Does govt really want a CIO?

Martin Czernowalow
By Martin Czernowalow, Contributor.
Johannesburg, 05 Aug 2014
While the tech benefits of appointing a GCIO are obvious, politicians may be loath to usher in a new era of transparency. [Picture by: Shutterstock]
While the tech benefits of appointing a GCIO are obvious, politicians may be loath to usher in a new era of transparency. [Picture by: Shutterstock]

As government seems no closer to filling its long-vacant CIO position, industry experts begin to question whether there is any real political will to appoint a permanent government CIO (GCIO).

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has been without a permanent CIO since the departure of Michelle Williams, in April 2011, and there currently seems to be no timeline for filling the post.

In response to questions, DPSA spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba says Ntjatji Gosebo has been appointed on contract as [acting] government CIO, "while the recruitment process is being finalised". Gosebo's recent appointment sees him replace Walter Mudau, chief director of operations within the office of the government CIO, who stood in as CIO after Williams' departure.

Nkwamba explains that "internal processes and the need to find a suitable candidate for the post resulted in the delay to fill the GCIO post". He adds that, while the process is taking longer than anticipated, "there has been no vacuum as Mr Gosebo is now serving as GCIO until the position is permanently filled".

According to his LinkedIn profile, Gosebo is a higher education administrator, computer science lecturer "of various subfields", business consultant, and a public service IT specialist.

Mission impossible?

Mark Walker, IDC director of insights and vertical industries for Middle East, Africa and Turkey, questions government's genuine intent to embrace ICT, despite public acknowledgement that technology is an economic growth enabler.

"But what is being said in smoky rooms, behind closed doors? One must remember that technology is also a great enabler of transparent processes and a great tool for accountability. So for those who want to keep things hidden, how much will is there to find a GCIO?"

Walker also says finding the right candidate, who possesses the right skills and experience, coupled with the willingness to embrace government's culture and way of doing business, could be near impossible. "The ideal candidate would have to be in his mid-50s, have commercial ICT experience with a large corporation (a bank or a telco), have an international education, and would have worked overseas."

He also speculates the candidate would ideally have to have vendor experience, preferably in in a public sector/corporate affairs position, as well as some government work experience. "The position is a political hot seat. The tech benefits [of hiring a GCIO] are obvious."

Lack of understanding

Industry veteran Adrian Schofield also questions the government's motivation to fill the post. "I don't think the DPSA has tried too hard to fill this post - it is possible that there is no clear understanding of the role of the GCIO."

Schofield points out the GCIO should be setting the strategy for bringing digital resources to support government performance, creating specifications for systems that the State IT Agency (SITA) must deliver, and ensuring the acquisition of ICT products and services is done efficiently and effectively, within the framework of managing government data.

"Frankly, the ANC, the government as a whole and the senior bureaucrats seem to have no concept of the potential that ICTs offer to improve the performance of the government machine. Each department has its own CIO, each of whom would see no reason to consult the GCIO. The GCIO should provide the leadership of the Gitoc [Government IT Officers Council], to ensure coordination and elimination of duplication.

"SITA itself has been tarnished by management scandals and changes, and suffered from poor oversight by DPSA."

Schofield argues that appointing a GCIO would do little to improve the overall situation, unless that person was given a clear mandate, the authority and the support that would enable them to see a complete overhaul of government's use of ICTs through to completion.

"This would probably take more than five years, which means it won't happen, given the lack of political understanding and the turf battles that would need to be fought. The vision and determination that saw the South African Revenue Service's systems reach their current levels needs to be elevated to the next level of government and applied across the board."

Tertia Smit, enterprise and public ICT sector senior analyst at BMI-TechKnowledge, agrees that ICT does not receive the attention and focus it deserves in government. Not only are the budgets for departments that deal with ICT-related issues relatively small, she says, but there has been little movement on the ICT front within the public sector lately.

"There is very little happening with SITA and Gitoc. ICT is not getting the attention it needs, especially from the DPSA."