Statement on the undergraduate thesis of Ronn Bautista and Krixia Subingsubing on the eUP Project
Category: UP @ LB
Published: 09 August 2016
Yes, it’s time. Now that Ronn Bautista has made public their thesis on eUP, it’s time that we in the eUP Project Team also inform the public about our comments on the thesis and its misleading claims, questionable conclusions, and false allegations.
At the outset, we would like to highlight that we provided the thesis authors all the documents and data which he sought from us for his so-called investigative report. In his FB post yesterday, Mr. Bautista admits he is “grateful for the access to information” we have given him. The disclosure we made clearly demonstrates that we have nothing to hide.
This statement addresses what we consider as our major concerns among the issues raised by Mr. Bautista in his FB post. We intend to address in due course the more specific issues, which are operational in nature and have been or may be addressed in the actual systems implementation work, as well as the more specific claims in the thesis which we find to be inaccurate, if not outright untrue.
Intent of the thesis
In the introduction, the thesis states, “So far, the university faces many challenges that stunt its growth as a leading figure in operational excellence: long queues during enrollment periods; slow, manual processing of transactions and documents; isolated information and communication systems across its CUs; inadequate ICT infrastructures; lack of or poor appreciation of ICT among teachers, students, and staff, among others.” Agreed. These are the challenges that the eUP Project aims to address by modernizing and integrating the UP’s information infrastructure and systems.
In the statement of the problem, the thesis explicitly recognizes that UP “needs an efficient and unified ICT system to manage its ever-growing population’s data and affairs.” This statement clearly implies that the existing fragmented legacy systems cannot meet UP’s information requirements going forward. And yet the thesis laments the impeding termination of these legacy systems. It would have been more logical for the thesis to show how the changeover can be facilitated.
The thesis says, “the efficiency and efficacy of the multi-million eUP project is yet to be seen as glitches and inaccurate prediction and coordination of necessary tasks hound its delayed implementation.” Indeed there have been delays in implementation, but the various systems, including SAIS, have been demonstrated to work well in certain units of the University. The resistance to change is a major cause of the delay.
The thesis has not evaluated the inherent quality and robustness of the eUP core information systems nor has it identified viable alternatives.
Rather than being an objective analysis of the eUP systems done for the benefit of the University, the thesis appears to be a piece intended to derail an important initiative that will modernize and improve the operations of the University. It maligns the eUP Project based on speculative opinions and personal views of those with vested interests, and attempts to confuse and influence the readers through sensationalism. A serious evaluation of the quality of the system would have instead featured conclusions backed by accurate, objective scientific and technical data.
The thesis raises many of the same worn-out arguments that critics have been spouting against the reform measures being implemented by the UP administration. It contains unsubstantiated insinuations of fraud, magnifies minor problems, and blows issues out of proportion. It presents criticisms that are not valid evaluations but instead are merely opinions of individuals who are not technically qualified experts, or who have their own agendas and biases against the UP administration. Even when qualified and objective individuals are cited, either the wrong questions were posed to them or their comments indicate that they may not have had the time or access to information needed in order to sufficiently study the issue they were addressing. Important information given by the eUP Team and UP officials were left out and a very obvious intention to present a biased view is seen.
Rather than helping the University achieve its goals of administrative efficiency and improved service quality (which the thesis admits are laudable goals), it hinders the task by inviting further resistance to change. The thesis authors are doing the University a great disservice by supporting those who seek to block progress in the University. At best the thesis is an example of poorly conducted research work and at worst it is a witch hunt disguised as an academic endeavour.
The timing of the investigation
The proper time to conduct an evaluation of an information system of the type attempted by the thesis is after completion of implementation, when the system has stabilized and its impacts (good and bad) are already apparent. This is how a professional evaluation would be conducted. In many ways the thesis evaluates the eUP project as if it is already finished, which is unfair to the implementation team.
An example of a properly done review is the University of Texas Health Science Center’s Post-Implementation Review of the campus solutions system (the same system as SAIS), which can be found at: https://www.utsystem.edu/sites/utsfiles/documents/information-technology/uthsch-campus-solutions-post-implementation-review-audit/uthsch-campus-solutions-post-implementation-review-audit.pdf.
This aforementioned review was conducted when the implementation was substantially (97%) completed (at an actual cost of USD7.8 million or about P367 million for one campus). It followed audit standards according to the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing, used an appropriate framework (ITIL) and used it correctly, and followed a clear and organized process. Results were reported in a clear and concise manner without emotional undertones. The thesis proponents purported to have used a framework but failed to properly execute such use.
Alleged violation of the Procurement Law
According to Mr. Bautista, “through extensive interviews and analyses of key Project documents, this report found that eUP’s procurement activities violated Section 18 of the Government Procurement Reform Act by prematurely naming ERP software vendor Oracle, Inc. in its Terms of References” (ToR).
Nowhere in the ToR is it stated that Oracle or any other specific brand must be purchased. The thesis proponents even questioned the statement in the ToR that reads “The application should be able to connect to/migrate from all major types of relational databas systems such as Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, MS SQL, and DBF.” This clearly shows lack of discernment or just deliberate malice on the part of the thesis proponents.
Reference to brand names is a common practice in government procurement, particularly for technical items including ICT hardware and software. This is due to the difficulty in specifying quality and functionality in generic terms. There are numerous examples of purchase documents on the GPPB website that include brand names ostensibly for clarity of specified requirement. A list of these examples was given to the thesis authors but they have chosen to omit any reference to them in the thesis. The reason is obvious. Facts about actual procurement practice would have nullified the legality issue he has raised in the thesis. In any case, here are some examples of purchases that mention brand names:
- MSU Iligan Institute of Technology published in 2012 a requirement for which they mentioned a brand name, namely, CISCO IP Phone.
- Department of Public Works and Highways (Batangas) mentioned a brand name, Toshiba, for required laptops.
- Department of Public Works and Highways (Region IV-1) mentioned for the required computers: Intel Core IS, Intel Chipset, Licensed Microsoft Office
- Bureau of the Treasury Procurement of Oracle Licenses and Support required for the implementation of the enhanced National Collection System (eNCS) with a total Approved Budget for the Contract of Twenty Two Million Pesos (PHP 22,000,000.00).
- The Government Procurement Service (http://procurementservice.gov.ph/home/ – see website drop down menu: “What we sell”) even sells Microsoft Licenses.
The word “equivalent” is often stated whenever a brand name is indicated in the ToR to ensure that bidders have a clear and uniform understanding of the specific requirements of the end-user. Sometimes, multiple brands are listed in order to give a range of possible options or capabilities (e.g,. various operating systems). The requirements were always clarified during the pre-bidding conference with prospective bidders.
Brand names are used for ease of communication, in order to clearly convey the user requirements to the prospective bidders. This also conveys the level of quality required by the user, in order to avoid purchase of low-cost but sub-standard items.
The concerned Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) is fully cognizant of the restriction on the use of brand names in specifying items to be procured. That is why this is thoroughly discussed between the user unit and the BAC during the pre-procurement conference.
The ToR should be taken as a whole. Individual lines from the ToR should not be taken out of context. Insinuations of fraud are unjustified and unprofessional given that there are no tangible proofs given in the thesis. Note that all eUP contracts have been awarded through open public bidding.
eUP project costs
The project name “eUP” is a comprehensive term we adopted to label our overall effort to modernize and integrate the information infrastructure and systems of the entire UP System, which consists of eight (8) constituent universities/college (UP Diliman, UP Los Banos, UP Manila, UP Visayas, UP Baguio, Mindanao, UP Open University, and UP Cebu), and including the Philippine General Hospital and UP System Administration.
For this effort, our projection in 2012 was that we would need to invest around P750 million over the 5-year period 2012-2016. Around two-thirds (2/3) of this amount have so far been spent on equipment (computers with software, scanners, printers, server), infrastructure (fiber optic networks, renovation of facilities, aircon, generator), bandwidth (144 Mbps in 2010, 6,235 Mbps now), and other IT support systems. These expenditures are needed to achieve the upgrading of the ICT infrastructure of the University for an integrated information system and would be incurred regardless of the software applications used. The aggregate amounts of these expenditures were published by the Philippine Collegian in its issue of 18 March 2016 (see the infographics in the article).
The subject of investigation for the thesis appears to be mainly the eUP core information systems which constitute the unified information system now being implemented across UP campuses. This consists of the FMIS, HRIS, SAIS, SPCMIS, and EIS. The software applications for these systems were supplied by Oracle at a price of P43 million. Payment to Oracle, as well as to the implementation partners, was built into the P134 million contract with ePLDT, our systems integrator. The implementation partners are the expert outfits who are assisting us in the deployment and integration of the core information systems.
But we have also contracted individual experts, mostly from UP, to form teams that serve as local counterparts in the implementation partners. No doubt, retaining IT experts in UP is a continuing challenge given more financially attractive options elsewhere. We are happy that “homegrown talent” is very much present in the eUP Project Team, particularly at the leadership level.
We have so far invested P204 million in the acquisition and deployment of the eUP core information systems, including salaries of home-grown talents and honoraria of internal Subject Matter Experts.
The eUP core information systems will address the major information gaps and infirmities of our fragmented legacy systems and provide UP with a unified information system across campuses.
The thesis tends to equate the eUP Project with the Oracle-based core information systems. The Oracle systems are just components of the eUP Project. The eUP Project Team, in fact, have also been developing non-Oracle applications for other various academic requirements of UP.
Glitches in the implementation of SAIS
Understandably, SAIS is the information system of immediate concern to students. As has been or being experienced in the four (4) CUs that use SAIS for student registration (UP Baguio, UP Manila, UP Cebu, and UPLB), there were glitches in initial stage of implementation. While we don’t want them, these minor operational problems do usually happen during the initial runs. At this stage though, we expect all students from the 4 CUs to complete their registration using SAIS for this first semester of academic year 2016-17.
As we have already explained earlier, the slowdown and inaccessibility of the SAIS for UPLB students during the first few days of the registration period this semester was brought about by the unexpected Denial of Servic (DoS) attacks on our SAIS website. But we are happy to report that as soon as we were able to block the unwanted attacks, the SAIS system performance improved and stabilized.
We encourage those who criticize the glitches experienced with SAIS during the start-up phase of implementation in the different campuses to check for themselves with people who know, the difficulties encountered when CRS was introduced in UP Diliman and the SystemOne in UPLB.
We continue to conduct eUP information campaigns throughout the UP System to ensure that stakeholders are well informed. We also do these forums in order to promote transparency.
Should you have any query about the eUP project, please send an e-mail to our eUP Communication Team at [email protected]