GOVTECH 2014

Introducing the e-word

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The single letter ‘e‘ stole the limelight at the ninth annual GovTech event: e-healthcare, e-safety, e-learning, e-commerce, e-support and of course, e-governance.

Communications, filing solutions, data management, security, management; in fact, all facets of government in the 21st century will benefit from the latest innovations in the digital age. This, paired with a particular focus on anything related to the digital ‘E’, was the central messages at Sita’s recent GovTech event themed ‘A Government Empowered by Technology’.

With a stellar line-up of speakers that included both national and international experts and ministers, SITA’s ninth annual conference for ‘government by government’ did not disappoint in delivering on its mandate, being a platform to engage experts on all matters related to ICT and government.

Some of the most heated topics included access to internet, broadband infrastructure and the lowering of costs through ICT – and by far the common denominator was the way in which going digital is assisting government with an array of matters.

Addressing delegates at GovTech 2014, South Africa’s Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, said Government acknowledges the immense contribution that ICT makes in rendering its work more efficient, as well as the impact it has on the delivery of services to improve the various social and economic activities that affect people’s lives.

“We know how, in our country, technology has made it more convenient to submit tax returns by enabling those who have access to computers and smartphones (and can afford to go online to do so from the comfort of their homes or offices instead of standing in long queues) to file their tax returns with much less inconvenience. Here is a concrete example of how the development of software and platforms can impact on people and make services convenient. It is also a reminder to practitioners that if they develop software and services that are relevant to society there are vast opportunities,” he highlighted.

And this is exactly what was on display (and available for delegates to experience) at GovTech 2014. With expos that featured the latest technologies being implemented by Government to improve service delivery, communications and governance; to informative talks and sessions by leaders in the industry, the event once again succeeded in being platform for showcasing, networking and discussions on the crucial role ICT plays in the public sector.

According to Cwele, the use of ICT and online delivery of government services will help us improve governance and also increase accountability in the use of public funds. “This is important as the country is facing increasing demands while state resources remain under strain. Our ambitious plans to use technology to improve the quality of the lives of our people are anchored in the National Development Plan (NDP) and South Africa Connect, our broadband strategy and plan.

“The NDP gives us all the framework of what we need to do to build an inclusive knowledge and information society by 2030. South Africa Connect gives us the tools to realise the goals of the NDP. The building of ICT skills and greater investment in broadband infrastructure will help government create an empowered citizenry that drives its economic development,” he said.

Cwele made reference to the fact that we are in a position to radically transform our society by ensuring that we learn the best practices in how some state institutions rolled out technologies, and also interrogate how these technologies can evolve and be more efficient while we develop new ones.

He pointed out that the sharing of knowledge and information is one of the ways we can unleash the transformative power of technology as we move South Africa towards an inclusive society. According to him, we are able to share this knowledge because of the great strides we have made in the first 20 years of our democracy, fully aware that we need to do more with less. Therefore, the sharing of information is very important to the development of our country because we can leverage it radically transform and modernise our society, he said.

“Our vision is to deliver services to the elderly on smart devices such as tablets and smartphones. This will mean that they no longer have to stand in queues to access their social grants. They can also use these devices to monitor their vital health signals and the devices can alert health workers to come to their aid. We also want the elderly to use the devices to further their education and importantly, use their wisdom to educate the youth.

“We must also pay special attention to training young people to use these services. We need to consider how we create a conducive environment for the youth to be innovative and not end up as just consumers of other peoples’ technologies. Census 2011 tells that 28.9% of our population is made up of young people between the ages of 15 and 34. This means that one in three citizens is in this age group - the group, according to the NDP, that has embraced technology the most. We have an opportunity to change the face of service delivery for the better. Let us do it for the benefit of our future and the youth of this country,” said Cwele.

Also speaking at the event, Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Professor Hhlengiwe Mkhize, elaborated on the crucial role of government’s e-strategy. She said the global village has put the use of technology at the centre of the development agenda.

“The technology revolution is part of a policy revolution of creating effective government systems. From a policy formulation point of view, government is determined to work in a co-ordinated and integrated manner. A good example is the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC), which is a platform for Government departments in all spheres of governance to co-operate in the infrastructure build and to take a critical look at financial implications from a common platform. As a result we have an estimate of our needs that they are in the range of about 4 trillion.

“When it comes to the ICT needs of Government, the intention is to implement the ICT infrastructure project, commonly known as SIP 15, within the PICC SIPs which are of today sitting at 18, addressing different aspects, touching on issues such as water, energy, environment and so on. Within the PICC model, government has an opportunity to articulate ICT needs for all spheres of government and applications which could be shared by different departments,” she said.

Mkhize emphasises that through the four strategic pillars of their e-strategy policy (digital readiness, digital development, digital future and digital opportunity), the department will develop a citizen, business and government oriented e-strategy. “The strategy will be geared towards creating an integrated government platform which will a single view of the citizen,” she said.

She also highlighted some critical success factor post 2015-Government. These include a strong political will; collaborative leadership; new governance frameworks to support and manage a citizen centric service delivery model; strengthening institutions and building the capacities of public servant; commitments to collaboration, openness, transparency, accountability and participation in national public governance; a robust ICT infrastructure; adequate human capital and online service delivery.

As SITA CEO, Freeman Nomvalo, promised, “Papers delivered by some of the leading minds in the ICT sector will, on the basis of real-life case studies, reflect on the successes achieved in recent years. They will also critically examine several social, economic and political barriers constraining the scope of transformation and restricting the ability of policy makers to make effective use of new technology.”

With 2015 around the corner, Government can look forward to the ICT industry being a reliable partner in the quest to empower our public sector in improving the lives of all South African citizens.

Michael Meiring

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