Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A report that acknowledges the research and development of our e-voting platform

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance  (IDEA) and the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) presented a report a few weeks before the most recent Venezuelan Parliamentary elections in which they state that “the strength of the Venezuelan electoral process lies in the automated voting and vote-counting system (...) The voting system is totally automated and can be audited in all its phases”.

As a member of the Smartmatic family, it makes me very proud that such prestigious institutions validate the quality of our work. In the past I’ve read similar statements regarding our technology, however, this time around I felt compounded to write a post as I was part of the team that presented our system to the experts from IDEA and the UCAB who wrote the report.

One very important aspect that this report highlights is the level of trust that political party technicians have in the system. Trust is crucial in elections, and that is why we’ve made auditability one of our mantras. At Smartmatic we go to great lengths to guarantee that all interested parties check every single component of the system before, during and after each election. Our philosophy, and all the efforts that have gone into putting it in practice, have born positive results.

If I had to summarize the reasons for the success reflected in this report, I would use three words: technology, experience, and perseverance. 

For several years we have invested lots of time and energy in our Research and Development labs.  There, we have developed unrivaled technology to service the needs of our clients, always upholding the strictest quality controls. The system that is praised today by the most important election observation missions in the world was designed by technicians with a very high level of expertise in the areas of security and platform scaling. No secret here. Technology is a key part of this success story.

But another aspect of our success, which might not be as visible but is certainly key, is experience. While carrying out election projects in contrasting contexts such as Belgium, Zambia, the US, Venezuela or the Philippines, we’ve accumulated a wealth of experience that is second to none in the industry; experience that can’t be taught in a classroom or found in a book. 

And that brings me to my third point. Experience can only be obtained through hard work and determination –and by the way, it is the only way to build a good reputation in the world of elections. Our perseverance has allowed us to count 2.5 billion votes in elections in 5 continents; something that is much easier said than done.

This recognition comes as a pat on the back for all those who have contributed with commitment and dedication to the success of each one of the 14 elections that have been conducted in Venezuela. Thousands of people have worked passionately to overcome the challenges that have risen during these elections. I’d like to congratulate all of them.

Salvador Sosa

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Fabi Arrivillaga: “The creative process was the highlight of building a patent”

As many of you know, one of the best things about working in a company such as Smartmatic is the sheer number of possibilities to put our creativity to work. However, when we see in action a product or service we envisioned, it takes self-satisfaction to a whole new level. Imagine then, going a step forward and enjoying the fulfillment of taking part in one of the multiple patents that Smartmatic has registered!

This is the case of Fabiola Arrivillaga, who joined the inventors’ list of some recently registered patents for our integrated portable device PARmobile. The patents relate to “An Apparatus and Method for Automated Data Capture, Storage and Delivery of Biometric and Biographic Information.”

“The creative process was an effort of continuous feedback among people in charge of the product design, purpose of use, business model, etc. It took us more than a year to have a product model, to create the plastic moulding, to produce the prototypes, and to test and refine details, and then achieving the first pilot run, which it is the first real production run of such equipment,” shares Fabiola. 

The invention, design, development and manufacturing processes was a joint and multidisciplinary effort among many Smartmatic colleagues, including our CEO Antonio Mugica and COO Roger Piñate, together with Paul Babic, Jorge Vasquez, Romano Stasi, Paul Chen, Ernesto Vecchi, German  Dorta, Dimas Ulacio, Dany Fariña, Luis Coronel and Fabiola Arrivillaga. In our company there is an odd, outstanding detail: our top management are often either the originators or are among the main contributors of most of the patents we have.

Fabiola also refers that even though “I feel super proud of having participated in the whole creative process, which for me was the best part of everything”; the patent registration process was led and completed by Smartmatic’s Intellectual Property expert and one of the company’s veterans: Anibal Vivanco. “I have to admit my participation in the registration procedures were limited to help Anibal gather the necessary information. He is truly our patents’ King!” she adds smiling.

Anibal not only helped us walk through some basics of this unknown world –for many– called Intellectual Property (IP), but also has given us his conclusions on the registration process of a Smartmatic patent. 

Fact 1: The Intellectual Property has to do with creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Its ultimate objective is to obtain legal protection and enable authors to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.

Fact 2: There are basically two categories of IP: 1) Industrial Property, which includes protective rights for inventions, patents, Trademarks, industrial designs. 2) Copyrights, rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Of course there are a few more sub-categories.

Fact 3: “In Smartmatic we are interested in protecting copyrights (original works, including software, manuals, brochures, etc.); trademarks (names of the companies and their products, organisation logos and phrases), and patents (inventions -an invention is a solution to a specific technology problem and is the product of a creative process-).”

Fact 4: “A patent is a set of documents describing an invention, i.e. an original apparatus or method (or both), which conform to a standard set of rules (of structure, content, language and drafting) which when allowed, lead to exclusive exploitation rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time, in exchange for detailed public disclosure of that invention.”

Applying for a patent successfully requires a strong understanding of the application process. Fortunately, Anibal, besides being a singular and appreciated character in Smartmatic, is an old-time engineer who has become an expert on the subject. He concludes that “The process of handling a patent is often long (average 3 years), and the applicant should be able to overcome a series of obstacles, mainly objections from the Examiner in charge at the patent office in question.

Those objections are called "office actions" (usually two, the second one being "FINAL") essentially based on aspects of the patent's components found defective, or lacking needed information, or having insufficient creativity or intrinsic usefulness or worth, or (in the worst case) devoid of novelty, namely, that it was allegedly found that someone had patented it already.”

However, to simplify things and to better explain the processes he works with, Anibal assures us that “the patent is granted when:

1) The invention has sufficient merits (usefulness, originality, creativity, elegance when solving a problem, etc.);
2) The patent is well built, that is, has a sound structure and inherent logic, and is well written;
3) A good defence is made addressing all objections, boldly and leaving no doubts;
4) The appointed Examiner is someone who's reasonable and intelligent;
5) We have some luck; and.
6) We have enough patience (usually 2-5 years).”

Creativity, hard work, patience and even a drop of luck are some of the essential ingredients for having as many patents as we actually do in Smartmatic, thanks to professionals turned into inventors such as Fabiola, and to still other pros such as Anibal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The role of technology in democracy, joining the conversation

Lately, top Smartmatic executives have attended several international events to contribute to a much needed debate on the role technology is called to play on the future of democracy. Just in the past month our CEO Antonio Mugica and our Chairman Mark Malloch-Brown participated in three important debates in Athens, Washington DC and New York.

These events not only represent a great opportunity to shape the future of the industry but also to share the whys and wherefores of our work and our solutions. Here are those events and our contribution:

1. Our experience. On September 15, Smartmatic shared its one decade’s worth of experience strengthening democracy through elections in the Athens Democracy Forum. While presenting the work we have been doing to improve governance, our CEO Antonio Mugica expressed that “From creating reliable biometric voter registries in Zambia and Bolivia, to helping citizens decide on how to allocate public resources in Chile, and conducting the world's largest e-counting project in the Philippines, we’ve made an important contribution towards better governance,”. He added that there is still plenty of work to do but we are committed to face the challenge providing technology-enabled solutions to democracies around the globe. 

2. Our innovative solutions. We are convinced of the enormous possibilities new technologies are presenting to engage civil society and promote a more fluid communication between governments and constituents, and we are developing new platforms for it. On October 8, the Founders Forum for Good in NYC was the chosen scenario for Antonio to express the Smartmatic’s commitment to digital technologies being developed to broader electronic engagement of citizens with their governments. Our CEO noted “In the near future, there will be platforms and tools that will increase the levels of engagement existing between governments and citizens. The raw political energy that now manifests through Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, will find better and more adequate channels of communications.” 

3. Our engagement with industry prospects. The future of voting might be digital, but there is a journey to go and we want the world to know that we are part of it. In a debate during the October 9 Atlantic Council event ‘Democracy Rebooted: The Future of Technology in Elections’, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown said to the panel of How Can Technology Support a More Robust Democracy?: “it’s all about technology offering solutions to what people see as the principal issues, whether it is removing depressions to registration, enlarging the number of people who can vote, getting overseas military able to vote, helping other people to vote (…) technology can come in to provide a solution either through Internet voting or through something which is more interim such a better electronic voting equipment.” Furthermore, Antonio assured “The future of voting is digital. As we’ve seen with new form factors and in future-thinking countries like Estonia, new technology will reshape the democratic landscape for the better.” 

4. We are pioneers and a big player in election technology. Of the eight countries currently pioneering election automation, Smartmatic provides voting technology and services to six of them. While in the Unites States, and with elections right around the corner, Mugica took the opportunity to emphasize the fact that Smartmatic has provided technology and support services to the Electoral Commissions of 307 counties in 16 American states including California. “The current voting infrastructure in the U.S. is obsolete, underscoring the need for better voting technology, and Smartmatic is committed to providing counties and states with the most advanced technology and know-how to ensure voters have a positive voting experience.” 

5. The time is right for spreading our mission and vision and demystifying some common assumptions about electronic voting solutions. While the Atlantic Council invitation read “We are at a crucial moment to review the policies that influence elections and the technology we use to execute them,” our Chairman was cited in this CityLab article saying “Smartmatic is already working with poorer countries on lease-finance models that spread out the capital costs to make the technology more affordable, and is exploring ways to do the same in the U.S.” Malloch-Brown added that “You can run an election now much cheaper than if you stick with the trashed-out equipment and older solutions, but it requires politicians to say this has to be adopted and done in a way that’s fair to everybody.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Smart-Confessions: Testimonies from Smartmatic parents (Part III)

Yoslanie and Juan José: “Parenthood has bound us together as colleagues and friends”

“Challenging and creative” are the two words that first come to mind to Yoslanie when she describes the process of harmonising work and parenthood. She and Juan José have two toddlers, Julieta (3) and Juan Ignacio (1 ½).

Yoslanie and Juan José tell us that two of the most valuable lessons they have learned since entering the world of parenthood are “mastering multitasking and establishing priorities”. “Every time one of us has something especially important to do at work that might affect our family routine, we sit down and discuss priorities. Fortunately, we know each other very well, and as coworkers, we always agree on what works best for the entire family.

Yoslanie admits that parenting has brought enormous changes to their lives, but “fortunately, the company has been tremendously flexible and we’ve been able to adapt to our new family routine.”

Just as some other double parents pointed out in previous posts, she says that sharing time and experiences with other first-time parents inside the company has been very rewarding. “We have shared anecdotes and unending memories about our children. This has bound us together and enriched our daily routines at work.”

For Smartmatic, the smartbaby-boom brought some unexpected positive results among employees. In the case of Yoslanie, she notes how open and warm other parents were to them when they announced their pregnancy.

“We felt the empathy of many colleagues right away. Because we were a bit lost in the complex world of parenthood and we were just moving to another country with the company, our coworkers became our family. Those who were already parents gave us world advices and offered invaluable help. Nowadays, we share ideas, recommendations and tips. The best part is that these days, we are not longer limiting our conversations to work. We now have a shared favourite topic: our kids and parenting; and it could not be better!”

In spite of the time and effort they put into their careers and all the dedication that parenting requires, Yoslanie and Juan José have kept their love for dancing intact. “One anecdote we cherish, is how a few years ago we planned to go to Smartmatic’s Christmas Party. We love those parties! But with two kids we have to get really serious about finding someone to look after them or as a last resource, bringing them alone. Yes, we have actually done that! Two years ago we took Julieta to the party, and when we got there, we realised that she was the only baby. Luckily, she behaved wonderfully, and even had the chance to hit the dance floor while she was napping in her pram next to us.
The following year, we were 8 months pregnant with Juan Ignacio, and once again, we didn’t want to miss the party, so we decided to find someone to babysit Julieta. Coincidentally, Julieta’s godfather –who also works in the company- said he didn’t feel like partying so he offered staying to take care of our daughter. We will never know if he really didn’t feel like going or if we looked just too desperate. However the case,  to this day we are grateful he ‘sacrificed’ himself for our family. Yet, we did go with Juan Ignacio (but still in the belly…)”

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Smart-Confessions: Testimonies from Smartmatic parents (Part II)

Geraldine and Kimo: “If we want to teach her the importance of balance in life, we better start by setting the example”

Samanta, who is nearing the ‘terrible two’, is the daughter of Geraldine and Arquímedes. They both confess to have fallen in love with the idea of parenthood right from the very same day they received the BIG NEWS.

For this first-time parents, balancing work and family has not been an easy task. “In Smartmatic the dedication and commitment to work is immense. And parenthood requires at least the same amount of devotion, if not more. We have been trying to find the right balance and find harmony between our obligation to excel at work and the responsibility of teaching values to Samanta. We’ve come to terms with the idea that, if we want to teach her the importance of balance in life, we better start by setting example.”

Comparing project management methodologies and parenthood, Kimo concludes that one of the main differences is that in methods such as PMI, ITIL, SCRUM, there should be more people management skills involved. “The human side of management needs to be more present in project management methodologies. Most of these managerial practices focus on processes to achieve the success of the project and the delivery of products/services to the clients, but unfortunately they still lack that human touch. Given that every project of the company depends heavily on human interaction, I see a big lesson from parenthood to be learnt. When you are a parent, people management means everything.”

“As a father you cannot measure your objectives in terms of expected quality, required costs and fixed deadlines; even if that sounds right from a management perspective. Our children are human beings that need our support, care, love, teachings, patience, commitment and our example. Unfortunately, this differs from what is expected from us in project management. Personally, I can’t avoid wondering if these methods should be learning more from parenthood and the skills needed to bring up a child.”

Although Kimo might come across as a dreamer, he goes even further to imagine managers having a clear goal of making their human resources better people.  “For me, focusing on people, which is what parenting is all about, should be a goal of every manager.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Smart-Confessions: Testimonies from Smartmatic parents (Part I)

September is “back to school” month for many parents and children around the world. The summer holidays are over and going back to our routines is unavoidable. This is why we thought it’d be great to talk about parenthood in Smartmatic.

Because we love incredible challenges, we have decided to open the “Pandora box” and ask some of our double parents to share confessions and anecdotes about their no-so-secret life as super working parents. By double parents we mean couples in which both, mother and father, work for the company.

In the next posts, we’ll meet three double Smartmatic parents: Ana and Heider, Geraldine and Arquimedes (Kimo) and, Yoslanie and Juan Jose, who have decided to share some unexpected truths about the challenge of combining their roles at home and the office.

Ana and Heider: “We have become expert jugglers”

Ana and Heider are the parents of two-year old Andrea Lucía. Ana reveals that balancing their jobs with parenthood has been very intense. “We both work full time and we not only take care of one daughter but also of two other ‘sons’: our dogs Luk and Draco. Meeting their needs and our own has been rather challenging. In doing so, we’ve become expert jugglers.

According to Ana the experience has made them more efficient and productive. “We have been forced to better organise ourselves. Schedules are now very important to us, as we realised that we are now depending on our family schedule more than on our own activities.”

Quality time is, without a doubt, a vital subject when talking to working young parents. And Ana confirms it: “We are not longer able to bring home loads of extra work, because we know we have a limited amount of time during the day to share with the baby and the family.”

On the other hand, as a positive note, Ana mentions that inside the office, she perceives a lot of understanding and sympathy towards parenthood. “The year Andrea was born, were also born Juan Diego, Sofía, Mateo e Ignacio, among other Smartmatic babies. All these firstborns came to our Smartmatic family one after another.” This created a first-time parents relation in the workplace. “As parents, we are always asking each other questions and sharing stories, because we are all living similar experiences.”

However, Ana warns that one significant lesson Heider and herself have learned, being surrounded by multiple parents in a similar situation, is the importance of being mindful and respectful of other’s beliefs. “We understand that every parent has his/her own style and we all need to respect that.”

Asked about one of those anecdotes as parents in Smartmatic; Ana enjoys the fact that when their little Andrea comes to the office, they find the most diverse opinions about who she truly resembles. “Some of our colleagues say she takes after me, others consider she looks more like her dad and some others change their mind every single time they see her, as her features are constantly changing. For us, it is hilarious to see all the different views!”

Either way, Ana and Heider are a couple that has successfully found a way to have fun as a family while keeping up with Smartmatic’s work-rhythm; and yes, it makes us proud!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why we celebrate International Day of Democracy

Back in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly made a resolution to observe the International Day of Democracy on 15 September - the day when the Universal Declaration on Democracy was adopted. 

Today, we are glad to join the UN, member states and organisations around the world in promoting and upholding the principles of democracy. In Smartmatic, as we stated in our website and core values, “We believe that the free world is moving toward a more participatory model of democracy, where in addition to periodic elections, there will and should be a more continuous flow of opinions between citizens and governments.” This principle leads us now, more than ever, to celebrate the 2015 theme for Day of Democracy: “Space for Civil Society”. 

The UN Secretary-General's message for this year notes that “Civil society is the oxygen of democracy. The role of civil society has never been more important.” Furthermore, as the world prepares to shortly implement a new development agenda (September 2015), Ban Ki-moon reminds us that “yet, for civil society, freedom to operate is diminishing — or even disappearing. On this Day, let us recall that progress and civic participation go hand in hand.” 

On this Day, we reaffirm together with the UN that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. And while democracies share common features, there is no single model of it.” 

Therefore, this Day of Democracy, let us call the attention to three fundamental topics in which we believe we can help transform civil society: 

1. Elections: As the leading election company, we are committed to developing, promoting and providing services that guarantee transparency, efficiency and integrity in elections. Our voting systems keep on successfully supporting just this. 

2. Technology: At times when the debate on technology and democracy gets fierier, and we hear experts still argue about why “the advance of new communication technologies in the past fifteen years have not produced any overall advance of democracy in the world”; we raise the flag of our company vision with pride: “To move civilization forward with technology that has a profound social impact.” We acknowledge that technology alone does not solve all the challenges of democracy building, yet we firmly believe that engaged citizens and efficient government administrators stand a better chance! 

3. Education for freedom and peace: We envision a society where citizens have an education system that allows their societies to become fairer and more transparent and in which they can use technology to better communicate and join forces to demand more from their governments.

Particularly, we believe in education for freedom and peace as they are the spirited pillars of democratic systems.Therefore, this is the time to work together toward prommoting democracy and, this is the Day to create awareness and plan actions. Let us celebrate it together.

The Smartmatic Communications Team 

Friday, August 07, 2015

Achieving excellence in Internet Voting

By Sven Heiberg

Celebrating the first anniversary of the Smartmatic-Cybernetica Centre for Excellence for Internet Voting (SCCEIV) represents a perfect opportunity to share some thoughts on how challenging and rewarding this year has been.

From left to right: Marek Pagel, Ivar Smolin, Sander Tiganik, Mike Summers,
Sven Heiberg, Jaanus Jaeger, Tiit Pikma, Joonas Lõmps, Ivo Kubjas

We are ten people based in Tartu, Estonia, with our commercial director, Mike Summers, working from London. Many of us were part of the team that built the Estonian internet voting system that has been in use since 2005.

Developing the Estonian solution was a great challenge as we had to find answers to the most pressing concerns any remote voting system presents: guaranteeing the secrecy and integrity of the ballot, securing the vote once stored, authenticating voters efficiently, minimising the possibility of voter coercion, allowing voters to verify their ballot was registered correctly and providing auditing mechanisms.

After ten years of successful deployments and several elections conducted, we feel very happy with results. The Estonian voting system has caught worldwide attention because it has allowed citizens from our country to cast their ballot in 8 national elections. Estonians have used it from at least 105 countries. Such success, and the formation of the SCCEIV a year ago, have renewed our energy.

This energy we invest into taking our internet voting solution another step forward. Our aim is to provide a system that can be adapted for governmental elections anywhere in the world. In our centre of R&D the focus right now is enhancing the transparency of the internet voting.

This year has provided us with many new experiences. The questions that get asked about internet voting from country to country are in many ways different reflecting the diversity of cultural backgrounds and the state of technological development. One thing is sure – the challenge of Internet voting continues to be strengthening transparency, security and reliability while keeping the system friendly and accessible for everyone. Conquering the challenge inspires us to work diligently.

Sven Heiberg, is an employee of Cybernetica, Smartmatic´s partner for the Smartmatic-Cybernetica Centre for Excellence for Internet Voting.