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Congress has almost done it

/ 12:24 AM November 05, 2015

The bill proposing the creation of a Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) is ready to go to the bicameral committee for agreement on a final version. Let it be done quickly. And congratulations to everyone for this development.

The envisioned DICT will support the development of the IT sector. We must applaud the lawmakers for it, which will be one of the most farsighted laws the Philippines can have—one that can make it a world leader in what is becoming the most dominant industry on the planet. Everything, and I mean everything, is becoming controlled by a computer chip today. Our lives revolve around such chips.

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Find me a restaurant where people are still talking. Kids won’t even know what a book is a generation from now. People are no longer going out; they order food from their favorite restaurants using mobile apps such as FoodPanda. They also do not need to hail cabs as they can have their “personal drivers” through GrabCar and Uber apps—if the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and the Bureau of Internal Revenue don’t stifle this imaginative enterprise to death.

We have departments of agriculture, of industry, of tourism, of natural resources, even, and importantly, of finance. We are the only country in the comparable world where there is no one to look after the ICT-BPO (business process outsourcing) sector. Now, hopefully, there will be. Once the bill is passed, the Philippines will join the other Asean economies such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.  Only Cambodia and Laos (hardly countries to emulate) remain without such a department or ministry.

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The fear—and it’s a sound one—is that the government will stifle the industry in bureaucracy and meaningless control. It will be up to us to ensure that it doesn’t happen because it certainly can with the wrong people in charge. This should be one of the criteria in choosing the next president—that the law is implemented in a way that assists, supports and promotes the IT industry.  And he or she must choose the department head carefully and wisely. I’d suggest, in all seriousness, no one over 35—a young person who is IT-savvy, with managerial experience, someone who grew up with it and who has it in his/her bones. No lawyer need apply.

Here’s why you need someone under 35. It’s a humorous story I received via e-mail that makes the point:

“Yesterday, I had a problem, so I called Georgie, the 11-year-old next door, whose bedroom looks like Mission Control, and asked him to come over. Georgie clicked a couple of buttons and solved the problem. As he was walking away, I called after him, ‘So, what was wrong?’ He replied, ‘It was an ID ten T error.’ I didn’t want to appear stupid, but nonetheless inquired, ‘An ID ten T error? What’s that? In case I need to fix it again.’  Georgie grinned. ‘Haven’t you ever heard of an ID ten T error before?’ ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Write it down,’ he said, ‘and I think you’ll figure it out.’ So I wrote it down: ID10T. I used to like Georgie.”

There should be a young team to suit a young industry. I’m an electrical engineer specialized in electronics, with decades of managerial experience. I should be ideal for the job, but I’d be a disaster. I learned electronics with valves, with transistors just coming in. Today a computer chip has over a billion (yes, billion) transistors in it. I have to ask my son to sort out my iPad when it goes wrong. He’s under 35 but no, he’s not interested in the job. He has a successful cinematography business that he loves.

The proposed law as written is a good one; it is supportive of the industry and has little in the way of controls. Let’s ensure it’s kept that way.

The Philippines, as we all know, is the call center capital of the world and KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) is growing nicely, but they’re but slivers of what the industry is and is becoming. There’s the high-tech side of design and programming and the production of hardware to add to it. Both are much bigger components. It should overtake overseas Filipino workers in dollar remittances by 2017.

The Philippines is also faring well in backroom operations, animation and legal and medical transcription. Filipinos have shown a real talent for this industry. Let’s capitalize on it.

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I suggest that we turn Clark/Subic into an IT center, a Silicon Valley of the Philippines. Locate colleges, factories, IT offices, everything, in one place so a culture, an interaction, a community of like minds can be developed. An international airport is there, as is a seaport; land is available. It can become a world-renowned hub. And remove all restrictions on foreign involvement. The ban on the Foreign Investment Negative List must go. Get as much brain power and money as we can in there. It won’t deprive Filipinos of jobs; it’ll give them jobs. Silicon Valley is the cradle of the IT world because it did this. Bangalore in India is becoming so, too. It is the top outsourcing destination in the world, according to Tholons, and accounts for nearly 40 percent of India’s total IT exports.

I suggest that President Aquino appoint an officer in charge as we transition to the next administration. He shouldn’t do an Arroyo and make midnight appointments. The OIC should develop the implementing rules and regulations, with emphasis on the DICT supporting the industry and not in any way restricting it (no new permits or registrations, etc.), and then put in place the bureaucracy (in the good definition of bureaucracy) and the systems that a department head appointed by the next president can then take over and put into operation.

Mr. President, support it. It’s the future.

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E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Department of Information and Communication Technology, DICT, IT
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