Govt needs greater ICT focus

By Christelle du Toit, ITWeb senior journalist
Johannesburg, 04 Jul 2007

Government is making progress in its ICT usage, but is hampered by a shortage of skills and a lack of co-ordination in its approach to technology usage.

This was one of the key findings of the latest Forge Ahead ICT in government survey, which was released to the media yesterday. The study was conducted via quantitative and qualitative surveys at national government level.

Nicky Pope, national manager for research in government at Forge Ahead, says high turnover of ICT staff is one of the greatest inhibitors of ICT usage in government at the moment. She notes this is a problem that is characteristic of the entire ICT industry.

Other obstacles include a lack of project management, business analysis and system analysis skills. Yet, the spend on staff capacity and skills is still much lower than that on infrastructure. The majority of CIOs also said their budgets prevented them from doing as much as they would like to with ICT.

According to the research, there is still a great degree of duplication of efforts in how CIOs in government departments tackle issues such as open source software, security, e-governance and technology investments.

"There have been calls in the past and there will be again for a centralised co-ordination of government's approach," says Forge Ahead head of research, Adrian Schofield. "We are yet to see any effective state agency take on this role."

SITA stumbling blocks

According to the research, 20% of respondents utilise the State IT Agency (SITA) as an Internet service provider. Forge Ahead says there have been many problems with SITA's service provisions, "and, with the vacuum around leadership, this won't improve in the short-term".

It says most departments' frustrations with SITA centred on delays in procurement processes, as well as its "umbrella approach" in not taking into account individual departmental ICT needs.

The research indicated less than 50% of government departments use open source software. While the intention expressed was that this would improve between 90% and 100% over the next year, open source is still mostly being used for desktop applications and not for back-office applications such as human resources and payroll administration, says Schofield.

SADC challenges

According to Ashraf Patel, consultant for Forge Ahead, the research into ICT in government in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) indicated a lack of infrastructure and monopolisation of telecommunications are the greatest inhibitors to ICT development in the region.

"The industry continues to reflect a high vertically-integrated market structure where incumbents tend to dominate their market segments," says Patel.

He notes that the telecoms industry "continues to be hampered by relatively high prices across services and limited access".

On the positive side, most SADC countries have good ICT policies in place that have largely been donor-funded - "now they need the support to implement it and they need competition in the cost of connectivity".