Public sector urged to digitally transform civil service

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Public sector institutions in Africa need to redefine how they operate by creating digital transformation plans, according to ICT sector executives, who say this will drive effective modernisation of civil service.

They say public sector institutions in Africa are characterised by legacy ICT infrastructure that needs urgent upgrading to match global trends in response to the impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic, they say, has compelled the public sector to reimagine service delivery in a post-lockdown era, and to invest more in technology.

The discussion on the preparedness of public sector institutions has gained momentum in recent weeks, with the African Union driving the continent’s initiative to drive more investments in digital infrastructure.

In a recent interview, Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, African Union commissioner for infrastructure and energy, said the continent is rolling out Africa’s Digital Transformation Strategy, with a target to bring an additional 300 million people online by 2025, making investments in ICT urgent.

Nkuli Mbundu, an executive at MicroStrategy focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, says traditional ways of transacting, whether for business or government services, have been permanently disrupted.

“With that, ways of gathering information to make critical decisions are now more online than ever. Governments need to accelerate digital literacy among employees, as well as the broader public which they serve. This will include infrastructure to enable digital communications.

“A big part of digital literacy is enabling employees and citizens with the ability to access the right information at the right time to the right person. This is where analytics becomes more important. We believe government needs to invest in data tools to replace traditional decision-making systems.”

According to Mbundu: “COVID-19 has transformed the business and social environment into what we refer to as the low-touch economy. This means human-to-human contact will remain limited for the foreseeable future.”

Similarly, Sunil Geness, head of global government affairs and CSR at SAP Africa, says: “There can be little doubt that the one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted is the value of the digital transformation that enables citizens to access services.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased pressure on governments to turn to heightened digital capabilities with the increased demands for remote work, distance learning and e-commerce.

“It is therefore critical for African governments to heed the call of leaving no one lagging and no one offline, and to put people at the centre of digital government transformation and sustainable development.”

Africa Analysis IT analyst Derrick Chikanga says most public institutions currently use outdated infrastructure. As a result, he notes: “These institutions struggle to integrate emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning, data analytics and IOT, as part of their business processes, thereby remaining inefficient in their service provision.

“In addition, legacy infrastructure exposes organisations to cyber threats, as these are not compatible with emerging cyber defence systems.”

Further, Chikanga says: “As a start, public institutions could start migrating more of their workloads to the cloud and data centre environments. This will increase efficiencies by enabling mobility of the workforce through remote access of work files. Cloud migration will also improve the security levels around IT systems of public institutions, as cloud environments are generally considered more secure than on-premises servers.

“Application modernisation will enable governments to integrate the latest technologies with their existing IT infrastructure. This will enable citizens to effectively utilise emerging services such as e-services and e-government, which will significantly improve service delivery.”

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