Film and Publication Board targets digital enablement

Film and Publication Board acting CEO Abongile Mashele.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) is prioritising investing in knowledge, research and innovation, amid the technological advancements witnessed the world over.

This is the word of FPB acting CEO Abongile Mashele, speaking to the organisation’s overall business strategy.

An entity of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, the FPB is the official content-classification authority for films, games, certain publications, and more recently, certain online content.

Mashele notes that similar to the impact of tech on many other industries, there’s been a definite shift in the distribution market.

As a result, the FPB is investing more in research, and not just researching the changes in the tech industry, but also changes in consumer sentiment and requirements, she says. “There’s no way that we can counter the changes if we are not keeping ourselves constantly abreast of what is happening.

“The FPB is a custodian of a lot of data of the changes that are happening within industry. One of the things that we’ve started to do is to track the trends of the distributors that we regulate.

“We are investing in research to look at the market trends, understanding the technological changes, always being there in industry engagements to try and gain insights from industry players on what are the prospects of change, understanding the consumer sentiments and also the data we have as the FPB, so that we can utilise it to inform our strategies moving forward.”

According to Mashele, the organisation adopted a new ICT strategy in 2019, which has a three-year implementation process. The strategy speaks to ICT governance, modernisation of the FPB’s infrastructure and equipping staff to understand the realities in the digital era, as well as security.

“The purpose of the digital strategy that we adopted in 2019 was to ensure we are able to respond to the changes in industry,” she says.

“The FPB needs to be conversant with the changes to ensure we are a digitally-friendly business and enable digital content regulation in South Africa. We don’t want to be seen as a regulator that stifles the changes in the market, but rather enables it and we are able to fulfil our mandate while enabling it. We are seeking to usher the FPB to the next digital era as an institution.”

In terms of progress made to implement the ICT strategy, she explains that last year the FPB planned to have at least 95% of year one fully implemented. However, the organisation only managed to achieve 88%, and that was largely because of capacity issues.

“There were specific projects that we wanted to finalise in the architecture environment, including the database consolidation, that we could not finalise. This is why we could not meet our target.

“In terms of 2020, we managed to achieve at least 88% of what we had set out to do in implementing the ICT plan for the year.”

Money matters

For its digital strategy, the FPB is working with a budget of R12.1 million for the current financial year (2021/2022), which according Mashele, is just about 10% of the total budget of the organisation.

“We have a total budget of R116 million as an institution. Of all our other line items, besides the employee costs, IT actually has one of the biggest allocations in our business, and that just shows how much we are committed to leveraging that and view ICT as a strategic enabler of our strategy.”

Commenting on whether this budget is sufficient to achieve its objectives, including ICT aspirations, Mashele replies: “You can never have enough budget. A lot of the budget that we have is largely focused on making sure the infrastructure is up to standard, secure and functioning.

“We may have the greatest ideas on the applications that we want but sometimes we may not have the resources. As an institution, we have to look at how best to raise funds or look at other alternatives and partnerships that can assist us to get to where we want.

“We have allocated slightly more budget for IT, but it can never be enough considering the needs that we have as an institution.”

Self-service solutions

Going forward, the FPB plans to focus on the security, infrastructure and new applications for the organisation, according to Mashele.

“We need applications that will enable us to meet our mandate. We’ve invested in an application called the online content regulation system. We are working towards ensuring that through this system, distributors can submit content from wherever they are without having to come to FPB, and it can be classified remotely – that’s the first phase of the system.”

In terms of other enhancements, the organisation wants to get to a point where distributors can do self-classification for the games, for example.

“As the FPB, we envision a system that has the appropriate algorithm at the back-end with our classification system, whereby a distributor, before they even submit and classify, they can do self-classification and see what rating their content can attract before they submit it to us.

“This is a project that we’ll be working on in the two-year horizon. Right now, we are working on testing and piloting the system but it has been under development.”

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