There are differing opinions about the value and future of the State Information and Technology Agency (SITA), created in 1999 to facilitate public service delivery through providing IT systems and overseeing the maintenance of IT services and security.
The strategy to consolidate and co-ordinate the state’s IT resources to achieve cost savings through economies of scale and enhancing interoperability through a macro perspective on infrastructure is sound, and outcomes from the summit demonstrate the transformation the entity has and is still going through.
However, the message at the summit from Dr Setumo Mohapi, appointed SITA’s chief executive last year, was that while the mandate of SITA remains the same, reflection about its existence is required, particularly where its mandatory and non-mandatory services are concerned — where SITA must provide and where it may provide.
“SITA is part of the broader government system, created to facilitate public service delivery and to serve and improve this to the republic,” explained Mohapi. “Our services impact members of the public and we have to continuously look at how to ultimately improve people’s lives. We cannot shy away from SITA having been working for some time on a particular focus — maybe without enough attention to the core focus — nor that we have had problems in procurement, which can be slow or erratic.
“Improvement should happen through the provision of effective IT systems, efficient maintenance of services and making sure these are secure for the public entities at national and provincial level. It is about the best service network, from end to end; the whole scope [has] to be considered.
“If the LANs (local area network) do not work and departments are not ready for systems like eGovernment (eGov), the whole setup will collapse. It does not matter whether it is SITA or a provincial IT department. We are joined in one mission. In essence, government departments have to translate the public’s problem statement and turn it into their own problem statement.”
Mohapi said that bandwidth should be at a certain level, with programmes, especially around eGov, aligned with broadband availability. He said SITA is looking deeper into security, as government data centres get more connected both here and with the rest of the world.
“People do get exposed the more connected they get with government, and this brings with it the element of security threat.”
He also said that while it is essential to accelerate eGov, this is still against a backdrop of managing very old systems around human resources and finance, for example, but as broadband is added and upgrades made, the pieces of the puzzle will come together.
Continuity of data
He emphasised that there cannot be transformation where government is not thinking eGov and lacks the platform. Ultimately though, there has to be integration of functions and the public seeing a government that interacts with them in a consistent way.
He described a scenario of continuity of data and creating clustered data, and gave the example of knowing about a child before it is born through interacting with the social welfare department, then hospital requirements through the department of health and the issuing of a birth certificate by home affairs — essentially anticipating and providing what the child will need.
“It is the total integration of data, intelligent analytics and intelligent data,” said Mohapi. “We need to show improvement through use of connected ICT — this is the most important objective over the next four years.”
The strategic focus of SITA over the next five years has several priorities, the first being to procure goods and services at a lower cost than any single department could do on their own within similar time frames, and driving towards an efficient and service-orientated procurement process.
Core IT services must guide the enterprise’s architecture, standards and overall IT vision for government, owning and delivering cutting-edge solutions across government through targeted multi-department projects — in effect, being a business enabler.
“SITA must be the driving force behind the continued digitisation of the public, also setting and driving the e-Government agenda for the country and the modernisation of the public sector,” he said. “We must also drive a healthy, customer-centric organisation, with motivated employees.
“Historically we have just been IT administrators, enabling government to buy cheaper through economies of scale,” said Mohapi. “However, tax money must be used in a better way.”
“Procurement slows service delivery and if a request to a procurement agent takes years to materialise, we have failed and in turn government has failed as it has not provided service delivery,” he continued.
“We now have metrics on the number of tenders we are doing at present. We have not been concentrating enough on keeping statistics on government spending to private companies owned by women and the youth. Awareness is there now.
“We will be looking at the needs of the provinces and how much spend [is required] for each province, with discussions with local and provincial government about steps that can be taken to transform procurement at local level. We also recognise eGov as a critical entity, a core of SITA going forward and not a technical function.”
Mohapi said that while they can automate work streams and link systems towards efficient public service and better use of funds, there has to be dialogue and SITA representatives need to understand the departments and what each one does on a daily basis, for instance seeing what people and departments go through when IT systems do not work.
“Do not accept an answer like ‘I cannot give you an answer because the answer lies elsewhere’. Immediately itemise the information you have, escalate it and ensure we don’t take a year to respond to a simple request, like the installation of a Telkom line,” he concluded.