SITA engages private sector to power first govt cloud

SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)
SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)

The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) has partnered with IT services company Gijima, which brought in original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), IBM and Huawei, to launch the "first government cloud".

Last year, SITA announced it was working on a massive project to migrate South African government data to cloud services.

It engaged with the industry to assist with the development of efficient cloud solutions that will assist government to consolidate all ICT infrastructure into a unified common platform.

Following consultations with the industry, SITA contracted Gijima to deliver its cloud platform. To provide a complete solution, Gijima then brought the OEMs into the mix. The official launch will be on 23 November.

SITA, mandated to render an efficient and value-added ICT service to the public sector in a secure, cost-effective and integrated manner, contributing to citizen convenience, has a lot of legacy applications that will need to be migrated into the cloud platform.

Gijima invited ITWeb to its Centurion offices yesterday following the signing of the 10-year contract to understand the magnitude of this cloud platform and its relevance in assisting all government departments, national and local, to modernise and transform.

Public response

Speaking at the event, Dr Setumo Mohapi, CEO of SITA, said by launching the government cloud service, the agency was responding to public service challenges.

"We had to re-imagine public service in the context of the technologies that are available. We have now put a modernisation programme together. Within the broader theme of digital transformation, the citizen has to experience a different government."

Yesterday, SITA and its partners revealed the details of SA's first government cloud platform. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)
Yesterday, SITA and its partners revealed the details of SA's first government cloud platform. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)

According to Mohapi, the applications most government departments are currently using are unable to respond to the ever-changing demands of the members of the public service.

"The applications that we are currently using also do not have the capability to exploit new possibilities within government services. These possibilities include data for policy-making purposes in terms of integration of data between different government departments.

"So this is a huge transformational programme because the SITA that will emerge after this will be a completely different animal in regards to the skill sets required, the attitudes required and the ambitions that will be needed," he noted.

Mohapi described the cloud architecture as a "government private cloud ecosystem and it is the first venture into proper cloud computing by government".

He pointed out the data residing with SITA is from most of the government departments. However, the data is in silos, as each department has its own data.

"If data from different government departments is integrated, it allows government to be smarter; it allows government to be predictive; and this allows government to make policies based on this. With the current ways in which we are doing things (you have a server there and a server there), to interpret the data from all those different servers, it will cost government a lot of money.

"Now we have this platform that has its own inherent benefits as the data will be sitting on one platform and it's easier to make that data available to several applications. That's the agility that we are talking about. We will end up having a responsive state, not only at the time of need but also responsive in the predictive sense," he said.

Mohapi, nonetheless, emphasised the platform is a government private cloud ecosystem. "First of all, it's a private cloud for government to offer security around the data. Everything is all local. No data will be residing out of the country.

"This is a concept that has never been implemented anywhere around the world; it is a solution that we developed to solve our unique challenges."

SITA switch

Also speaking at the round table, Robert Gumede, chairman of Gijima, said with the partnership, SITA was transforming itself into a "business-like" entity.

"We are seeing a transformation from the SITA of yesteryear which was more of a competitor against industry. When SITA was created what was envisaged was partnerships between the private and public sectors. We are seeing the transformation at SITA that it is now business-like.

Robert Gumede, chairman of Gijima. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)
Robert Gumede, chairman of Gijima. (Photograph by Dylan Mohlala)

"When SITA finally decided to go to tender, we already had IBM as well as Huawei as our partners. I have been partners with Huawei from the first day they came into South Africa. Therefore, it was Gijima's decision to partner with both OEMs to construct this world-class solution.

"What is unique with this partnership is that for the first time, IBM, a US-based company, and Huawei, a Chinese company, are working together. For SITA to deliver its service, we wanted the best from the Western world and the best from the East, which is anchored by an African," Gumede said.

IBM provides its cloud services, which deliver access to public, private and hybrid cloud services for digital transformation. IBM Cloud is a growing collection of services, including analytics, mobile, networking, storage, Internet of things (IOT) and cognitive computing.

Hamilton Ratshefola, IBM SA country general manager, said the US-based computing company has several competencies in cloud computing which enable organisations to tap into public cloud services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

"We will have to make sure the solution SITA will provide is world-class. SITA has to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, and we will be building solutions to support SITA in that regard."

He noted this solution aims to transform and catapult SA towards the fourth industrial revolution, which is a key imperative of government and the National Development Plan.

The implementation of this cloud seeks to entrench the goals as set out by government in terms of the scale, scope and complexity where computers, networks and physical processes are integrated, Ratshefola said.

"SITA has to make use of technologies like artificial intelligence, IOT and blockchain at the local level. So we are enabling an African government to have that capacity. We are helping SITA in its cloud journey."

Alex Du, MD of Huawei Enterprise Group Business SA, said the partnership comes at an opportune time as Huawei this week announced its cloud services will officially become available in SA by the beginning of next year and will be scaled up based on the demand.

He noted Huawei is committed to assist Gijima and government in the roadmap through the 10-year partnership.

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