Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reforesting the Philippines: The commencement of our conservation and reconnecting journey

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Mharfel Milanes was one of the Smartmatic’s team leaders in an unusual but memorable teambuilding activity of our colleagues in the Philippines. They had the opportunity to join the Haribon Foundation and plant 200 seedlings; while also reconnecting with nature, making a lasting contribution to Sierra Madre’s sustainability, and enjoy a fun trekking day with stunning views of Rizal, Laguna (100 km south of Manila.)

The idea consolidated after Mharfel started researching potential teambuilding activities for the staff. “It occurred to me to do something for the environment. Given that during the elections project there were millions of paper ballots printed, I thought it would be perfect to pay back to nature.” However, Mharfel’s environmental consciousness was just the first step that ignited a significative response from the team.

18 people attended the event (70% of total EEs in the Philippines), even though it meant jumping very early from the comfort of their beds. The assembling time on Reforestation Day was 4:30 am since the venue was outside Manila.

Nevertheless, Mharfel and other participants assure us that it was worthy, as the activities flowed smoothly during the whole day. “We received an overview of the natural reserve venue chosen for the activity, and the representatives of the Foundation taught us how to do the seedling plantation. We then formed four groups, each one with a leader to support and guide his/her team. After completing ‘the mission,’ we celebrated by climbing to the top of the mountain. We truly enjoyed the beautiful views of the forest and lakes around the area.”

Our partner for this activity -the Haribon Foundation- has been implementing for several years a conservation project in the Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the Philippines. According to “the Sierra Madre supports one of the largest remaining forest blocks and one of the richest wildlife communities known from any forest area in the country. Aside from its rich biodiversity, it also serves as a water catchment for the major urban center of the Philippines – Metro Manila.”

The occasion allowed the Smartmatic volunteers to do much more than planting trees. It provided an unique opportunity to practice solidarity, physical exercise and reconnect with people and the landscape. For Mharfel, the top three highlights of the event were: contributing to the preservation of the ecosystem in the area, working together as a team to achieve one common goal, and creating awareness of the damage done to the environment.

It was the first event of such nature for the Philippines team. However, a seed of commitment for conservation and reforestation initiatives was sown in the volunteers. They learned and shared not only the Haribon Foundation values, but they also reflected upon what actions can we do at a personal level to promote reforestation and preserve the environment.

We cannot wait to hear about similar events in the future!

About Haribon Foundation

The Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Inc. is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Hatched in 1972, it is the pioneer environmental organization in the Philippines. It’s natural and social scientists work with communities and people from all levels governance to promote biodiversity conservation. It is the current convenor of the Rainforest Restoration Initiative (RFRI), a network of 14 national and international organizations that promotes rainforestation. These groups have collectively restored 22,000 hectares of forest cover throughout the country since 2005. The RFRI has conducted hundreds of tree-planting activities in provinces, such as Rizal, Quezon, Zambales, Laguna, and Surigao del Sur.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mike Summers and the future of digital democracies

At Smartmatic, we are confident that the future of democracy is digital. Each day more people around the globe are leveraging technology to speak their minds and participate in decision making.

But the road to that future is paved with obstacles. Mike Summers, our online voting ‘evangelist’, is taking a leading role in promoting a healthy debate around the issues preventing digital democracy from becoming a worldwide reality.

Here are five (5) instances in which Mike Summers publically showed us how to take the intersection of technology and democracy one step further:

1.     Enlightening us with the idea that voting with a ‘selfie’ it is not a science fiction illusion, but rather a reality with Smartmatic’s authentication technology. Who would that thought that voting with a selfie could be the key to a more politically engaged electorate?  

2.     Providing food for thought with sharp-witted questions such as “Can too much democracy be a bad thing? Does 'voter fatigue' or 'voter burnout' actually exist and if so, how can we eliminate it without limiting access to the democratic process itself?”… Alternatively, does the postal voting, jeopardize the opportunity for governments to run valid and credible elections?

3.     Defying common myths and concerns about the security of electronic elections, with technical arguments and industry expertise.

4.     Becoming an advocate for electronic voting transparency (through its verifiability feature), while being critical of governments not doing enough to enhance voter participation and voting accessibility.

5.     Sharing his optimism for the future of e-voting and digitaldemocracy, whether in the UK or around the world.

Let’s keep the debate going!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Five reasons why we are celebrating Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary

2017 marks 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published, initiating a global phenomenon. Far from the fact that some of us in Smartmatic call ourselves geeks, the literary series of the wizard boy has touched us in multiple ways. It has captivated us across the globe and across departments, so why not join the world celebrating and sharing our Potter’s love.

1.    ‘It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’ Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Sometimes we approach technology development as if we were wizards. Though, our wizarding world is much more about finding solutions to enhance digital democracy, empowering public participation than to cast spells and fight the dark masters. Everytime our election technology is used to improve the integrity of democratic processes, we feel full of pride of how ‘the magic’ of our effort truly works.

2.       ‘Dragons are extremely difficult to slay, owing to the ancient magic that imbues their thick hides, which none but the most powerful spells can penetrate…’ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
We do love magic and dragons. Who doesn’t, right? While Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s motto is “Draco dormiens numquam titillandus” (Latin for “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”), for us, the adventure lays in waking up and riding our dragons. In Smartmatic, we have a long-standing relationship (some might even call it fascination) with dragons. They awe-inspire us and motivate us. And far from what some Game of Throne’s fans could argue, in Smartmatic we all put extra love and effort to be able to ride one of our awards dragons!

3.       ‘Books! And Cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery.’ Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Besides avid and obssesed readers, we also have wonderful children literature followers and critics amongst us. Some of our bookworms are now sharing their bibliophile tendencies with second generations. Yes, Harry Potter’s love included. Indeed, we even have laureated writers for children books in the company! In case of doubts, just ask our CEO. Even better, go and enjoy Hookitty-Tookitty-Tah, an awarded tale about a wizard baker boy who uses his cooking magic to rid his town of a bullying dragon.

4.       ‘We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.’Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Even if we don’t have internal Quidditch tournaments, we do try to support and delight in “more common muggle’s passions” for team sports, such as football or Ultimate. Yes, we do have sporty developers and many other energetic colleagues getting together on their free-time to play against each other. It may not be as awesome or flamboyant as quidditch, but nevertheless we play and enjoy the team magic of staff integration!

5.       ‘Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more, believing in yourself. Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us? ’ Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
And last but not least, Harry Potter and all his wizarding world has tought us life and professional lessons about resilence, about fighting for our dreams and loved ones, about working hard to achieve success, and about the value of team work. Most importantly, against all odds, it has inspired us to believe that transforming incredible ideas into reality (such as election technology and Internet voting) is possible to build a better electoral world (for muggles and wizards alike).

Pd. According to Bloomsbury Publishing, The British Library will curate and launch a brand new exhibition about the magic of Harry Potter, inspired by J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece, opening 20th October 2017. “This will be the first British Library exhibition inspired by a single series of books by a living author. From medieval descriptions of dragons and griffins, to the origins of the Philosopher’s Stone, the exhibition will take readers on a spellbinding journey to the heart of the Harry Potter stories.” See you there!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What if Westeros from GOT were Electronic Voting Land?

As the seventh season of Game of Thrones (GOT) is finally here, we decided to have some fun, fantasising what the most memorable characters would be if The Seven Kingdoms were our own Electronic Voting Land.

Among the Great Houses would most probably be, as the real big players for ruling Westeros: Internet voting, Direct-Recording Electronic voting systems (DRE), Biometric voting systems, Punched cards machines, Optical scan systems and, E-voting apps. Of course, just as the Lannisters, Starks, Tyrells, Greyjoys, Baratheons, Arryns, Tullys and Martells; they could all potentially work together as allies in conjunction with vassal houses, or unconnectedly as adversaries.

The power struggle for ruling the realm, in this case, might not include magic, dragons or war arsenal, but it definitely includes powerful not-so-secret weapons such as voter verified paper audit trails (VVPAT), verifiable electronic ballots, a strict audit chain of custody, cryptographic systems, and cutting edge hardware and software. So, let the battle for the Iron Throne in Electronic Voting Land begin…
  1. Daenerys Targaryen, as Internet Voting. Some distrust her capacity for great achievements but when given the opportunity she knows how to lead the way to modernity and gaining people’s love and trust. Many believe that "madness" is in her veins- so she still needs to court potential allegiances- but she’s working hard to have her seat on the throne. Besides, she can perform fanciful actions (maybe not with dragons), but with the latest online technology and cryptographic capabilities.
  2. The Starks vs. The Lannisters as electronic voting machines in elections booths. They have worked together in multilevel elections (just as they did work together under Robert Baratheon's ruling), but they have also been crucial and long-standing antagonists. In this case, we visualize the Lannisters as document/paper-based voting systems and the Starks as direct-recording voting machines. The Starks have been working hard preparing for the future. As they know, “there will always be a winter that we must prepare for.
  3. Tywin Lannister as the punched cards system, who saw his house’s splendour a few years back, but is now gone- leaving other Lannisters (marked paper based systems) as rival claimants to the throne. 
  4. Cersei Lannister as optical scanning systems that, despite all the controversies and animosity from certain users, has maintained itself as a strategic leader. It not only makes use of traditional and innovative means to gain power and credibility, but also takes advantage of its lineage’s experience.
  5. Eddard "Ned" Stark as lever machines, strong and powerful in the beginning while its leadership lasted- leaving his descendants prepared for battle, for winter, and for working towards the future of the electronic voting field.
  6. Sansa Stark as DRE with no voter verified paper audit trail. Many people value her efforts and her journey but she is lacking the most significant support- power and strategic tool (VVPAT)- which makes her less lovable and enchanting. She might want to sit on the throne, but while missing the basic warranties for trust and reliability, she still needs a long way to go.
  7. Arya Stark as public network DRE voting system, the defiant one (that transmits data from the polling place to another location over a public network.) It might seem as a blind and unruly one, but some believe that the future is closer to her.
  8. Jon Snow as DRE with voter verified paper audit trail. At the beginning, some believed he knew nothing. However he has proven them wrong every time (leaving his mark as an industry’s standard - VVPAT). He has become a valued leader, who offers security, auditability and he’s a good team player. Some believed he was gone, but he has come back to life stronger, with better tools, inspiring trust and ready to engage more and more diverse supporters. He might be among the strongest contestants for the throne.
  9. Tyrion as biometric authentication systems. Forgetting he was born as a Lannister, Tyrion’s battle is more about valuing the most vital and unique characteristics of people, making easy and feasible incredibly large and complex projects. Although he might be underestimated or questioned, Biometric registration and authentication systems –just as Tyrion- can actually work with different systems. He could be a changing-game character in the conquest of the Seven Kingdoms.
  10. The White Walkers as electronic voting’ fraud advocates. Our own GoT also has creatures that are always advocating against e-voting. They might be considered ghosts or legendary creatures by many, but they do exist and you can usually find them on the other side of the wall of modernisation and auditability.
In this Westeros, ultimate power- instead of deriving from a King- would come from conquering effective, auditable, transparent, secure and reliable automated elections. Mastering election technology will leave Election management bodies (EMBs), voters, parties and all other election stakeholders satisfied in our peculiar ‘electoral Iron Age’.

Image by Rob Obsidian

Friday, July 14, 2017

“Our true ‘QA spirit’ brings the light of excellence”

What exactly is Smartmatic’s Quality Assurance (QA) spirit?

According to Herlen Rosales, Compliance Manager, the best QA professionals need to fulfill some basic missions:
·           To feel passionate about improving the quality of applications and products.
·           To combine a perfect dose of both curiosity and wickedness, which motivates them to seek potential bugs in applications before they hit the market.
·           To be brave and prepared to challenge problems and shortcomings. Know how to transmit security when communicating.
·           To maintain a thirst for knowledge- learning from and with the engineers and developers.
·           To stay commited to understanding the whole application in depth before testing starts.
Although Quality Assurance might seem distressing, Rosales is committed to elevating satisfaction by taking the team’s work further than the expectations. “It is not easy, but for us, evaluating and learning from our projects is vital and rewarding. It is our duty to pre-emptively anticipate that applications may have defects. Our job is to always go beyond the expected procedures and tests and guarantee our apps hit the market bugs-free.”

Herlen’s vision for what successful QA is likely comes from more than twelve years of involvement in the area at Smartmatic. “I believe it is a challenge, but also an honor to be a Compliance Manager. One of the reasons for which I decided to take the lead is that I want to help Smartmatic live by the true QA spirit.”

Our efforts go far beyond verifying that we develop good products and that we meet clients’ needs. "We strive to achieve the highest quality standards, focusing on excellence in what we test and how we do it. We also work very hard to innovate and refine the performance testing of all our products, including usability features and the non-functional requirements. And we are not just proud of it, we are loving every bit of the process!”

Herlen is convinced that we are on our way to becoming one of the leading tech multinationals of the world, and that subsequently, “we are both raising the bar for the industry and ourselves. When we are talking about quality, we are really looking at the satisfaction level that our products bring from a point of view of functional and non-functional requirements- particularly during all the stages of a given project. We are fussy; we want better metrics; we want better results; and we want to always improve from what is expected of us in the election technology industry.”

To catalyze change is never easy, but as Herlen puts it: “it is within ourselves not to settle with what is working well, as professionals as much as individuals. We are working on being better coaches; letting people be; giving them more time and space for doing what they think they have to do; and most importantly, allowing them to fail sometimes. It is the only way to be better leaders and better people. Our human side is the only thing we can’t allow to fail.”

Herlen is a vital piece in the success of our products, and consequently, she wants to spread the energy among her team. “I picture all testers and compliance collaborators feeling bonded, confident and proud of their daily job. It is our responsibility to bring the light of quality to our applications. How can we not be proud?,” she sums up, fairly pleased.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mildred: Proud of my company, proud of my work

Mildred vividly remembers that day twelve years ago when she started working at Smartmatic as a Documentation Analyst. Like it was yesterday, she can still recall that heady feeling that swept over her at the realization that she was working with a company imbued with a sense of purpose.    

Now a Deployment Services Manager, she hasn’t lost any of that pride. Now, more than ever, she is convinced that Smartmatic is a company on a mission. She realizes too that one’s success inside the company comes with deep commitment and an affinity for the values and principles of Smartmatic.
For her, it’s not so much the personality that matters but the everyday attitude what make the difference.

When it comes to promotions, Mildred believes that slow and steady beats a meteoric rise. “I have been growing both personally and professionally in the company. One step at a time,” she says.

As Deployment Services Manager within the Global Services team, Mildred is in charge of human resources related to deployment of logistics and operations in support of requirements set by Project Managers.

“Despite the many challenges faced, I have always given the best of myself,” says Mildred, who swears that the countless ups and downs have helped her to turn her weaknesses into strengths and become a better person.

Mildred recognizes two important traits of team-players in Smartmatic: a service orientation and a helpful attitude towards a co-workers; both critical in fostering an ideal work environment and an exceptional corporate culture.

“While at work, I have cried and laughed. I feel part of a great family, “ Mildred says. “Helping each other has always been our motto.”

As with any other family, achievements start with individual effort and passion.  
“In Smartmatic, you need to have LOVE for what you do. And you need to be consistent and to stay committed to your goals, to be more than a fellow worker (become a friend) and always pursue excellence with great humility.”

For some colleagues like Mildred, the beauty of life is not necessarily finding success but also lies in feeling inspired even by the smallest details.

 “Nobody said it was going to be easy, but nobody said it is supposed to be too hard either. Whether it goes one way or another depends on us and the love we put into everything we do.” 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Barbara: ‘In the Boca office, we work like captains and play like pirates’

Smartmatic has grown exponentially in the last decade. However, most of our offices have remained as personal and embracing as when they first opened. Our Boca office is one of them.

Barbara Leon-McDonald, who has been here for almost a decade working on Global Business Support, gives us a general idea of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kind of life that our Boca team is used to. Not really for the craziness, which is still there, but mainly for the incredible mix of energy, fun, peculiar stories and long-lasting influence within the company.

Barbara warn us not to be fooled by first impressions. “The environment here aesthetically is college campus style and, high paced yet relaxed in a make-it-happen attitude kind of way.”

90% of the office contains all high level Smartmatic employees -at any given time-. “We house some of the top executives of the company, thus you have a collaboration of high energy, strong work ethics and the attitude that together we can make it happen. This, without losing the ability to smile, play pranks and make it a very comfortable environment. Very unusual for a high level executive arena.”

This is the reason behind the Boca office’s thrilling energy. “In this atmosphere where all employees are high level, we need to get used to a fast paced environment. However, our high level team members are the easiest going and they always make it a happy and easy going workplace. There is high respect but in a very peaceful almost comedic way.”

Barbara is one of the few women working in the Boca team, but the situation is changing and she is glad about the balance. “I was the only women in the office for a long time amongst all the men colleagues; but I’m happy to report that The Boca Raton office now houses 3 female employees, so for the first time ever the field is fair play.”

Joking apart, Barbara tells us that among the many things she appreciates about Smartmatic is the opportunity to work with people she respects and admires. “I take my job seriously and with high integrity. The highs are the people I work with, the lows are probably the deadlines we are always working on with minimal time - yet we always make it happen.”

For this devoted colleague, in the Boca office the camaraderie they have achieved during all these years, it is like the saying ‘work like a captain and play like a pirate.’ “We are a work family.”

However, the work itself and the organisation mission are also significant reasons to keep going for Barbara. “I enjoy the diversity of projects I work with on a daily basis. The daily phone calls with colleagues all over the world; and the satisfaction of knowing that as a company our main goal is to bring democracy to the world by offering quality services, machines, software and the best people, it is gratifying.  I'm from a country where democracy has suffered quite a lot, so, working for a company that strides to ensure that everyone can vote and that everyone's vote counts, fulfills me as an individual.”

Barbara has her purposes clear, as well as many other Smartmatic employees: “This team works hard. Most travel a lot which keeps them away from family and friends for a large portion of time, so when we work together, we try to keep it real and make it happen.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Paul Chen: “We believe in working hard and united to achieve quality”

The Smartmatic Taiwan team have something clear: the light at the end of the tunnel is called “quality”. It does not matter how hard the road present itself. The secret to success, according to Paul Chen (Senior Hardware Branch Manager), it is having a team that work with cohesion and who share common aims to produce the best quality products.

The hardware development team is responsible for an important part of all the magic within Smartmatic’s creation and design of products and devices. Yet, their work is full of challenges.

“Our most pressing challenges include: the increasing workload we are facing although we have been under staff for quite a long time; the need to solve a number of issues in really short time to meet the target schedule and; the responsibility to produce the best machines without any delay for meeting our customers’ deadlines,” ponders Paul.

But for Chen and all the Taiwan team, there is only one way to face challenging times. They announce it with a mixture of calmness and fun -convinced there is no better way- “Work hard!  Work Harder! Work Harder and harder, to solve the problems.”

Working hard is te first step, but there is much more into achieving the company’s objective for their team. “We are united” shares Paul, when describing  the work environment of over 25 people building the Smartmatic Taiwan HDM group.

That unity comes from learning together how to bring some Smartmatic values to the everyday life of the office. “The top 5 highlights of our jobs here are working with integrity, honesty and candor, trying to be efficient and commited in everything we do as a team.”

It has not being difficult to follow this motto, taking into account that Paul lists among the top strengths his team brings into the company:

1.      Good internal communication and fast react to the tasks
2.       We share the passion and commitment to develop the best quality machines, while always meeting the customer’s schedule
3.       Smartmatic Taiwan is an ISO certified company. We have very clear and stricts procedures and protocols to follow, ensuring we can develop and produce the best quality machines.”    

The Taiwan troop is another example of the way we do things in Smartmatic. We believe working hard to achieve quality goes hand in hand with building a solid and cohesive team.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Dragon Awardee’s take on the success of the 2016 Philippine elections

The 2016 Philippine Elections has proven to be a huge success not just for the country but for the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec), which has been reaping accolades from around the world for its role in administering one of the largest, fastest, and most credible elections in Philippine history.

Undeniably, it is also another sterling feat for Smartmatic; one which further reinforces its global market leadership.

A lot of factors underpin this accomplishment, not least of which are the efforts of two Smartmatic Dragon Awardees - Fe Ordoño and Nonoy Escolin.

For Fe, who is Bid Manager for Smartmatic Philippines, key to the success of the project started with the early preparation for the tender. “To be ready for the bids, high-level planning and preparation of potential eligibility requirements with corporate and senior management started almost six months prior to the bid publication,” Fe said.

Her experienced team ensured that documents were in compliance with all the local procurement law in advance, hence, getting a good head start in the process. “It was really a team effort. The whole APAC team, with the support of corporate, was on bidding and contract negotiation mode for almost one and a half year. We were working on an average of one bid per month, so it was a very exciting and stressful period,” she added.

Fe’s leadership proved efficient as Smartmatic won the most important tenders to provide the automation platform for the General Elections. Putting the experience of its previous two Philippine elections in practice, Smartmatic was able to work with the Comelec to guarantee the election ran smoothly.

As a Filipino voter, Fe believes that the 2016 elections were yet another leap forward in terms of transparency and efficiency. “Automation brought cleaner and peaceful elections, better transparency, faster count and election results,” Fe said, adding that Filipinos will expect at least the same bench mark for future elections.

When asked to compare automated elections with the previous manual elections in her country, Fe cited the speedy release of election results as the game-changer. “This change equate to more peaceful election as the “dagdag bawas” syndrome, rampant in previous manual elections, was corrected.”

Having seen the process of technology adoption from up close, Fe believes that other countries wishing to shift to automated elections could definitely take a leaf from the Philippine experience. For her, all efforts should be made to circumvent the usual barriers to election modernization, that is, political will, and budget.

The two-time Dragon Awardee also advices other countries aspiring to implement technology in their elections to collaborate closely with all the major stakeholders to ensure that automation gets the needed push.