Public sector technologists have their work cut out for them. Effective digital transformation will improve service delivery to citizens, and realise efficiencies, but as this discussion shows, it takes more than just mere technology, and will need staff buy-in, a clear set of policies, and accountability.
Brainstorm: Who takes the responsibility for digital transformation in government entities and departments?
Most participants say it’s the CIO, backed by exco and the board, as well as the IT steering committee.
Pandelani Munyai, Group CIO, Transnet, says it has a number of entities with differing business requirements. “They determine what they need to be transformed or automated, and then come to us and ask how we can make their lives simpler. IT plays an enabling role, but we’re all accountable to the board and that drives the strategy for the whole organisation.”
Brainstorm: How can technology support government’s efforts to lead through a crisis? Is our government equipped to lead us through a crisis?
Norbit Williams, CIO, Department of Public Enterprises, points out that the government typically doesn’t refer to crises, but rather to solutions.
“We have the technological capability and we have partnerships, but whether or not they’re being utilised effectively has to be questioned,” he says.
He adds that the pandemic meant that public servants had to do their jobs remotely, and that some departments took longer than others to get their operations functioning effectively, “but we got there, which was dependent on our existing partnerships.”
He admits that the public sector can often be reactive, and “we think we can only do something once something has happened.” Big data, for instance, could provide insights, as well as analysing social media feeds. “We should be able to utilise AI for a quicker response.”
What about the citizen?
Munyai thinks people are the most important drivers of technology. He says Transnet is trying to use less paper in its processes as well as simplify tasks that used to be done manually. But he asks whether South Africans are ready to use technology.
Mothibi Ramusi, CIO, National Lotteries Commission, says digital transformation “starts with us, in this room. What’s frustrating the citizen? If I understand what the citizen wants to do, then it will guide the government as to what kind of interactions it will require.”
Phetogo Lekganyane, head of IT, South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions
“There’s not much that be achieved with technology when the infrastructure is dilapidated,” he says.
David Ramasodi, executive director: IT services, Vaal University of Technology
“If you look at the US and Europe, it’s all on an app.”
Stanley Mpofu, CIO, Wits, believes government doesn’t understand the needs of citizens.
“I stay in a place where there is virtually zero connectivity. If I go home, I might as well leave my phone in Johannesburg. Government thinks that cities are the only places that they can generate employment. We have squatter camps because the government has created the impression that if you want a job, you must go to town. Where I stay, I have to drive 50km to get groceries. Government doesn’t think it’s a good idea to put a mall in a rural area.”
Ayanda Nkundla, ICT director, Department of Public Service and Administration, says government is composed of citizens, and believes it’s time we “start influencing policy at a voter level”. He adds that the boards of some SOEs are now starting to look at the adoption of technology.
Storm Gibson, senior cloud solution architect, Microsoft
“Let’s look at the schooling system. Parents had to register kids on a platform. The platform wasn’t ready for the amount of parents that were there. And did parents have the resources to utilise it? Did they have data on their phones?
What about the citizen?
Says Khathu Sibanda, CIO, University of Johannesburg: “Government alone should not be blamed for service delivery, specifically around connectivity.
”When Covid happened, we quickly came to the realisation that government didn’t even have the muscle to negotiate with telecommunication companies. We, as universities, had to negotiate with them so that our students could continue with their education. Government tried, and Stanley was part of a team that was appointed to negotiate. If we had not negotiated, the students would not have finished that academic year.”
Sibanda says she thinks private companies, such as MTN and Microsoft, should meet the government halfway.
“Government will not be able to do much alone. We need a partnership, a 20-year plan between the public and private sectors. We can’t just be looking at government, and say it’s not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. What’s the private sector doing?”
Veronica Sebona, CIO, ATNS, says that while partnerships are to be valued, accountability is also important. If there’s no sense of accountability, the partnership will be doomed from the beginning, she believes.
Williams, from Public Enterprises, wonders whether some ministers have the necessary qualifications to drive their departmental strategies and initiatives.
“It’s a long debate. Currently, there are people in high places being kicked out because of their lack of university qualifications.
“Government, as it stands right now, is a reactive one, rather than a responsive one.”
He also mentions the vandalism of physical equipment. “Transnet and Eskom suffer this. The impact on the value chain is so significant, but the guy who’s stealing the cable doesn’t care, there’s someone who’s going to buy that cable from him. There’s a systems issue that we need to delve into.
“We ask if government is competent enough. It’s not. There’s no way it can solve all these problems alone. With communications infrastructure, we can build the best technology, and then go out to our rural areas, and they can’t get one bar! Covid was one of those situations in which we needed to think differently, and in the time we’re in right now, it shouldn’t be about revenue generation. Someone mentioned that the government didn’t have the power to engage with the telcos.”
On government partners, he says: “Once you start treating me like an order number, that’s when you’ll exit my organisation. You’re not adding value; you’re just waiting for me to pay you, and I won’t hear from you until you need me to pay you again. What value are you giving to our citizens? What value are you driving to the economy?”
Mpofu, from Wits, says he’s seen some students struggle for up to five months to start using the university’s learning management system; he believes there’s not enough trust between private companies and the government.
David Ramasodi, executive director, IT services, Vaal University of Technology
“If you look at China today, they’re building megacities to empower people in those areas. They’re building high-speed railways. They’re leaders in renewable energy and battery-manufacturing. We have a serious crisis with electricity, and we’re not managing it. Zimbabwe has the highest deposits of lithium in Africa. We’re taking lithium to China to make batteries. We should be taking advantage, because the West has put sanctions on Zimbabwe.”
Chris Kistasamy, executive manager, enterprise shared services, Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority
He thinks people also use the phrase digital transformation loosely.
“We always refer to doing things in a more efficient way. Digital transformation is about doing things differently, and this requires leadership and policy change. As a country, we’re still trying to do things better that they were, not doing things differently.”
* Article first published on brainstorm.itweb.co.za