On the eve of the 8th anniversary of its creation, Nephila Web Technology‘s reasons to celebrate only continue to grow.
With the exception of Australian-based eCreators, Nephila is the only Certified Moodle Partner in the ASEAN region. For Manila-born co-founder, President and CEO, Sheryl Villaroman, it means her responsibility grows larger, and the challenge is heightened as the competitive landscape is global.
Computer Scientist by training, a young Villaroman realized that “life is a continuous learning process.” The opportunities in the learning technology space would not materialize until years later. “Entering the EdTech world was not exactly my plan, but with the skills and knowledge I obtained over the years of providing IT and e-learning solutions, the rest just happened spontaneously.”
Sheryl joined us in a conversation where she shared some behind-the-scenes look at Nephila’s storied evolution, the upcoming MoodleMoot Philippines, and the future of open learning technologies in Southeast Asia, as someone leading the charge.
Nephila Web Technology, first and only Moodle Partner in Southeast Asia to date
What is the origin of Nephila Web Technology, and the meaning behind its name?
My partner and I founded Nephila in April 2011. When we built Nephila as a company, we envisioned it to become one of the most respected and successful e-learning and IT solutions provider in the country and abroad. Our mission is to develop and provide intangible products and services that would provide great value to people and organizations.
“Nephila” is the scientific genus for golden silk-orb weaving spiders, some of whose species are endemic to the Philippines. They are noted for the large and strong webs they weave. These webs can last for several years, long after their creators are gone.
We associate Nephila’s name through our commitment to providing long term IT solutions and building a strong infrastructure in it. The company’s main thrust is “Weaving innovations for education.”
Why did you became interested in Open Source technologies, Moodle in particular?
I was an IT instructor at Roosevelt College, but I only started using Moodle in 2006 when I was tasked to implement it in the institution, one of the premiere private universities in the country. I am very grateful to my former bosses: Dr. Paz H. Diaz, who was the Vice President for Academics at the time; and Mr. Victor E. Alfonso, our College Dean. They were very supportive and really pushed me out of my comfort zone.
From that point forward, Moodle started to open doors for me time and again. My experience in using and deploying Moodle has covered different countries and implementations in various sectors. Since my early days as a “Moodler” I have been involved in projects based in Australia, the United States, India, and Israel in addition to the Philippines. I enjoy collaborating with end-users around the world in every implementation of which I am part.
What were some of the most meaningful victories and milestones in the past 8 years for you and Nephila, and what are some memorable challenges you had to face?
One of the most important milestones when I was starting with Moodle projects involved a training for the directors, IT staff and faculty members of the Royal University of Bhutan who came all the way to the Philippines. I had the pleasure to be invited as a member of the training team. My passion for Moodle grew stronger as I witnessed how schools and organizations are able to transform their businesses, if they are willing. Moodle makes possible transformations that are beneficial and advantageous to all of the stakeholders of an organization. I personally saw how Moodle enables everyone to access quality education. I firmly believe Moodle stays true to its mission of “Empowering educators to improve our world”.
At the same time, the world continues to experience serious problems. Poverty, inequality, lack of access to quality education, healthcare and climate change. The World Economic Forum emphasized these issues for the world in 2015. That event led to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to the United Nations Development Programme leading the way.
Open Source Technologies: Globally crucial, locally challenged
World leaders came to an agreement to address SDGs and make the world a better place by 2030. It is well understood that these problems cannot be solved overnight by just one group of people. I personally believe that each of us needs to incorporate at least one of these goals in our life mission.
Is there a role for non-government players or individuals to make an impact in these gigantic issues affecting our world?
For me, not only it is clear that we can have an impact, but that the most effective way to make change is in the area of education. As Moodle founder, Martin Dougiamas, said during Moodlemoot Philippines 2018, the only way to tackle these problems is through quality education for the people.
As for Nephila, since day one, our mission has always been to help educational institutions innovate their processes. We are glad to be in alliance with Moodle in pursuing that. By becoming the first and only certified Moodle Partner in the Philippines, we are making a public statement that we share the same vision, hopes, and advocacies for the world. Besides, our partnership with Moodle is a sound business decision for us and it has been a big boost to our advocacies.
How do Open Source Technologies contribute to your mission, your values and your strategy?
Nephila is a strong advocate of Open Source Technologies (OST), despite the environment we live in and the often negative image of “free solutions” in our local context.
We still receive constant advice from colleagues to not mention OST in our offers. They believe it connotes cheapness, unreliability or lack of sophistication. But we stand by our commitment to support Open Source projects because that’s the only way that we can provide the best solution for our stakeholders. It also allows us to innovate faster.
Year after year, various research and studies affirm how OST empowers the world. For one, in contrast to the perceptions we find here, a 2014 Ponemon Institute study showed that 64% of companies worldwide participate in open source projects, and that at the highest level, IT professionals have more positive perceptions on Open Source than on commercial software, and it’s even higher when focusing on its collaboration possibilities. OST is cost-effective, interoperable, reliable, secure and stable. Contrary to popular belief, OST gives Nephila a competitive advantage since we are enabling our clients to position themselves at the top of the technology power curve.
How does the future of Nephila and Open Source learning look like, in your opinion?
We are working on advancing two clear goals.
Number one: Sales and marketing. To boost the company’s growth, our focus is to link sales, marketing, services and support management into a single customer-driven solution. According to Oxford Economics, the Philippines will be the second fastest growing emerging market in the next decade. We are excited, yet keen to take advantage of the opportunity and saturate our market share in the business and education sectors.
Number two: Continuous Research & Development. We provide internal training to our employees to enhance their capabilities. To keep pace with the fast-changing technology, we reinvent and redesign ideas that help our product development pipelines to evolve. We innovate and re-engineer our business processes in the smartest way we know. We do not settle. Technology keeps changing and evolving, not only we are aware of this fact but we embrace it.
We do not reinvent the wheel, as we value the contribution of others in the community and the need to sustain and evolve humanity’s creation for others to benefit. I remember, Benjamin Franklin said in one of his quotes, “[A]s we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”
Ethics and values have never been more essential to thrive
We pursue our ambitions without forgetting our values. We put integrity and human relationships first. We have refined a competent sales team who listens to customers’ feedback, solicits potential clients and always have the energy to gather competitive information necessary to our marketing plans. But above all, they treat our customers with respect. We believe that’s the only way for long-term business success.
What makes Nephila’s values and work ethic different than other players in the EdTech field?
We work with our clients by treating them as our own partners, instead of just a seller-vendor-like relationship. We emphasize that we are on a journey together. There are challenges along the way, but we see this an opportunity to learn and grow together until we achieve our goals of providing best-fitted institutional solutions.
We instill the values of collaboration and openness as part of our mission in Nephila, even to our clients and stakeholders. This has contributed to a prompt delivery of tailor-fit business solutions that address the specific needs of our clients. Our comprehensive services help save time, minimize cost and speed up earning potential.
Ultimately, we are technological enablers. We are capable of making possible anything as long as it is aligned and guided with our values and principles.
We conform to global IT best practices in terms of support and server management and also in software development. We respect and safeguard client data by dutifully complying with the Philippines Data Privacy Act, which was modeled and is compatible with the European Union GDPR and similar world-class data protection standards.
Other than the Oxford Economics report, what is your outlook on the Philippine and ASEAN EdTech sector? Are there reasons for excitement more than concern?
Currently, 80% percent of our client base is from the education sector. According to Statista, the Philippines is the second largest population in the ASEAN region with over 107 million people, 23 years old on average. We Filipinos are very receptive to incorporate technology into our lives. We have national aspirations to be globally competitive, and understand that learning the rudiments of digital technology and e-learning is essential for it.
We receive a lot of positive feedback from our stakeholders continuously. Likewise, the demand for Learning Management Systems (LMS) in our part of the globe is increasing, as manifested by the wave of new competitors in the digital business. The potential for growth is highly anticipated.
What can make Nephila stand on top technologically? Which trends are you paying attention to?
We have figured out how to sustain Nephila’s presence in the fast-growing technology space. To a large extent, that has been synonymous with figuring out how to cope up with new demands and requirements from our clients.
Failure to deliver effective business solutions can have a big impact on Nephila’s day-to-day operations and reputation. It can also affect the customer’s confidence in our product.
We are keenly aware that consumer-related technologies dominate the market and become the most visible focus of technological innovation. Continuous R&D, innovation and better technologies, coupled with sound management decisions, are tools that Nephila has sharpened and today allow us to think ahead, adapt to changes quickly and transform challenges into golden opportunities.
We can only keep up with the competition by relentlessly innovating.
You are hosting MoodleMoot Philippines in Quezon City next May, the second edition of the only Moodle-related event for all Southeast Asia. What else can we expect of Nephila for the coming year and beyond?
As part of our 2019 roster of activities, we will conduct services of interactive and cost-effective Moodle training for academics and professionals. Our Moodle training is currently endorsed by the Philippines Commission on Higher Education (CHED). We are also working closely with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).
In addition to Moodle, we are implementing our own School Information System (SIS) which delivers end-to-end solutions for our partner schools.
Focusing on the more immediate future, what can participants expect from MoodleMoot Philippines 2019?
This coming May 8th to 10th, 2019, Nephila will be organizing Moodlemoot Philippines 2019 at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. If you are a teacher, educational administrator, software developer, content developer, or IT manager then this conference will be of interest to you, and, if at all possible, you should try to go. If you are already using Moodle, then you can pick up ideas on how to use it more effectively as a teaching and research tool. If you are new to Moodle, then you can learn a lot from the hands-on workshops, and from talking to experienced users and suppliers of Moodle-related services, such as hosting a Moodle site and creating e-learning materials. Three hundred (300) Participants are expected to attend the said convention. Registration for the event is ongoing.
Thank you so much for speaking to us.
Sheryl R. Villaroman President and CEO Nephila Web Technology Inc. Philippine Social Science Center, Commonwealth Ave. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines (+632) 453-7347/ (+632) 453-1769 [email protected] nephilaweb.com.ph
Join LMSPulse at MoodleMoot Philippines 2019! Check out our talk “What sets Moodle apart? An economic geography story” on May 9th.