The Information Network Security Agency (INSA) is ready to roll out a national payment platform that will interface all the payment systems and the associated payment terminals in the country including customs duties, utility bills, bank payment systems and any and all government billing systems starting from the upcoming Ethiopian fiscal year.
The new platform will provide an integrated one national platform or interface into which all payment related systems such as mobile payment systems, all utility and other billing systems including customs duties payment system will fit in to.
Currently, various payments systems are being integrated and tested, Abraham Belay, director of the Cyber Technology Engineering Institute with INSA, said. “However, the National Payment Platform has already been realized. It has been tested and is ready for deployment,” Abraham told The Reporter.
INSA is currently working with the Ethiopia Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) on the integration of the costumes duties payment system with the new national payment platform. And Abraham expects the duty payment system to go live in the coming budget and for all other government billing systems to follow suit soon after.
According to Abraham during the first phase of the deployment the main focus will be on the billing systems catering for recurrent bills payable to the government.
Utility billing systems like Lehulu, developed by Kifia Technologies, will be just one of the payment systems which will be orchestrated by the national payment system leaving the option open to other payment systems to emerge and interface with this platform, the director told The Reporter.
“There needs to be more convenient options and systems for the pubic to pay its bills. It is unfair for the public to spend time and energy trying to settle its bills and hence the payment platform will provide the basis for many other payment systems to be built on top of it,” Abraham said.
Nevertheless, the national payment platform is just one in the long list of ambitious projects INSA is undertaking with view to reduce technological dependency of country on foreign technological outputs. Perhaps the so called Enterprises Resource Planning (ERP) is another platform which INSA has come close to realizing, according to director.
An integrated management of core business processes, often in real-time and mediated by software and technology, ERP is critical to coordinate basic business processes in an organizations such as inventory and procurement management, accounting, human resources, customer relationship management (CRM), and beyond. Suite of modular applications that collect and integrate data from different aspects of the business, the ERP is said to be one of the basic requirements with up and coming migration to the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) in Ethiopia.
INSA’s ERP platform will also be merely an interface which will allow for various modules to be built on it according to the special needs of various organizations. “Currently, the ERP platform and different top up applications are being developed for Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) and the Ethiopian Petroleum Supply Enterprise (EPSE) and they will be deployed soon,” according to Abraham.
At moment, the majority of world’s ERP Suite is developed and marketed by the titans of the software industry SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. In Ethiopia as well, most organizations procure ERP suites from these vendors costing the country millions of dollars in the software purchase and licensing fees, the director said.
Yet again, apart from the ERP, Abraham’s institute is also busy developing a local computer Operating System (OS). Currently, 90 percent of the OS in the world is supplied by Microsoft. “We are making progress in the OS aspect as well,” Abraham told The Reporter. Furthermore, INSA’s sheer ambition extends to substituting another very critical software suite—Core Banking Suite— banking service provided by a group of networked bank branches where customers may access their bank account and perform basic transactions from any of the member branch offices.
Abraham admits that his institute is yet on concept development phase when it comes to the core banking platform; however, he is determined to eliminate the dependence of the local banking and financial sector in foreign owned technological suites and save the country tons of financial resources.
However, this move of the institute and of INSA’s is not without risk, comments an Information Technology (IT) manager in one of the organization in Addis Ababa, who prefers to say anonymous. Although patriotic and noble, what INSA is doing is basically “reinvesting the wheels”.
“I am rather worried about the risk associated with developing one’s own version of what appears to be a well-crafted platform,” he said. Unless it is done perfectly, it will rather increase country’s exposure to cyber exploitation. “We are replacing products developed by specialized organizations with another one developed obliviously by less experienced programmers. This might opens us up for vulnerability,” he said.
As far as Abraham is concerned, there is no true security until a country eliminates its dependency on others’ technologies and takes back ownership of its critical technological infrastructure. We have been reliant on foreign made software and platforms for some many years. “INSA is here just to ensure that the country would no longer depend on foreign knowledge but developed its own local capacity,” he said.
This is where the role if INSA and its activities in the market is questioned by members of the private IT industry players; they said that INSA is increasingly evading their market positions. Abraham does not agree with this. For one, the fact that we are focusing on core operating platforms as indicated above is testament to what we stand for. We still work with local private sector players on various outsourced and subcontracted contracts, the director argued.
For one, we could not do it all by ourselves. Even focused in the core platform development we still need the private sector to implement it. Also, in the area of subcontracting private IT companies are needed since they would help us in assisting as by executing parts of these critical projects.
Nevertheless, one of the major concerns for INSA is the entities and companies who are behind the local IT companies. “Most of our IT startups have some big company in the back and the moment we gave them access we could open ourselves up for attack.