Started from a brief idea of a doable and lasting solution to address poverty in Philippines, Optiserve Technologies welcomed its 10th birthday in the past May and grew to a team of 22 employees with lines of ICT products. Check out the successful stories of ePinoyFARMS® and Optiserve Technologies in Philippines.
The ePinoyFARMS® system, a resource management application platform has been well received by the farmers community and the government agencies for implementation. It not only helps to monitor and evaluate agriculture activities, but also to conduct agricultural research information for agencies. The computers located in the villages even became learning tools for the kids, the 2nd generation of the farmers.
Recently, the ePinoyFARMS® system was included in the knowledge Anagement portal of the national research, development and extension program of the Philippine government. Optiserve Technology is on the way to better cascade this at the local government level to facilitate bottom up and top bottom planning using information-enabled decision support services for the farmers. Check out the successful stories of ePinoyFARMS® and Optiserve Technologies in ICT application in agriculture from the Philippines.
This interview was carried out by Cheryl Marie Marie Natividad-Caballero, the Chief Executive Officer at Optiserve Technologies, Inc. in May 2012.
Farmer using ePinoyFARMS
iDisc: Is this the first company that you have started, and what drove you towards it?
Optiserve is the first company that I have started. We have established this way back in 2002. Having seen and heard recurring social, economic and political issues stifle rural development, I wondered if there could really be a “doable” and lasting solution to address poverty. This was answered when my understanding on the unique value of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship was further deepened and, after completing my post-graduate degree in Technology Management, I decided to venture in the field of IT with one mantra --- to offer doable and sustainable (IT-based) solutions that will work within the social and operational dynamics of management and will consequently create a lasting impact to the greater majority, particularly the underserved communities.
System Development Team Optiserve Tech Inc.
iDisc: How did you finance your start-up operations and how long did it take for the company to become self-sustainable?
At the onset, our operation was financed out of our personal savings and by angel investors who believed on what we were doing. We started with a single computer and a printer in a small office with four people, including myself. It took almost three years when this venture became sustainable as we were able to enter the power distribution sector, offering our first enterprise resource planning solution, the Customer Management Business Integration System® to rural electric cooperatives in the Philippines.
iDisc: What are your major products and services and how are they unique? What is your competition?
Optiserve is an application service provider and Systems integrator. We use open source technologies to develop our enterprise resource planning solutions, customer resource management system, etc… to lower down cost of acquisition (SaaP, SaaS model) After almost ten years of operations, we have developed several proprietary systems using open-source technologies, namely:
1) Customer Management Business Integration System® that completely runs an end-to-end ERP and CRM solutions for power distribution utilities covering computerized Meter reading and Billing (PowerBill©™), Online Collection/Local Payment System (eConnect©™), HR and Payroll administration (PowerPay©™), Warehousing and Inventory Management (PowerHouse©™), Customer management (PowerServe©™) and Accounting (PowerAccounting©™);
2) For the Agriculture and Fisheries sector, the ePinoyFARMS®, an application platform that is anchored on farm resource management framework and works as a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system for government agencies and at the same time, a farm enterprise- management tool (CocoFARMS for the coconut sector, DairyFARMS©™ for buffalo dairy production and BeeFARMS for apiculture), and
3) For schools and Colleges, we have the SUCCESS©™, an integrated application system that manages online/offline registration, Grading system, Cashiering and Accounting.
Recently, we have added three (3) more software applications in our portfolio,
4) iVillage©™ an ERP solution for mid to high-end subdivisions/villages and
5) LGCodex©™ a financial management system for local government units and
6) Rewards Plus which a consumer loyalty card is integrated with RFID.
Our business approach is simple but a bit unique due to the following reasons: 1) Optiserve’s technology is homegrown and we have developed a Lego-type platform that allows us to build seamlessly integrated software applications across sectors and industries such as energy, agriculture, services, education and service-related industries, multi-purpose cooperatives and retails enterprises; 2) Customize to each customer’s needs to ensure that technology best-fits their requirements; 3) Maintain a balanced workforce composed of young and aggressive IT graduates and mentored by senior advisers/ technical experts; 4) Conduct our business based on the mantra that all Customers deserve to receive our Optimum Service. In terms of competition, there are several vendors offering comprehensive IT systems but these are more on a high-end range. The ERP and CRM solutions are locked to their technologies, and are expensive. There are some mid-range competitors but theirs is locked to a particular database/storage which are bundled their services.
iDisc: How did you first launch the ePinoyFARMS?
ePinoyFARMS System Launch in Balanga City, Bataan
The ePinoyFARMS was piloted in social laboratory composed of small hold farmers who were recipient of land reform program. It was anchored on a development paradigm that promotes agriculture as a business, where mission-critical procedures (in farming and fishing operations) must adhere to standards and protocols.
After its initial success, the software was modified for social enterprises and was adopted by the coconut industry to link their farmers to the oil mills for trading purposes. Consequently, one agency of the Philippine government took notice of this and adopted the System for their monitoring and evaluation of community-based participatory action research (a technology transfer modality by the Bureau of Agricultural Research) projects. At present, the ePinoyFARMS is used as a decision support tool for agriculture and fisheries and is accessible in all sixteen regional research centers of the agricultural research agency.
iDisc: Who are your clients and how many do you have? How are you focusing on expanding your user community?
Our clients are institutions such as research agencies, agricultural state universities and, soon the local government units who see the value of information in rural development planning, multi-stakeholder partnerships and strategic program/project management. Currently we have all research institutions in agriculture/fisheries regional covered by the System. We are expanding the user community through our upgraded web-based application and campaign to reach all local government units and also to our pool of agriculture/fisheries cooperatives by providing an in-house ERP linked to an online bulletin to link small hold farmers with institutional buyers.
iDisc: Are you planning to patent/have you patented your product and do you see any obstacles in doing so?
The System was already registered at the IPOPHIL and has secured its own copyright registration. We have undertaken initial steps to secure copyright protection and are working towards patenting the methodology that goes with the product. I would appreciate if you could share some information on how some of your featured organizations on ICT4D have secured patent as well.
iDisc: What was the biggest challenge in starting an innovative business in Philippines?
The biggest challenge was we presented the idea of using ICT applications for agriculture and fisheries management. At first, government institutions were not keen on investing to this “revolutionary concept” of grassroots empowerment through information.
In 2007, Internet use was still taking-off in the country and people have not seen how this project will materialize. We had to showcase our pilot undertaking in the coconut sector wherein we have linked vital operations in management, cutting redundancies and red tape in processing the buying-selling transactions between farmers cooperatives and oil mills.
Since the idea was “new and considered revolutionary”, it took some time before government agencies realized how valuable this can be when doing their bottom-up/top-bottom planning especially when one is able to monitor the implementation of community-based interventions through the use of information (for records-keeping and data validation re technology transfer). They took notice of our marketing pitch when they’ve learned that we have been assisted by “InfoDev’s soft support” when it funded one pilot implementation in 2006-2007 through a grant it extended to the University of the Philippines and Ayala Foundation.
ePinoyFARMS helps to manage daily agriculture operations
iDisc: Who are the shareholders of Optiserve Technologies?
Optiserve’s shareholders are professionals from various fields, Joseph Caballero who is in charge of product development - a systems engineer and had previously worked with Smart Communications (one of the top companies in telecommunications); Dr. Manuel Bonifacio who serves as our mentor (a professor emeritus from the University of the Philippines and had 30 years experience in agriculture and technology development); Atty. Jessica Los Banos (who is teaching corporate law and is a Master of Business Administration graduate as well); Engr. Larry Tapel – an electrical engineer and myself, Cheryl Marie Natividad-Caballero, a social science and technology management graduate of the University of the Philippines, social entrepreneur and is the Chief Executive Officer of the Optisrve technologies, Inc. for the last 8 years.
iDisc: How has Optiserve Technologies benefited from business incubation?
Having been located inside the University of the Philippines campus, the incubation project gave us the outright face value to be seriously considered by clients as a legitimate business entity, ready to offer competitive and cost-efficient products and services in the market.
iDisc: What is your message to funders/supporters and what is your message to the users of your product?
The best is yet to come. Join us and let us work and earn together through cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships.
Other media release regarding ePinoyFARMS®-
DA-BAR, Optiserve power up ICT project to boost agri sector
ePinoy FARMS® launched in Pangasinan; more than 1,000 attendees
CPAR M/E System on e-Pinoy FARMS for fisheries now operational
ePinoy FARMS® Scoping Sessions conclude in the Visayas