OPENING NEW DOORS

The theme at last year’s GovTech was ICT for Development, Access and Growth

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The theme at last year’s GovTech was ICT for Development, Access and Growth with a particular focus on using technology for improved service delivery, empowerment and small business development. Service Editor Lindsay King attended his best ever GovTech conference.

The State Information Technology Agency’s (SITA’s) annual GovTech event has achieved good success over the past number of years and looks at the latest developments in the ICT space and how Government and Public Sector makes use of these innovations for improved performance and service delivery. With the theme for 2016 being ICT for Development, Access and Growth—how technology improves service delivery for citizen empowerment, emphasis was placed on a number of the latest trends and innovations that can and will be implemented to uplift and empower local communities.This State Information Technology Conference (GovTech) hosted in Gauteng, amidst a 2-day water crisis in Midrand, was a stellar example of government’s ‘e-strategy’ which aims to improve service delivery for all citizens. Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, participated with a number of representatives of state in a high-level plenary, marking the opening of GovTech 2016 at Gallagher Convention Centre. The premier said he was proud of the progress Gauteng had achieved in positioning itself as a ‘smart’ province that was being administered by a ‘smart’ government. “E-government initiatives in the province are tearing down walls of ‘red tape’ and improving access to state for citizens. It is making government transparent and accountable to its citizens, rooting out inefficiencies,” says Makhura.

He said the province would continue to invest in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, having already harnessed the power of ICTs to improve accessibility to education and healthcare. Makhura also praised the municipalities of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni for the role that they had played in rolling our free Wi-Fi for citizens and their ongoing drive towards transitioning into ‘smart’ citiesThe province is already host to about 1 500 km of fibre-optic cables and 900 free public Wi-Fi hotspots. He reported that his government was well on track to boosting this to 2 250 km of fibre-optic network and 1 550 free public Wi-Fi hotspots.He said that Gauteng understood that access and connectivity were essential to retaining its competitive economic position, making up as much as 35% of the gross domestic product of South Africa and 10% of that of the continent. Gauteng is also considered the ICT hub of sub-Saharan Africa.

“We understand that access to broadband is of the same value as water and electricity for any properly-functioning city region. We also acknowledge that we are in the midst of an industrial revolution and need to ensure that the poor and marginalised are included as we move forward. Our ongoing focus on positioning ourselves as a smart province needs to create black industrialists, develop small, medium and micro enterprises and start-ups in all sector of Gauteng’s economy,” said the Premier.Makhura also pointed to the important role that youth have to play in this new economy that had been “disrupted” for the better. “This is an area where the youth already have ample experience, and will therefore be able to add significant value in government’s e-strategy,” he said.Women, youth and small medium and micro enterprises also joined large companies and government bodies to celebrate South African innovation at its best. Based on the quality of nominations and winners announced at the awards gala dinner sponsored by Gijima, which was held at Gallagher Convention Centre, SITA acting chairperson, Z.D. Nomvete, said he was confident that South Africa housed ample innovation to support government’s “e-strategy” for the country.

The Women in ICT Award, sponsored by Vodacom, aims to promote the industry to all professionals by recognising the contribution that women make to the ICT industry and to the future of the profession. The winner of this category was Mymoena Ismail. As a leader of non-profit organisation, Cape Digital Foundation, she has been responsible for creating a connected economy in the Western Cape.Ismail is one of the architects for “e-skills” human-capacity development in South Africa and has dedicated herself to the “e-readiness” agenda in the country. Rianette Leibowitz, CEO of SaveTNet Cyber Safety NPC, was the first runner up and Zibuyile Buthelezi, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Black IT Forum, the second runner up in this category.Ismail was also the worthy winner of new category added to this year’s awards, namely the ICT Contributor of the Year Award. Ismail was considered the best performer out of all of the seven category winners, in terms of her contribution to the ICT industry in 2016, sending a very strong motivation to other women in industry at large.While opening the plenary on day one of the conference, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, had reiterated his tough stance against any forms of collusion or anti-competitive practices in the ICT industry which he equated to corruption, and referred the delegates to the current national integrated ICT White Paper which was vocal on the subject.Together with the Deputy Minister, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, the two political principals who are both drivers of ‘e-government’ called for more participation by SMMEs and start-ups in the larger local ICT industry by removing barriers to entry and facilitating their larger involvement in the industry.SITA closed this year’s Government Technology Conference with a firm commitment to streamline its processes to facilitate small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) involvement in the public sector ICT requirement.

SITA CEO Dr Setumo Mohapi made a bold promise in a plenary session on the last day of the prestigious event that the agency had embarked on a procurement transformation journey to support its mandate of developing SMMEs in the local ICT industry. “We need to help the small ones,” Mohapi exclaimed. “It is considering that the world grows from innovation that is developed in small rooms and then snapped up by larger companies and deployed in industry.”Firstly, SITA will be developing a portal for SMMEs through which they will be able to share important feedback with the agency to improve its procurement experiences. Mohapi encouraged its users to indicate where they thought SITA and its procurement process could be significantly improved. He, in turn, would take this to board for implementation.“Tell us what we need to change, as well as what we are doing incorrectly,” he said. “The board wants a system that is free of corruption and fraud, and we are only able to achieve this if you provide us with feedback.” The second intervention is the automation of SITA’s tendering process to improve the efficiency and accuracy, as well as lower the cost of related procedures.He was joined on stage by Zeth Malele, a member of the SITA board of directors, who heads up a board subcommittee that is geared at overseeing the successful implementation of these interventions. Malele said the agency would release a scorecard against which it would benchmark and present its performance to delegates at the next GovTech. “We want a transparent process that mirrors our own tender processes,” he said.SITA’s focus on developing SMME’s was a major focus at GovTech 2016, emphasising the critical role that these important participants in the larger South African economy had to play in driving the innovation that is needed to build a robust digital South Africa.

The important role that ICT has to play in the developing SMMEs was brought to the fore in the same plenary session by Brigette Petersen, chief director: Corporate Services of the Department of Small Business Development. Petersen said that ICT, as a service-based industry, offered immense potential for SMME development, including in the rural and informal areas of the country. “These township enterprises also offer a beacon of hope to women, youth and those who have disabilities and who were previously excluded from the economy,” said Petersen.She noted that the United Kingdom, People’s Republic of China and Germany were sound examples of economies that relied on vibrant SMMEs. In the United Kingdom, 99% of all businesses are made up of SMMEs, and employed up to 60% of the population, as compared to South Africa were only just over 40% of the population was employed. Nine out of 10 businesses in Europe were SMMEs.This supports objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP) of creating 11 million jobs, of which 90% will be created by SMMEs, by 2030 in South Africa”, said Petersen as she drew comparisons to reveal the looming gap. She reminded delegates that there was still much to be done, considering the many obstacles these companies faced. This includes a lack of infrastructure in rural areas and limited capacity to access markets.“We need to do something now if we are going to achieve the objectives outlined in the NDP. The country gross domestic product will grow if we develop our SMMEs."Bear in mind that as many as 80 000 SMMEs contributed towards the tax base last year,” said Petersen.She reminded delegates that while ICTs were enablers of business, many were unable to access them due to their costs, or limited computer-literacy skills, a point repeatedly raised by speakers and delegates during the conference. However, there are many stellar examples of where SMMEs had succeeded in supplying “e-government”-related services—pointing to the future role that ICT had to play in growing this important sector of the economy.

A new introduction to this year’s conference was the very successful Conversation Café’s. This ‘outside-in’ approach allowed delegates to engage in an interactive and informal manner to identify inclusive digital solutions to public sector challenges in line with this year’s theme. It is just one of a number of initiatives introduced by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) geared at stimulating more engagement at this year’s conference and reducing the overloading of the conference by powerpoint presentations, in what the organisers termed “death by powerpoint”.This is in line with the very nature of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry and ‘e-government’ at large to move away from paper based in favour of fully automated public service processes. Chris Roos, Vodacom’s managing executive, facilitated the third Café which placed credence on enabling government through the effective deployment and use of information and communications technology (ICT), effectively building on the strategic discussions carried out in the Executive Leadership Engagement on the Sunday by unpacking the challenges and solutions that were needed to facilitate access, integration, security and collaboration.This session reiterated government’s own views that South Africa’s ‘e-strategy’ needs to be undertaken in the context of a developing economy. Roos provided the context needed to tackle some of the challenges government was facing, in terms of seamlessly rolling out its digital agenda, which will improve service delivery to all citizens of the country—in line with goals underlined in the National Development Plan. He pointed to the need to focus on adequate content and relevant devices, as opposed to only emphasising speed and coverage of the network infrastructure. Roos noted that while the vast majority of the population had access to cell phones, only a small number used the Internet.

“I do believe that entry level smart phones are all that is required to provide better access to services. Focus should be given to finding the correct device to encourage greater use of the Internet. Content is also critical. Bear in mind that many universities have not been able to take advantage of free Wi-Fi services simply because they do not have the necessary content,” he told delegates at the event. Moritz Botha, acting chief director of SCM ICT of the Treasury Department, detailed advanced plans in developing a ‘smart procurement’ process for government. Botha emphasised that it would be built upon advanced ICTs to ensure that this system met the mandates of the NDP, namely establishing fair, equitable and transparent procurement processes. Importantly, these initiatives are expected to significantly bolster small, medium and micro enterprise involvement across all government departments, including the SITA’s own system. SITA has placed significant focus on ensuring more SMME involvement in the ICT industry.He said the basis of this integrated procurement system, spanning all government departments, was the development of a Procurement Bill, paving the way forward for the deployment of ‘smart’ technologies to integrate systems in government departments.“This development will require significant innovation to help us develop an efficient procedure that guides government in selecting the best product or service at the best possible price. This has become even more important, considering the state of international economies,” he said.Over the next 12 to 18 months, focus will turn to developing open data contracting and integration standards. This will be complemented by the development of enabling platforms and expanding the existing ‘e-procurement’ system.

One of the important backdrops of lastyear’s GovTech event was the ICT White Paper, which was approved by Cabinet this month.It informed an in-depth discussion around four important topics. They included the supply-side and demand-side initiatives needed to facilitate digital transformation; high-impact required to drive the uptake of digital and mobile services; and the necessary endeavour to address digital capacity challenges in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).Cwele highlighted the important role made by ICTs in “disrupting traditional government models”, but noted the need to develop a vibrant local sector, upon which state could develop its ‘e-strategy’. “We appreciate the interest that large international ICT companies have expressed in the country, but we also want them to partner local companies, especially those which comply with current black-economic empowerment legislation,” the minister said.“The questions we should be focusing on is how best and rapidly we implement our digital strategy to ensure those who were left outside are brought inside. This is considering that there is a larger scope to fulfill in the implementation of the digital economy, namely financial inclusion.” Cwele said he was concerned by the huge ICT trade deficit in the country, which he described as “unsustainable”, although he was pleased that South African e-commerce had shown signs of rapid growth.Importantly, he made a call to the “captains of the ICT industry” to focus on ensuring access to all citizens, while noting that government—as the largest custodian of content—also had a critical role to play in making it more available to all South Africans. “Accessibility is more than just about infrastructure; it is also about content. I would love to see more content on the Internet available in Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and Sepedi, and move beyond English as this is not the largest language in the country.”Mkhize said that there was a need to “de-mystify” ICT by bringing it back to the people. “We need to bring the conversation back to the people and society at large. It is all about ‘digital’ transformation.We know that there are still too many people who cannot enjoy the benefits of ICTs in the country.” She supported Cwele’ s views that incubating small, medium and micro enterprises was critical to developing an indigenous ICT sector in the country.

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