Gauteng e-government dept embraces virtual amid lockdown

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Gauteng finance MEC and head of the Department of e-Government Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko.
Gauteng finance MEC and head of the Department of e-Government Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko.

The use of video-conferencing and virtual meeting platforms have proved to be a key value-add for how the Department of e-Government intends to carry out its functions in future.

This is the word from Gauteng finance MEC and e-government department head Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, stating how her department is navigating the COVID-19 lockdown.

Even though lockdown regulations have been reduced to level four, organisations and businesses, especially those with the means, have been encouraged to promote remote working as government battles to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

South Africa has 7 808 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, with the death toll reaching 153.

To continue business processes under lockdown, Nkomo-Ralehoko says all management and political structures in Gauteng are functional, adding that officials and employees have been able to connect with each other through platforms like Microsoft Teams and Skype.

She explains: “Departments in Gauteng have been using Microsoft 365, which offers Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, for the past five years. We have not been able to utilise these virtual meeting applications due to the fact that many people still prefer face-to-face meetings.

“It is sad that a pandemic had to take place in order to show us value in these applications. In the past few weeks, we have learnt that many of our meetings should be held virtually, as it will save us time and money. Most importantly, we will take decisions faster. We have so far connected just over 18 000 people on MS Teams.”

Digitised services

In addition to a virtual workforce, the Gauteng Provincial Government has now prioritised digitising most government services.

This is in line with premier David Makhura’s mandate to the e-government department to digitise all government services in the next five years, says Nkomo-Ralehoko.

“We are currently looking at all services that do not require face-to-face interaction and we are putting all of those services online. Citizens will be able to access many services on our portal. These may be Web-based or transactional.

“Through the Web site, citizens are able to apply for their learner’s and driver’s licences, access various permits from different departments and apply for jobs, amongst other services. Physical interaction will only take place where absolutely necessary.”

In terms of equipping youth in the province with critical ICT skills, the MEC concedes more needs to be done.

In the past, she called on ICT companies to step up efforts to upskill Gauteng youths.

The MEC points out her department is collaborating with ICT industry partners and higher education institutions on the training, development and placement of township youth to build the required skills base to realise innovation and digital transformation.

“We have also partnered with the University of the Witwatersrand, Tshimologong Innovation Precinct to promote innovation for the delivery of government services through our Design and Validation Centre. Here we test all the technology that we deploy in the province, such as the grade one and eight school registration system. The centre is also available for the private sector and township entrepreneurs to develop applications.”

Wall-to-wall connectivity

Although the Gauteng Broadband Network (GBN) project has been laden with issues, ranging from corruption to non-compliance allegations, e-government is looking to extend the network to the rest of Gauteng by 2025.

According to Nkomo-Ralehoko, the GBN project is guided by the National Development Plan goal of achieving universal access by 2030.

As a result, the department developed an e-government strategy, focusing on the roll out of the GBN as the foundation for connectivity across the province as well as the development and promotion of e-services and the stimulation of the ICT economy in the province.

So far, the broadband project rolled out 4 500km of fibre running throughout the province in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Sedibeng, the West Rand as well as previously marginalised areas.

“The broadband network connects government buildings, schools, hospitals and community centres with fast, reliable connectivity. This investment currently enables some communities to access free WiFi in certain sites,” she states.

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