New PH customs IT chief not out to reinvent wheel

Primo Aguas, the new Customs deputy commissioner for Management Information Systems and Technology Group

PHILIPPINE Bureau of Customs (BOC) stakeholders and personnel may see him walking around most of the time.

“I like to manage by walking around,” Primo B. Aguas, the new head of the bureau’s Management Information Systems and Technology Group (MISTG), told PortCalls at the sidelines of Monday’s press conference where Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon introduced all five new BOC deputy commissioners.

“So, on my first day here on Thursday I actually walked around… I cannot be an ivory tower not knowing what’s happening out there.”

He admitted he only has a “very general picture of the environment so I need to dig deeper and see where the issues, challenges and bottlenecks are because I don’t want to reinvent the bureau.

“If a project has already been designed, approved and it addresses the needs of the stakeholders, I’m not going to say ‘Why don’t we start from scratch?’”

Now that he is in government, the ex-IBM executive said he was told to manage his “expectations so while I have these good ideas, I know they may not happen immediately. But at least I know what’s out there and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

He was scheduled to meet with his staff on Tuesday to come up with a list of projects the MISTG has been working on as well as the issues, challenges and obstacles that the group was facing.

Aguas noted that his predecessor Ma. Caridad Manarang — who has been assigned to the Department of Finance as assistant secretary — in her farewell speech said there were a lot of “end-of-life issues” related to the hardware and software of the bureau.

“I visited the (BOC) data center last week. The equipment are really obsolete and you know technology, it changes so quickly,” he pointed out.

Aguas said Manarang likened the BOC IT systems to that of an old car. “If there are no more parts, no matter what you do with the old car, no matter how good a driver you are, it’s not gonna move,” Aguas quoted his predecessor.

Meanwhile, the new deputy commissioner hopes for an early court resolution on the Integrated Philippine Customs System (IPCS), whose award a losing bidder had sought to nullify for alleged irregularities in documentation submitted.

“I hope that the courts settle that immediately so then we can move forward because that’s a project worth hundreds of millions of pesos and from what I’ve read and heard, it addresses a lot of the problems,” Aguas said.

The IPCS is a P418-million computerization project meant to replace the electronic-to-mobile (e2m) system, which is plagued by so many technical problems. In the last few weeks alone, the e2m server has been down countless times causing a slowdown in shipment processing.

Aguas admitted he has heard of e2m’s numerous issues but “I don’t know what the full picture is.”

He noted there is an ongoing infrastructure project related to the server upgrade and hopes it “will address the spare parts issue.”

Aguas’ position also puts him at the helm of the National Single Window (NSW) project, which electronically links about 40 government agencies to ensure seamless trading transactions. The NSW is a prelude to the country’s linkup to the ASEAN Single Window, which interconnects transactions among customs bureaus in the the regional grouping.

Asked if he will bring technologies he has seen in IBM to the bureau, he said: “My being in IBM for three years allowed me to see the latest developments in software and hardware that companies and governments can look at and consider,” adding this does not automatically mean IBM will be a provider for BOC.

“You also have to adapt to the realities… so you don’t propose a Rolls Royce if in fact a Toyota is the sufficient one. That’s my analogy,” Aguas explained.

He said he cannot yet assess whether the technology in the country compares with those of other ASEAN member nations’ he has visited and worked in.

“Some countries are ahead of others… Here, just to get internet access, it’s very expensive and it’s very unreliable.”

Aguas holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics degree from the Ateneo de Manila University. He has lived and worked in New York, Chicago, Hong Kong and Manila. He is originally from Pampanga. –– Roumina M. Pablo