PAHRODF Case Studies
Results Story 20: Information Technology
Delivering Better Software for Public Use
Introducing change is always a challenge. For Angelo Arboleda, ten years with NAMRIA (National Mapping and Resource Information Authority) as information technology officer this was the challenge.
NAMRIA, as the central mapping and resource information agency of the Philippines, provides mapping services to government agencies. In its ongoing geoportal project, NAMRIA aims to provide the Philippines with infrastructure that will deliver geospatial information to the public. The software needed for delivering this information, dynamic and always evolving, is part of the job of Angelo whose work involves the maintenance of the data base, servers, and other aspects of information technology.
In his field where change happens quickly, Angelo’s solution was to introduce, coach and train his staff to understand and grow accustomed to the new software, technology and materials. “I conducted impromptu workshops to teach them, and to get feedback from them to see what was preventing them from embracing this new technology,” he shares. That seemed to have done the trick as their once-resistant staff who were new to technology, eventually warmed up to it. As Angelo shares, “As soon as we were able to hurdle that one, everything was fine.”
Angelo relates how his department has already made noteworthy progress. He remembers how, in the past, it would take the department perhaps a month to respond to the problem when people complained about certain software experiences or errors encountered. “But now, since we’ve set up this sort of ticketing system, in which you can actually report your problems online, we are able to respond faster, more promptly. We have probably reduced the response time to about a week,” Angelo triumphantly declares.
He also expounds a bit more on the decode review implemented. This appears to be truly at the heart of the more effective delivery of their service output since it enables the department to assess the code quality their programmers are writing. “Let’s just say, we do a peer review. It enables us to spot defects and security flaws in the software before it’s even released.”
For Angelo, keeping abreast of the changes in information technology and staying on top of their systems are a priority. To meet their mandate and stay relevant, his team maintains a website that delivers information and data to the public, using internet technology. “It is important that this website stays up 24/7 because when typhoons come up, when disasters strike, it is important that these information is available to help agencies that need them,” he emphasizes.
Although it may still take some time before the entire Philippine geoportal system is up in the way NAMRIA has envisioned it, for now, Angelo is proud of the fact that their department has already made ample contributions. “By making the information available 24/7, we are helping not only the agencies, but we are able to benefit the public as well,” he declares.
Start of the journey
The turning point for Angelo was when he was awarded with the Australia Awards Scholarships in 2011 to pursue Master in Information Technology at the University of Sydney. Angelo realised that there was much room for improvement in the service his division was providing. “I thought we were doing just fine; we were creating, delivering software that was up to standard, usable. But as soon as I went to Australia and was exposed to the kind of quality there and the way they manage the software, it dawned on me that there was this really big gap on how we (at NAMRIA) deal with the stuff here in the Philippines. So as soon as I got back, I tried to copy and implement those procedures here. And I think we’re getting good results.”
Leaving for Australia meant that he would also be leaving much of the work that was pending. Fortunately, his office was helpful and supported his scholarship. Through the help of technology, Angelo was also able to juggle his studies and attend to work issues at the same time. As he explains, “I know that going to Sydney to study, I’ll be leaving a lot of work behind. But the internet made this simple. Basically I could just work remotely - grab a laptop, log on to the internet and I could still do my work, my duties.”
As Angelo relates, his Re-entry Action Plan or REAP, a plan designed to apply his learnings to address organisational gaps, was to help his department deliver better software for the distribution of geospatial information to the public. “Basically, when I returned, what I did was to implement what we call the source code management system. This helps us to track the quality of the software we are producing. It is essential in helping NAMRIA reach its goal of delivering what we call timely, accessible and accurate geospatial information,” he explains further.
Armed with new knowledge and the determination to share his new learnings, Angelo achieved 100% implementation of his REAP within two years of his return. The main driver for his plan was the ongoing Philippine geoportal project, which already started before his scholarship. “Even before I left NAMRIA for Australia, the goal was already set. I started implementing it as soon as I got home in 2012. Basically, I was reintroduced back to what had been done in my absence, and I saw that the REAP I was planning to implement fitted well with the project, as did the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) accreditation the office was striving to earn. It also fitted right into the picture and added more depth to my REAP.”
With the Philippine geoportal project going full blast and his department’s full support and cooperation, other than the expected initial staff resistance to change, implementation went rather smoothly, with no other major obstacles. “We had the money, the resources, and everything we needed. So it became very easy for me to get the staff to do a lot of the things that needed to be done. Basically, I was given the freedom and the resources that I needed to implement the project.”
Achieving global standards
While the strategic direction and the original key result areas - the enhancement of and the delivery of quality software for public use - remain unchanged, there have been developments in the technologies to be used, and how these are to be used. His learnings in Australia updated Angelo to globally acceptable standards. “They helped me to realise the gaps that we have, and how to address these gaps,” he stresses.
Aside from giving back to his office, Angelo admits that his goal leaving for Australia, was to broaden his knowledge. Though happy and grateful for what he has learned from his scholarship, he regrets not having had the chance to observe other organisations while there as he probably could have absorbed even more. “I think it would be more helpful if we were exposed to actual agencies, actual organisations in Australia like GA (Geospatial Australia) I guess. It would have given us a more concrete experience.”
All told, Angelo readily acknowledges that dealing with information communication technology projects is a “continuous process” where constant improvements are necessary. With his quest to learn more and do more, there is no doubt that much can be accomplished, and the public can only expect bigger and better things.