Silver lining in the cloud

By Bernadette D. Nicholas Sep 29 2019 / BusinessMirror

Like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the world of work, and the public sector—like the Philippines’s Bureau of Customs—is following the lead of private business in adopting cloud computing for more efficient services.

MORE and more people from the public and private sectors are now shifting to cloud technology for its security—ironically the same main reason they weren’t inclined to embrace it before.

Teresa Carlson, Vice President of WorldWide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services (AWS), admitted that security concerns prevented people from using cloud technology back then.

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“In fact, I hear more people now telling me that they move to cloud now because of security. I used to hear I can’t move to cloud because of security; now it’s really the top reason. Of all these, it’s agility and security,” Carlson said at the 1st Asean Public Sector Summit hosted by AWS in Singapore.

Aside from agility and security, she said people choose cloud technology because of the speed that it provides and it gives them the ability to experiment.

With cloud, buying too much technology to support the operations of one’s business is now a thing of the past as customers are also given the chance to only pay for what they only use of its storage.  Deploying business operations globally is now a lot easier because of cloud.

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As one of the leading online cloud service providers, AWS means business when it comes to security as it provides more than 200 services dedicated to security and compliance, according to Vincent Quah, Regional Head for Education, Research, Healthcare and Not-for-Profit of AWS Asia Pacific and Japan.

“Security is our number-one job. AWS is an online cloud service provider. That is our only business. So for us, it is incumbent that we provide the best security capabilities to our customers, to secure their data and to secure their AWS environment,” Quah said.

While he said AWS is really committed to providing security, he also pointed out that security is a “shared responsibility” between AWS and its clients.

AWS provides the security of the cloud or the physical infrastructure but the customer has the responsibility to take care of the security inside the cloud, including the right data encryption and the security of their operating systems, he explained.

“So we see security as a handshake between AWS and our customer. We always advise our customer what are the best practices when it comes to security,” he said.

As part of this shared responsibility model of AWS, Quah also said there will be no stopping their customers, including some Philippine government agencies, should they decide to pull out the data that may be stored in AWS.

“Data still belongs to the Philippine government. While it may be stored in AWS, at anytime they can choose to take the data back. We’re very clear,” he said.

“Which is why some of the most highly regulated industries like the banking industry, the life science, healthcare, pharmaceutical, those with very, very valuable sensitive information, they use Amazon,” he added.

In the Philippines, the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Fire Protection and the International Rice Research Institute are some of those that have tapped the cloud computing services of AWS in a bid to improve their operations.

Cloud computing means the on-demand delivery of computing power, database, storage, applications and other IT resources via the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing.

For 13 years, AWS has been the word’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform as it offers over 165 fully featured services within 21 geographic regions worldwide.

Millions of its customers in over 190 countries across the world, including the fastest-growing startups, largest enterprises and leading government agencies, trust AWS to power their infrastructure, become more agile and incur lower costs.

Moreover, it has continued to deliver close to 2,000 new features and service enhancements last year.

Touting the wide range of services it offers and its track record, AWS said it continues to serve a growing demand from both public and private sector worldwide, including the Philippines.

Before shifting to cloud technology through AWS, the Philippines’s Bureau of Customs (BOC) relied on labor-intensive, paper-based systems and its own data centers housing servers, storage and networking equipment.

However, these systems not only took three or four days to process a transaction, but also slowed activities and left opportunities for corrupt behavior.

As the Philippines signed off on the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act to streamline BOC’s practices, including the mandated use of advanced information and communications technology to accelerate processes and make them more transparent, the BOC was prompted to plan an extensive transformation and digitization of key processes, such as importing cargo clearances to improve efficiencies and reduce corruption.

It led the bureau later on to choose AWS because it was cost-effective, global and credible.

Had Customs chosen a physical infrastructure rather than AWS, they would not have been able to save hundreds of millions of pesos, which also does not include yet the cost of operating systems, associated storage and networking equipment. Also, the bureau would have had to purchase and maintain servers in 48 locations throughout the country.

In March 2016, the BOC started developing the Advanced Manifest System (AMS) and completed its production deployment of the application by June 2016.

The AMS system allowed brokers, government agency employees and others to review and assess inbound goods 24 hours after their departure from the port of origin, streamlining clearance processes before goods arrive in the Philippines.

“This really saves a lot of costs for the Bureau of Customs because what they need to do previously is that [for] all the foreign offices that they have, they need to maintain servers. Now, they can consolidate it into a single service hosted on AWS and all the offices around the world can then access this system. And start the clearing process way ahead before the ship actually arrives on the port,” Quah explained.

By digitizing customs processes and enabling payments and pre-clearances up to 35 days before import cargo arrives at a port, the new system running on AWS helps BOC reduce the incidence of corruption as well as provide other authorized government agencies near real-time access to information about all inbound cargo.

Despite the BOC being regarded as one of the most corrupt agencies in the government, Quah conceded that technology can be used for good or bad.

“It is how you use it. So in this particular case of Bureau of Customs, it was a very clear specific project in terms of driving efficiency in the way they do their customs clearance… Our focus is helping our customers achieve the goal they want,” he said.

“If we see a benefit to our customers in using this particular set of technology, we will help them to achieve that and if it saved them money, that’s great,” he said.

Asked if he thinks the Philippines is ready for digital transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Quah said: “This is going on regardless of whether the country is ready or not. The commercial companies are already doing this, so what more the government.”

While the AWS helps both private and public sector adopt cloud, it also helps young Filipinos acquire cloud skills to prepare them for the future, by hosting events such as week-long training sessions under AWS Siklab Pilipinas 2019 to equip students and educators in higher education institutions in major cities, including Cebu, Davao and other parts of Luzon, with cloud computing skills.

The week-long training events conducted monthly from May to December this year are supported by global AWS programs, AWS Educate and AWS Training and Certification.

“So adoption [of cloud computing] is moving very fast and in order for the adoption to continue, we need to move very fast. We need to prepare the skills, help as many people [as possible] acquire the skills and the knowledge and the abilities to be able to contribute to this effort of adoption,” Quah said.

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