No easy task, but worth itFOR Perak State IT director Mohd Nor Hassan, convincing his bosses to implement Information Technology in the administrative machinery was no easy task.
Although the directive was clear that IT was to be used in processes that can be automated in order to improve services, justifying the expenditure was another issue.
"We chose departments responsible for revenue collection as starting points to introduce and implement technology," says Mohd Nor.
It was an obvious choice he says, because the pro-IT group had to prove that by improving procedures in revenue collection through technology, it would then be clear to the powers-that-be why IT should be adopted in the first place.
"When you see the potential that can be earned -- the ringgit sign and the returns on investment -- the justification is clear-cut," he says, adding that it was only natural to start with the money-making sectors to show the benefits.
The state's information systems (IS) team, comprising four systems analysts and five programmers, started applications development with the land revenue system to move it from its proprietary platform to an open systems environment.
The exercise, which involved 17 land offices spread across the state, was done in stages.
"We began with the Kinta district in 1995, which proved to be successful, and completed implementation at all the other district offices by 1997," says Mohd Nor.
The success achieved in Kinta also prompted other departments to aggressively computerise their processes related to revenue generation. Among the areas that were "activated" were forestry, arrears, land, loans and scholarships.
Disparate islandsYet the strategy Mohd Nor used to introduce technology in the state machinery invited criticisms from certain quarters. While many IS experts may champion implementation on a wide and broad scale, he chose the road less travelled by tackling each implementation separately.
"So instead of building one huge network, we started with little islands at each department," he says, adding that the "islands" were generic and have proven to be functional and efficient.
He adds that the IS team has always kept in mind the big picture to integrate and link up all the departments in future.
In fact, the IS team is currently in the process of linking up all the islands into one large network. At the same time, it is acutely aware of its financial limitations.
"For instance, at the district level, it will be a dial-up connection to the main node located at the Secretariat, instead of a fibre optic link, until we can justify the need to have such a high speed link," says Mohd Nor.
The Secretariat's campus consists of six buildings connected through a fibre optic link, though not all the nodes have been activated.
The PCs in use at the district level are linked to Hewlett-Packard servers, while those at the Secretariat are linked to a myriad of Sun, Hewlett-Packard and Acer servers through Windows NT, Unix and Novell NetWare networks.
Mohd Nor adds that the IS team is also looking at introducing the Linux operating system, but this effort has been hampered by support and service issues.
The popular bread and butter applications in use at most departments and district offices are wordprocessing, spreadsheet and database programs.
Furthermore, all IT implementations are Year 2000-compliant, although the Millennium Bug issue did not crop up back in early 90s when the state decided to upgrade its applications.
"The IT community was aware of the Millennium Bug, and we decided to make sure the apps that were under development will run smoothly after Dec 31, 1999," Mohd Nor says.
The IS team's aim for 1998 is to ensure smooth data and information transfer, as well as to reduce the ratio of persons to PC in the civil service from 6:1 to 4:1.
The state employs about 7,000 civil servants, with another 8,000 spread throughout quasi-government organisations in Perak.
Apart from simplifying routine tasks for civil servants, the IS team is working towards automating certain procedures such as payment facilities and information retrieval for the public.
In the pipeline are plans to allow the public to make enquiries electronically or online regarding the status of their debts or property.
Mohd Nor says the team is currently working with a telecommunications company and a local financial institution to introduce transaction kiosks to allow members of the public to make payments electronically.
The secretariat is also upgrading the facilities at its computer laboratory, which is currently equipped with 16 PCs, to 60 PCs. The lab will be used to train government personnel through a "training the trainer" programme.
To date, all state assemblymen, village development and security committee members, village headmen or penghulus, department heads and officers have been trained to use PCs.
ISO 9000 certification In the process of inculcating an IT culture, each department was given a mandate to achieve a certain standard of quality as defined by the ISO 9000 certification process.
State Secretary Datuk Abdul Habib Mansur says that all core processes are being documented and that each civil servant knows how it works and what is to be done. All government departments are required to be certified under ISO 9000 by the year 2000.
"We show the way, we lead by doing it so we know the problems and the beauty of the system. We know the value and therefore we are able to advise better with the experience we've gained," he says.
According to Habib, the certification process for some departments is in the final draft with the Malaysian Administrative, Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu).
By the third quarter of this year, the State Secretariat and State Finance Office are expected to receive their ISO 9000 certification.
Other departments slated to be certified soon are the Ipoh City Council, Public Works Department, Drainage and Irrigation Department, Land and Mines Department, and several district offices around the state. - ANITA MATTHEWS
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