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SITA zeroes in on government connectivity during lockdown

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With the lockdown under way, the State IT Agency (SITA) has shifted its focus in this period, to prioritise ICT support and services to those on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

This is according to SITA spokesperson Anthea Summers, outlining the agency’s efforts to support government during the nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown.

On Wednesday, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed SA has 3 635 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1 055 recoveries, with 65 coronavirus-related deaths recorded, to date.

“We have engaged with provincial departments to align priorities and resourcing, so that government is able to deliver on its mandate, notably in the areas of health and social development,” says Summers.

“Our approach has been collaborative, and we are working together with our clients, partners and industry as we all unite in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Connected government

As SA marksday 28 of the lockdown, many organisations are closed except for those deemed essential service providers. However, as an essential IT service provider to government, SITA has remained open for business, albeit remotely during this time.

To ensure continuity of government business, the agency says it has prioritised connectivity and productivity tools.

“SITA is still continuing to provide secure hosting, networking, end-user support and applications solutions across government,” notes Summers. “This includes IT services and support IT systems for transversal finance, payroll and logistics systems. Services linked to data connectivity for wireless or fixed-line LAN and WAN services increased exponentially.

“The ICT support to key government departments such as the Department of Defence and the South African Police Service also remains in place,” she emphasises.

According to Summers, ensuring government departments are able to function remotely is in line with the critical ICT directions gazetted by the communications ministry for the national state of disaster.

“SITA initiated a large-scale video-conferencing enablement project, as a support to Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, and the provincial leadership. SITA is participating in various streams established under the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, to contribute and provide the necessary technical solutions, in response to emerging matters.

“In this COVID-19 national state of disaster, SITA is providing the infrastructure, networks and ICT systems required for identified staff to work from home. There has been a massive uptake in secure, remote access for government employees, which is an existing service offering by SITA.”

Spike in services

According to SITA, its procurement during this time has been linked to LAN and WAN provision, maintenance and support, Internet bandwidth upgrades, to cater for the steep incline in use of video and voice-conferencing, fibre cabling and fixed-line and wireless solutions for remote working for government.

Furthermore, data security and threat prevention services and solutions, video-conferencing hardware, software and solutions, government network core links, network transmission and switching services upgrades, as well as expanding the SITA cloud capabilities and services make up its procurement list.

The lockdown has impacted on SITA supply chain management (SCM), as the demand for SITA services spiked, indicates Summers.

“With the emergence of COVID-19, work had to be re-prioritised to focus on immediate needs, short-term emerging needs and to project beyond the current lockdown crisis, and prepare for the next six to 12 months.

“SITA had to postpone all tender closing dates and briefing sessions, which caused some delays in the normal procurement process. However, by introducing electronic tender submission for low value bids (under R500 000) and the relief measures by National Treasury to follow emergency process related to COVID-19, SITA has been able to ensure critical and essential service delivery continues.

“Our approach has been to ensure SCM delivers with speed and agility, whilst ensuring that we don’t compromise our governance.”

Business unusual

For its own business processes during the lockdown period, the agency had an established business continuity management (BCM) forum, which is a key part of its governance structures, reveals Summers.

“It ensures all business units had up to date business continuity plans that are relevant and aligned with developments as they arise. With these tested and ready for implementation, SITA was able to invoke these processes and procedures as soon as the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect.

“These BCM plans have now been synchronised with those of our clients.”

Turning to staff, the majority of SITA employees are working from home. However, there are technical resources who, for security reasons, are still required to work from the office, says the spokesperson.

“SITA opted to scale down on development and infrastructure projects, to focus on delivering and enabling essential services support. Measures such as virtual private networks have been put in place to ensure business continuity.

“We have paid specific attention to continue communicating and motivating our employees, noting that this is a difficult time for many: personally and professionally. Our employees have risen to the challenge, to ensure our business operations and performance continue optimally, despite the challenges and the transition to a new way or working.

“We are conducting all meetings via telephone, teleconferencing and video-conferencing. For the employees who have to be on-site, we instituted strict hygiene and sanitation measures at our facilities to ensure the safety of employees,” she concludes.

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