The Philippines is one step closer to having an all-in-one online government services portal meant to make life easier for Filipinos transacting with the government.
There are 160 national government offices in Metro Manila that are set to be connected by fiber optic technology by September this year, said Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Office under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) during a forum on Tuesday, July 22.
The main obstacle to meeting the September target is the speed by which government offices can secure permits from companies like Meralco to allow the installation of the cables in electric poles they control, said DOST ICT spokesman Roy Espiritu.
The fiber optic network of all these government offices will be fully deployed by early 2015, he added. By then, these offices will be able to take advantage of the high-speed connection the technology provides.
Fiber optic technology – in the form of glass cables that can be installed underground or strung on poles like electric cables – allows offices to share vast amounts of information with each other in a matter of seconds.
It is this technology, usually provided to private individuals by telecommunication companies, that allows one to download movies in seconds.
The fiber optic network now being installed by the government will be used solely by the interconnected government offices to share information and provide “more efficient and transparent government services,” said Casambre.
No more lining up in gov’t offices
In Cebu, 18 government offices have already been fully connected with fiber optic cables. Their networks are expected to go online by the end of 2014.
The government’s fiber optic network will make possible an all-in-one government portal that will allow citizens to avail themselves of government services in front of their own laptops instead of having to wait in line in front of government offices.
This portal, once complete, will be accessible via the URL www.gov.ph currently being used as the Official Gazette website.
Need a driver’s license? Want to register your car? Want to get a passport? The government platform can crunch 50,000 transactions per minute, said Espiritu.
The portal will achieve this by featuring a variety of programs such as software that enables government offices to create their own online forms.
“The hindrance to having a fully online transaction is we don’t have forms. We have downloadable forms but it’s not really online. We download it, then print. It still goes to the office. With the Forms Builder, you can create your own forms as well as manage the database where the responses will go,” said Jose Feliciano of the DOST-ICT Office.
The portal will also have an online payment system that uses various channels like debit card, credit card, online banking and non-bank over-the-counter payments similar to the Bayad Center model.
Government agencies just have to name their preferred mode of online payment which the DOST will then make available for use in the portal.
The DOST is already talking to various online payment service providers so that government offices have a list to choose from.
To make the portal even more streamlined for citizens, it will have a single sign-on feature that allows citizens to log into an account with one username and password.
“It’s like a Gmail account. If you log into your Gmail, you’re logged into YouTube, Google Drive, etcetera, and that’s what we’re doing for the government,” said Feliciano.
Users of the portal can also expect to see more uniform-looking government websites since the platform imposes a government website template.
“We want to achieve one look and feel for all government websites. The problem is we design our websites differently so people have a hard time finding the information they need. With one look and feel, even if they transfer from one agency website to another, they would know where to go for the information they need,” explained Feliciano.
Espiritu said the services portal should be ready for us in 2015.
The fiber optic network is expected to make life easier for the government as well.
The interconnectivity between the government offices made possible by the technology puts all information collected by these offices into a cloud. All this information – like citizen registries handled by the Social Security System (SSS), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); land registries; business permits; vehicle permits – is stored in data centers.
All this shared information can then be used by all government agencies to render services to the public more efficiently.
The use of digital certificates given to each government employee or citizen allows for the authentication and validation of electronic documents.
The network will also feature NARMIS (National Records Management Information System), a program that manages documents. Many government agencies regularly ask the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for funds to set up a document management system, said Feliciano.
NARMIS, developed by the DOST, can now be made readily available to agencies that ask. This saves time that would’ve otherwise been spent procuring a system and developing it.
With the portal in place, government employees will be able to use official government email accounts instead of making do with Yahoo or Gmail accounts. Aside from being more secure, this boosts the credibility of government employees when communicating through email.
Putting all government services and citizen information in one platform have raised concerns on security. Is it wise to put all our eggs in one basket, providing a single target for hackers?
While Feliciano agrees the concern is valid, he said there are many benefits to having a single platform.
A centralized system means government agencies will not have to spend to put up their own websites or manage their own data centers.
The money saved can then be used to hire the very best information technology (IT) experts to maintain and monitor the single platform and the data centers it is connected to.
The set website templates also ensure all government websites have sound coding and lessen the possibility of flaws or weaknesses in the system.
Also, only a select team of experts will know the location and have access to the government data centers. In times of disaster, backup data centers will kick in.
Written by: Pia Ranada