COVID-19 catapults ICT adoption in government

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GovChat CEO Eldrid Jordaan.
GovChat CEO Eldrid Jordaan.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has fast-tracked ICT processes within the public sector that would have otherwise taken quite a long time to be realised, says GovChat CEO Eldrid Jordaan.

Jordaan made the comments at this morning’s Public Sector ICT Forum (PSICT Forum) webinar. This year, the event for public sector ICT decision-makers moved online as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc across the globe.

Held under the theme: “Building a public sector workforce of the future”, the event focused on how governments can map their digital transformation journeys and continue operations under lockdown restrictions.

The GovChat CEO noted that COVID-19 has forced the mobile-first ideology. “When you look at the IDP [integrated development planning] process, for example, where municipalities need to engage with community members, they would normally do that in a community hall, having various meetings.

“They can’t do that because of COVID-19, there is social distancing and there are all types of lockdown issues. They’ve come to GovChat to say can you assist us in digitising and still having public participation, to ensure the IDP budgets we process can still take place; this you can only do through technology.

“COVID-19 has been a blessing for government, especially governments on the African continent, which have been rather slow in adopting new technologies.

“This has forced us as government, as South Africans, to adopt and adapt really quickly. It’s been a game-changer and I’m excited about the future, not just for this country but for this continent in the way that we use ICT platforms.”

GovChat is the official government communications platform. It connects citizens with government, allowing them to interact with 10 000 public service representatives as well as enabling them to rate and report various municipal issues to all 257 municipalities in the country.

The platform’s technology integrates into messaging applications already pre-loaded onto a citizen’s mobile phone. For example, if a citizen has WhatsApp, FaceBook Messenger and Telegram, GovChat will integrate into the platforms – they can add GovChat as a contact just like any other contact.

Nomazwi MhIoma,eThekwiniMunicipality deputy head for IT services, indicated her municipality has embarked on smart government initiatives, to help fulfil its vision of being Africa’s most caring and liveable city.

According to MhIoma, the eThekwini Municipality saw an opportunity to be a smart and learning city, and the initiatives aim to help the municipality improve its service delivery in-house as well as for the public.

eThekwini Municipality has been involved in better planning around connectivity, she said. “We’ve been on a journey since two years ago, where we started to provide connectivity in our townships, libraries, clinics and Sizakala centres.”

A historical first

Mandla Mkhwanazi, digital business leader at Transnet and chairman of the PSICT Forum, remarked that today’s PSICT Forum was a historical session like the initial event in September 2016.

The event took place amid the COVID-19 crisis and US protests against racial inequality and police brutality.

Mkhwanazi said, from the lowest to highest level of the public sector, use of video-conferencing platforms has become the norm, also highlighting the move to host the forum’s annual event online this year.

This, he said, is evidence of fourth industrial revolution trends in action. “We need to ensure we develop the skills of the now and the future. While we are developing that, as decision-makers in the public sector, we need to build enough infrastructure for digitisation as we can see it is at play.

“It is right at the centre of everything, every business – small business, e-commerce, big organisation or government department.”

As to the State IT Agency, Mkhwanazi said its role is more important than ever before. “If they never thought their role was important, today they must know that building infrastructure to make sure it is the foundation of this digitisation for the public sector is important.”

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