Summit connects ICT plans

The Gauteng Department of Finance (GDF) hosted the inaugural Gauteng Provincial Government Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Summit in Midrand this week. During the one-day event international and domestic ICT experts and representatives of all spheres of government and sector organisations shared their experiences with leveraging technology.

The aim of the summit was to enable all these sectors to work together to create a more efficient and connected government.

“The summit provides us with a platform to plan the way forward on how to use ICT to improve the lives of the citizens in Gauteng,” says Gauteng Finance MEC Mandla Nkomfe. “We cannot solve the technology issues that exist in the province on our own. The summit is therefore an important stepping stone in creating an eco-system for provincial government, municipalities, state-owned enterprises and the private sector, to see what solutions will work best for our unique challenges and partner together to overcome them.”

Government is informed by what the public feels is important and is mandated to reach marginalised areas where the private sector might not necessarily see value. It is the responsibility of government to take charge of narrowing the digital divide through initiatives such as last-mile access (the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer) and school connectivity programmes.

“Gauteng is very rich in ICT resources, which results in the private sector moving forward irrespective of what government is doing. We have to start coordinating everything to ensure that we are able to harness the innovation and speed of development of the private sector,” says Nkomfe.

The importance of options
The GDF recently commissioned the State IT Agency (Sita) to conduct a study to determine ways of achieving value for money by deploying and using  ICT solutions more effectively.
One of the findings was that more effective product licensing could lead to savings. The significant amounts spent on software licences could instead be rerouted to the development of a common platform.

“IT spending in the province has been a significant challenge. It must be rationalised for us to be more effective. On the one hand we have to automate and on the other the solutions must speak to the future. The summit has enabled us to bring the private sector and government together to exhibit the latest technologies and how they can be used to reduce unnecessary expenditure,” says Nkomfe.

But Gauteng cannot act in isolation from the rest of the country; its interventions and processes are informed by the National Broadband Policy, which focuses on increasing the accessibility, availability, affordability and use of broadband services throughout the country. The policy aims to articulate how government will provide the support required for the development of an information society and clarifies the roles of government, state-owned enterprises and the private sector in developing the required broadband infrastructure.

“In this respect, various studies point to different options open to us to meet the broadband challenge head on. Firstly, one can look solely at [a] fixed fibre [optic network], but this is hardly the ideal solution. The other option is the development of a core fixed fibre network while simultaneously leveraging the country’s proven expertise in mobile networks and connectivity. This hybrid approach sees us in the fortunate position of being able to see what has been developed in other countries and adapting it for the unique conditions of South Africa,” says Nkomfe.

Three target areas
The GDF is not focusing only on connecting government but also on improving three other areas: education, health and security.

With regard to education the GDF must ensure that there is a level of IT development in the province and that learners understand how technology works if they are to empower themselves with the skills they need to find jobs or grow their own businesses. Nkomfe feels that with issues around access to technology being addressed, government should start looking at content. Students and teachers should not be scared of technology but need to integrate it into their daily lives.

With regard to health, the introduction of National Health Insurance (NHI) will require the development of significant information management systems at hospitals and clinics around the country. These systems will have to be managed properly at provincial level if NHI is to work at a national level.

Thirdly, issues of IT safety and security must be addressed. The Gauteng Security Operations Centre, launched in April last year, has produced good early warning results. Nkomfe says the centre has seen patch level compliance in the province improving to acceptable levels, with six departments achieving higher than 80% compliance and the GDF achieving 95% compliance.

The GDF has had several successes in the implementation of an enterprise resource planning tool that has resulted in improved government processes.

“This includes the rollout of inventory management solutions to the Department of Community Safety and the Department of Rural Development and Agriculture. The GDF has also supplied asset management solutions to those departments. We even installed a government car-booking system within the employee self-services application,” says Nkomfe.

The provincial  ICT thrust
With so many segments to develop, what will the overall thrust of the GDF’s ICT strategy be?

“Reducing the digital divide is the overarching notion that drives all of us. We need to extend the last mile to ensure that every South African has access to broadband internet. Economic development is another driver when it comes to ICT development. By providing small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs with access to technology we are enabling them to grow significantly and start competing with other private sector organisations,” says Nkomfe.

“On a social level, our ICT strategy has seen us identify 20 priority townships in Gauteng which we will provide online access to. People will be able to access their pensions online, conduct research projects for school and even link to the Department of Health’s database for their health needs. The cumulative effect of this is that the rate of economic growth will be on a completely different level than it is now,” he says.

However, Nkomfe says the GDF needs to address issues of inefficient IT spend. As an example, he feels it should start improving the way it manages its private sector partnerships.

“Due to their nature, banks are running good broadband solutions internally. But these banks generally do not use their broadband capacity around the clock. We want to leverage that and be in a position to benefit from those networks at non-peak times.”

In addition, the GDF is investigating the creation of a ‘Silicon Valley’ for the province where IT companies can come together to produce solutions that will help with job creation. Tertiary education institutions such as the University of Johannesburg, the University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand will also be involved in student development and ICT skills training programmes.

“Our objective is to achieve operational efficiencies, improve financial management and ensure compliance with the applicable legislative framework. Ultimately, we need smart cities and a connected government. But before we can reach those goals, we need to wire government and give it broadband capacity,” says Nkomfe.

Government departments need to be connected to one another and they need to be able to communicate more effectively using ICT systems. To this end Nkomfe feels that the contributions of the provincial departments of health, finance and roads and transport will be critical.

“We must make sure that when infrastructure gets built, fibre [optic network infrastructure] forms part of that development. I am confident that the resolutions taken at the Gauteng ICT Summit will go a long way in assisting the province in achieving its objectives of developing a connected government and providing universal access to ICT for all.

“This summit will be the foundation for us to enable better service delivery, reduce the cost of doing business and create job opportunities for the citizens of the province.”
“This summit will be the foundation for us to enable better service delivery, reduce the cost of doing business and create job opportunities for the citizens of the province.”


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