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SA publishes final National Cloud and Data Policy

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 03 Jun 2024
The National Cloud and Data Policy aims create a robust data economy that contributes to the growth of the ICT sector and overall economy.
The National Cloud and Data Policy aims create a robust data economy that contributes to the growth of the ICT sector and overall economy.

Communications minister Mondli Gungubele last week published South Africa’s final National Cloud and Data Policy.

Government says the National Data and Cloud Policy is a framework aimed at efficiently managing and utilising data through cloud computing technologies.

Its primary goals are to enhance government service delivery and foster socio-economic development by promoting data-driven decision-making, and creating data-based tradable goods and services, thereby supporting an emerging digital economy.

Among its key principles, the policy seeks to accelerate the rollout of digital infrastructure to ensure fast, secure and reliable broadband connectivity in South Africa.

It also aims to ensure data privacy and security, and promote open data and data interoperability, as well as for South Africa to adopt a cloud-first approach.

The draft policy was published on 1 April 2021 for public comment. Law and ICT experts had highlighted several flaws in the policy, questioning government’s approach to position citizens’ data as the infrastructure for production, rather than as an input or factor of production.

South Africa is one of the continent’s mature cloud markets, with the country leading cloud adoption in the region.

Hyperscalers have increased their investments in the local cloud computing space, establishing their data centre facilities in the country.

The policy proposes that government must encourage more investment in data centre and cloud services.

Communications minister Mondli Gungubele.
Communications minister Mondli Gungubele.

Robust data economy

According to Gungubele, the policy also underscores the importance of capacity building and skills development, to encourage the adoption of cloud technologies and data management practices across all sectors.

“It aims to create a robust data economy that contributes to the growth of the ICT sector and the overall economy,” says the minister in the policy document.

“Aligned with government’s digital transformation agenda, the policy is expected to catalyse the development of a data-driven ecosystem in the country. Its implementation is anticipated to yield benefits such as improved public service delivery, increased government operational efficiency, better data management, and enhanced innovation and competitiveness in the private sector. Successful implementation will require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, the private sector, civil society organisations and international partners.”

Government believes adequate funding, stakeholder engagement and capacitation of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) will be critical to the policy’s success.

The document reveals that government departments and agencies collect vast amounts of data related to services such as health, education, identity documents, birth registration, driver’s licences and business registrations.

This data is stored in various formats, with some kept as hard copies and others in servers within departmental facilities, it says.

It adds that the private sector, in contrast, has rapidly digitised, using digital technologies like data analytics and cloud services, to gain insights for customising products and services and identifying new opportunities.

“Government faces challenges due to slow technology adoption, leading to disjointed data collection, storage and processing. The lack of common data governance mechanisms hampers data integration, sharing and system interoperability,” reads the document.

“This siloed approach results in lost opportunities for evidence-based policymaking, integrated planning, and making non-sensitive data available for innovation and the development of digital goods and services to support employment and reduce poverty.”

The National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper of 2016 marked a watershed moment, acknowledging the economic value of data, the policy states.

It notes this policy highlighted the potential of data to drive innovation and support digital economic inclusion, emphasising the importance of data sharing under stringent privacy protections.

Despite these advancements, it says, the primary focus of South African legislation largely remained on data protection and security.

“Except for the 2016 White Paper, there has been a lack of legislative efforts to create an enabling environment for a digital, data-driven economy. The need for a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework that supports broader access to data for innovation in digital services and products remains necessary.”

The policy will be implemented through consultations with key stakeholders and implementing agents such as SITA, relevant government departments and, where necessary, industry and sector stakeholders.

Certainty, stability

Lucien Pierce, partner at Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys, comments: “It’s well-drafted, concise and realistic. It doesn’t skirt issues, acknowledging there are problems and identifying how to fix them.

“It emphasises the need for regulatory certainty and energy supply stability. It promotes the approach that data centres ensure their own energy and water self-provisioning – of course, touch wood, it seems that South Africa’s energy stability and reliability is heading in the right direction.”

While the policy is not solely about data governance or security − since existing policies and legislation like the Protection of Personal Information Act, the Cyber security Policy Framework, and the Cyber crimes Act already cover these areas – it seeks to reinforce these policies, says the document.

“The primary goal is to enable South Africans to derive socio-economic value from data, driving innovation, inclusivity and economic growth in a digitally-empowered society,” reads the policy document.

The National Data and Cloud Policy shall be approved by Cabinet, and its review will be based on new developments in the ICT sector and evolving digital environment.