SITA wants to host all government sites
In the interest of avoiding siloed approaches in the use of ICT resources within public service, the State IT Agency (SITA) wants to consolidate and host all government department Web sites within its own infrastructure.
Sidima Ntsangani, HOD for the applications development department at SITA, says this is in line with the agency's e-government strategy, which calls for an entire digital transformation drive of public services and government infrastructure sharing.
Ntsangani explains: "We want all the Web sites for the various government departments to be hosted within our infrastructure, the infrastructure that we look after. That means SITA takes full responsibility of maintaining, monitoring, making sure they are always available and response times are acceptable to the consumers."
He goes on to say department Web sites belong to government, along with the information contained on the sites. With that in mind, SITA wants to centralise the information to make sure it is archived in a central place so that it doesn't fall in fragmented areas where it can be compromised easily.
The IT agency's wishes come at a time when there has been a spate of data leaks in SA. Government has not been immune to this, as the Web sites of key departments have also fallen victim to attacks in recent months. The Presidency, earlier this month, confirmed its site had been compromised after visitors were unable to access it.
"We are not only consolidating our systems but also in the interest of protecting government information we want to take all these Web sites and host them under a secure and closely monitored infrastructure."
This is a futuristic view of how we modernise and make our systems better in terms of development, Ntsangani adds.
Clean slate aspirations
SITA is engaging with other government departments to be part of the consolidation exercise it has embarked on, according to Ntsangani.
Based on information from SITA, the IT agency currently provides Web maintenance support to 18 government departments and entities. These include: Department of Arts and Culture, Department of Human Settlements, National Treasury, the telecommunications and postal services ministry, Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), and the South African Police Service.
While the agency's effort to engage more departments is a step in the right direction, its troubled past may be an obstacle in its endeavours to host all government sites.
Ntsangani is realistic about the tough road ahead for the government entity but believes this is a test case for SITA to prove it can do it.
He explains: "From the department's side, we know it is not going to be an easy conversation and this is because of the history that we cannot just discard easily, a history that created a certain reputation about our organisation.
"We are trying to undo that history by not only saying we can do things but by proving that we can. There are departments that are cooperating with us, those that still have high confidence in our service provision."
According to him, SITA is trying to do things in a way that can be trusted by its clientele and puts it as the lead ICT service provider to government.
"From a SITA perspective, we are closing the void that has been created by the perceived reputation of our service provisioning. We are doing what we were supposed to be doing some 10 years ago. We know it's not going to be easy from the client perspective, but we are convinced we are going to gain that confidence back."
Adrian Schofield, ICT veteran and programme consultant at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA, says in practical terms, it makes sense that SITA should host all government Web sites.
"It would be the logical way to apply standards, eliminate duplication of resources and improve reliability and uptime."
Schofield notes he has long been an advocate that SITA should be the procurement agency and not the service provider for government IT.
"It would certainly be more efficient to consolidate Web site support than to have the current distributed situation. The variation in quality and scope of the different government Web sites is enormous, with some making it almost impossible to find information that should be readily available."
In terms of resources, he advises, SITA needs hardware and networks and skills. "In the transition from distributed to centralised, they can transfer current Web site developers and supporters to the SITA payroll and manage them as a coordinated pool of skills. The user departments would still need to employ content creators and maintain the posting of relevant and up-to-date information.
"SITA's troubled past has led many of its mandated users at national and provincial departments to seek alternative routes to IT service provision. SITA must demonstrate that it is a trustworthy and cost-effective provider if this move is to be successful," adds Schofield.
Not right now
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck somewhat agrees that on the surface, it not only makes sense to coordinate government Web sites and to have a common platform, it is also usually advisable.
Goldstuck says it normally makes for better integration of departments with central government, lending itself to better policy, security and even branding management.
However, it is premature to do so at a time when SITA itself is in the process of being brought into line with governance requirements, and when there remain question marks around management effectiveness, he explains.
By adding one fragmented structure to another, this fragmentation will only be enhanced, states Goldstuck.
"SITA has the potential to handle all government Web sites, and includes many skilled and talented individuals. However, no amount of skill or talent will suffice while processes remain broken or fragmented. The best of SITA will experience only frustration, while the public will largely be exposed to the worst of SITA.
"Due to lack of management capacity, much of the work is likely to be outsourced, and even reallocated back to the departments. Outsourcing may be the lesser of two evils, but only if the tender process is transparent, above board and not bedevilled by the patronage that has led to many department-led projects coming undone."
He continues: "The reality is that SITA may not be the ideal vehicle right now for centralising Web sites, but at least it creates a single point of monitoring and of ensuring good governance and clamping down on corruption more effectively. Its activities are out in the open now, unlike those of many other departments."
According to Ntsangani, the standardised government Web sites that SITA envisions are according to GCIS standards as well as create a uniform customer experience.
"When someone visits a government Web site, he or she must feel the same experience as visiting any other government department site. We want to create a uniform kind of client experience.
"From the client experience perspective, the next step is to make sure we standardise on technology. We are planning to make sure we consolidate and host all the government Web sites on our infrastructure, which is where we will be offering more stability, security and improved response time."
The value proposition for the client, he notes, means they won't have to worry about support or upgrades.
"It will just be one comprehensive service where they just have this offering through our comprehensive service. It is more proactive from the cloud infrastructure perspective because we have more monitoring mechanisms that will alert us before the inconvenience even hits on the customer side.
"That is coupled with the frequent security scales that we conduct to make sure that whatever the vulnerabilities may be, they are addressed as soon as possible to keep up with the security controls," he concludes.