Cedf-it: Five years of impressive development

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 22, 2006

That began with a unified, multi-sectoral vision

A little over five years ago my colleagues and I were in Cebu for a special conference entitled, “Cebu is IT.” The conference was special for a number of reasons. First, it was a collaborative undertaking by the government, academe, non-government organizations, and the private sector. Second, it was purposeful, meant to identify do-able strategies for Cebu to leverage the IT and ICT sectors as an engine of sustainable economic development and investment.

Third, the action plan the meeting generated – with the objective of enhancing both the quality and quantity of human resources available to the IT and ICT sectors – found form and substance in the Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology, or Cedf-it. Set up shortly after the “Cebu is IT” conference in part with funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development, Cedf-it is one of those rare examples demonstrating that conferences don’t have to be mere gabfests. They can produce real, and really felt, change.

Last week I had the privilege of attending Cedf-it’s fifth anniversary celebration along with an overflowing crowd composed of industry luminaries, government officials, academics involved in developing Cebu’s human resources, and NGOs supporting that work: the same group responsible for the Cedf-it vision originally produced in 2001. In fact, many of the same personalities who played key roles then continue to be actively engaged with Cedf-it and the implementation of its projects.

Those projects are designed to reflect Cedf-it’s six-point mandate, which ranges from faculty development and student partnerships to curriculum enhancement and the sourcing of equipment, developing and offering certification courses and otherwise facilitating human resource evaluation and employment, and serving as an advocate for the industry. To realize its mandate, Cedf-it has undertaken an impressive number of projects in its formative years.

Eight key projects are what executive director Bonifacio Belen refers to as flagship undertakings. They include an IT Teachers Academy, providing regular updates on emerging technologies for faculty. A Professional Certification Center tests graduating students to assess knowledge and skills, shortcutting the evaluation process for potential employers. As I remarked recently to Mr. Belen, the Cedf-it certification program for software engineers is very similar to a certification initiative developed by NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies) for the Indian business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Because Cedf-it’s mandate is limited to Cebu and the Visayas, Mr. Belen is offering the program royalty-free to other organizations, including the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P), which aims to provide many of the services NASSCOM offers in India to the Philippine BPO industry. According to BPA/P executive director Mitch Locsin, certification programs are among the association’s priorities. So the impact of that 2001 conference and Cedf-it’s work is likely to be felt well beyond Cebu.

The certification – which Mr. Belen says is now called the Philippine Information Technology General Certification Exam (PHIL-IT GCE) – was developed by IT professionals in the Philippines, and is based on international benchmarks. It evaluates graduating engineers and programmers on three broad levels: 1) Fundamentals, including math and basic programming; 2) Systems, including architecture and programming languages; and, 3) Applications, including software engineering and networking.

Other Cedf-it projects include an HR Survey and Monitoring Unit, an Entrepreneurship and Incubation Center, and Quality Assurance in IT Education. Cedf-it often calls on industry practitioners to help deliver these services, many who serve on its board of trustees. They include Stan Combs, president of Lexmark R&D, and Lawrence E. Hughes, chairman and chief technology officer of Infoweapons.

At five years of age, Cedf-it is in many ways remarkable, but two qualities stand out. First, in a reasonably short period of time, the organization has become an integral component of Cebu’s BPO supply chain, supporting industry growth and employment. Second, because of the appreciation of its projects and their impact, Cedf-it continues to enjoy broad multi-sectoral support.

Mr. Belen attributes Cedf-it’s success to five factors. First, it is led by a cooperative private sector; second, it works well with government, but doesn’t allow lack of government support to hold it back from accomplishing its work. Third, the executive director and trustees enjoy broad multi-sectoral support. Fourth, it is an entrepreneurial organization that listens well; and finally, its membership holds dear and respects Cedf-it’s core values, including solidarity and social responsibility.

I’d like to add one more: Cedf-it’s continual benchmarking and study of the world’s leading IT and BPO hubs. Mr. Belen and his board as well as Cedf-it members have invested substantial time studying how the private sector, academe, and government and NGOs work together to create conditions for rapid and sustainable growth in India, Southeast Asia, and North America. The results demonstrate that organizations prosper when they compare themselves to and strive to emulate global leaders.

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