is where technology solutions like the Liberty and Passage Outbreak Management System come in play. The Liberty and Passage Total Outbreak Management System provides travellers with the necessary health and regulatory documentation within the platform. It logs health declarations, provides digital health certificates, records a health status log and has a track and trace function built-in.

Not only does it help passengers track their health status and simplify the travel procedures amid the pandemic, it can also help prevent the rapid spread of the virus within the airport and the airline workforce.

The Liberty and Passage app has been designed to help provide relevant timely information and so build the confidence required to restart free movement between countries and continents. It gives travellers confidence when crossing borders and assures authorities of the genuineness of the documentation when processing foreign visitors at their borders.

Technology solutions like the Liberty and Passage app will be essential not only for the citizens but also for the authorities who have been entrusted with the critical responsibility of keeping citizens safe as more cross border travel takes place in 2021.

For more information on Liberty and Passage Outbreak Management System, please visit: www.libertyandpassage.com

The new vision of local government units as they move towards digital innovation is to avoid having their citizens stand in lines for transactions; instead, they motivate the public to go online. 

This is exhortation the Valenzuela City government gave its constituents who still opt for physical transactions and avoid taking their business transactions online. The city has launched a string of innovative solutions that the city has laid out this year to streamline its operations and want to ramp the uptake of online services. 

To encourage the public to shift to online transactions, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian announced in a statement that the city government has inked a Collections Services Agreement with Union Bank of the Philippines. Under the deal, a new payment option shall be added in the recently unveiled Paspas Permit System. 

The Paspas programme integrates several key business transactions with the local government. These include dealings regarding zoning procedures and issuance of sanitary permits to establishments. Applications for health certificates are likewise included in the list of services catered by the online system. 

Under the new payment option, account holders of the partner bank may settle their business taxes without convenience fees. For non-account taxpayers, they may still use the payment scheme to pay their taxes virtually. However, they will shoulder fees at a rate of 1%. Payment can be made using credit cards or debit accounts under selected lenders through the PCHC PayGate. 

Meanwhile, the delivery of permits and documents are coursed through commercial courier service and will ordinarily take about three to five working days. 

Contributing to ease of doing business in the country 

The mayor expressed his confidence that the ease and convenience brought by the virtual payment scheme will further improve tax collections in the city. He added that the partnership came at an opportune time, a month before the “tax season in Valenzuela”. 

He also encouraged the public to take advantage of the benefits of the new payment scheme amid restrictions and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mayor added: “Use Paspas Permit system as it is now completed with new enhancements to ensure safety and convenience and to avoid convergence of people during the business permit renewal season at the designated payment centres.” 

The Paspas Permit programme is part of the 3S Plus online service launched by the city government last month. This service aims to integrate the application for permits and other requests for public documents into one platform. 

Before the introduction of the Paspas Permit, the city said that processing through physical transactions usually takes 30 minutes. With the integration of the new programme, the city anticipates that it can shorten this turnaround time. 

The new agreement is in line with e-governance initiatives undertaken by several other local governments and departments in the Philippines in a bid to comply with the provisions of Republic Act 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018. This Act was signed into law to amend the existing Anti-Red Tape Act. Its purpose is to facilitate faster and more seamless government transactions. It covers all offices and agencies in the Executive Department, local government units and government-owned and controlled corporations. 

Local governments are not the only agencies investing in innovative technology to ramp up their operations. Several agencies have undertaken necessary improvements in their digital transformation. In an earlier news story by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that the smarter way to upscale operations is by introducing “smarter” technology. The DTI explained that the role of innovation in boosting economic growth has been made more apparent in the face of the global pandemic. The department thus urged key market players, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, to invest in tech and cultivate an innovative mindset. 

To assist Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the Philippine government has put up a new digital platform where small businesses and start-ups can offer their products.  In a statement, the Department of Trade and Industry- Bureau of Domestic Trade Promotion (DTI-BDTP) reported that it has organized a National Trade Fair (NTF) mall as the agency strives to continue assisting MSMEs during a phase marred by restrictions and regulations brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The new mall allows MSMEs to offer their products while navigating their way to online selling and other e-commerce promotions. The NTF was put up through a string of collaborative efforts from the DTI-BDTP and the DTI-Regional and other provincial offices. 

Last year, the DTI’s Trade Fair, themed ‘A Green Show’, was able to showcase products of 285 MSMEs hailing from various areas in the Philippines. The number of participant businesses was 14% higher than that recorded in 2018. In terms of the number of visitors, attendance during the 2019 fair increased by as much as 10%.  

As in previous trade fairs organized by the trade and industry department, the newly launched online mall is a depository of some of the top products of some 223 businesses in the Philippines. Some of the products showcased in the NTF mall are processed food and drinks, houseware, fitness items and souvenirs. Shops offering fashion accessories and other wearables are also part of the digital mall. 

The NTF digital mall features a product catalogue with a facility to search for a specific product or product category and the platform provides for a more convenient online shopping experience. Buyers can also opt to reach out to MSMEs by messaging them through Viber for easier transactions. Visitors of the NTF mall shall be able to attend DTI webinars, as well as browse through writeups on exhibitors’ inspirational stories.  

Tapping bigger markets through innovation 

The NTF mall is a digital marketplace which allows for viable promotions of a plethora of products from various regions in the country. Food and non-food products may be advertised and sold to consumers through this mall. 

What sets it apart from other e-commerce apps in the market today is that it allows for business-to-business (B2B) and also business-to-consumer connections. Through the app, MSMEs are granted new avenues to connect not only with their potential clients but with their partners and suppliers as well. 

In addition, the NTF platform has networking capacities that link MSMEs to “financial service providers, point of sale, accounting, inventory, human resources, tax and payroll services, supply chain management, and B2B and B2C marketplaces”. 

The NTF e-commerce platform is integrated within another linking application, which allows owners of MSMEs as end-users to create their own online shops. Through this software, small business owners are able to tap overseas markets and jumpstart their journey in digitizing their operations. This way, MSMEs may also learn a few tricks from bigger businesses who also have their companies linked in the app. 

The Philippines is ramping up initiatives geared towards employing innovative methods in government transactions. Congress has doubled the country’s 2021 budget for broadband services. The executive branch of the government has also introduced a number of improvements in handling permits applications, passenger screening in immigration, and tax payments. 

In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Bureau of Internal Revenue has announced the launch of an electronic tax clearance scheme that bidders in government projects can use. The new tax payment method comes after a statement from the Finance Department that 86% of all tax payments were coursed online during the quarantine.

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