Tired of fruitless turnaround strategies at the State IT Agency, interim CEO, Luvuyo Keyise, is working to address the agency’s challenges from the ground up.
In January 2022, Luvuyo Keyise was reappointed as interim CEO of the State IT Agency (SITA). Having joined the agency in December 2019, he was hired to lead SITA on a journey that would see it being repurposed.
Chatting to Keyise around two-and-a-half years since his initial appointment, he’s still very cognisant of the massive task he has on his hands. He was appointed to address complaints about the services SITA was providing. At the time, there were delays across the board – be it around procurement or basic IT services. The agency was also facing various financial challenges. Something had to be done to assess if this failing state entity could be saved. The goal was to improve SITA so that it could live up to its mandate, which is to be the driver of digital transformation across the public sector, as well as an IT thought-leader for government.
“To put it simply, I came into an organisation that is tired of turnaround strategies because we’ve had more than 10,” he says.
In the organisation’s 20+ year history, the average tenure of a CEO is about a year-and-a-half. Every time there’s a change in leadership, all the policies and plans that the previous CEO put in place went out of the window, he says.
This means that very few strategies had been fully developed and implemented from start to finish.
“I was clear when I came in that I didn’t want to join SITA as part of another glossy turnaround strategy that is only good on paper, but nothing tangible is done. My focus was on what could be implemented in the shortest possible time to have the greatest impact on the services that we provide to our clients.”
When Keyise joined SITA, he was adamant that he would only bring in people who see a future at SITA and who intend to deliver on the strategies that are developed. “The strategies we put in place can’t be my strategies; they must be organisational strategies accepted and bought into by everyone.”
I came into an organisation that is tired of turnaround strategies because we’ve had more than 10.
He began his tenure by trying to understand some of the service delivery challenges faced by SITA. “It was about getting to the root of our problems rather than just hearing what’s wrong from the news.”
He met with department directors-general and ministers, not just CIOs, because after 20 years in government, he knew that he needed to connect with the people who are ultimately accountable for service delivery and who understand where IT isn’t helping them as it should.
Running on empty
Providing one example, Keyise found that SITA had not made any infrastructure investments for more than a decade. As a result, the infrastructure was unreliable, unpredictable and couldn’t provide the stability and agility that was needed. If you take the overall core network, he adds, which had reached end of life, it was clear that there needed to be investment in replacing the entire thing to provide redundancy and greater stability. Rather than spending money on maintaining outdated infrastructure, the agency needed to modernise government systems and replace legacy solutions with automated e-services.
Government sits with lots of data that it doesn’t understand or know how to use, says Keyise. “This is why citizens need to fill in their information over and over again when dealing with different government departments.”
Big data analytics can also help government make more effective use of this information, he adds.
By way of example, he says, previously, the higher education certification authority had to sift through massive amounts of data pulled from different systems and using different grading approaches to grant students a diploma or degree. In this case, the poor management of data meant that some students waited up to a year before getting their results. “We implemented big data analytics on top of the authority’s legacy mainframe solution to simplify this process and to reduce the time it takes to verify that students can or can’t be granted their degrees.”
A ‘Hollywood’ organisation
Keyise also found that SITA didn’t have the skills needed in critical areas. This being said, he stresses that recruiting too many new people doesn’t solve this problem. “In previous turnarounds at SITA, they made the mistake of bringing in too many people who all leave a year-and-a-half later when leadership changes. This doesn’t create any stability,” he says.
“When I came in, we had an organisation in Hollywood because more than 70% of senior management positions were filled by people in ‘acting’ roles.” In this scenario, it’s impossible to make moves on anything because people aren’t working for longevity and are always thinking about going back to a more permanent role.
“Today, around 99% of all critical management roles have been filled through a mix of existing and new talent,” he says, outlining that it was important to put clear performance management systems in place to recognise the work of good people and ensure that they’re promoted accordingly.
Speaking of skills, he highlights that it’s imperative that SITA uses internal and external resources. According to Keyise, SITA was not meant to be the only entity to provide IT service to government. SITA has to create an ecosystem that allows it to partner with industry and the private sector so that they can collaborate to provide everything government needs. “You can’t have the population register sitting on the public cloud. These systems sit in a more secure cloud infrastructure built and managed by SITA. But some workloads, like emails that aren’t confidential, can be deployed on approved third party cloud architecture.”
Currently, says Keyise, SITA is trying not to talk too much about the future and rather show how it can make a change now. As such, he’s keen to help government automate and modernise some of its most problematic services. “We’ll do it and pay for it to show that we aren’t just talking anymore, now we’re doing,” he notes. “Our hope is that if we can make improvements, big and small, across some departments, others will see what we can do, and they’ll want to do the same.”
But how is this any different from what has come before?
“I fully accept that SITA hasn’t delivered what it was meant to in the past. But I believe that in this digital era, we can’t move forward without building our own ICT capabilities,” he says. “SITA has committed to playing a bigger role in supporting government departments. When funding is allocated for new IT projects, we’re monitoring progress to make sure that these departments deliver on what they promise to do. All of this is being done so that the public can see movement and change for the better.”
* This feature was first published in the July edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.