While the South African government has openly renewed its focus on the importance of ICT, its benefits and service delivery to its citizens, it is equally important for the private sector to form meaningful partnerships with government.
This is according to Adrian Schofield, head of research at ForgeAhead. The research consultancy recently concluded research in national and provincial government, in which it found that there is a genuine need to grow ICT in government, but that there are challenges to overcome.
One of the major challenges is that the private sector should look at forming meaningful relationships with government, as opposed to seeing government as ‘just another customer.’
This, he says, would require a certain amount of understanding on the part of the private sector, which would include elements such as, departmental clusters, mandates and policies.
ICT is the catalyst for development, and government needs customized, integrated, holistic solutions. The chronic problem, he says, is that a number of vendors have been continually trying to sell vanilla product to government agencies, without taking into account their specific needs.
These needs also include facilitating communication and the sharing of information between government agencies, the digitization of records and the elimination of duplication.
But while recommendations can be made on how to stimulate growth and innovation, stamp out corruption, and better enable service delivery through ICT, major barriers need to be addressed. These include resistance to change, security, the ever-widening digital divide, perceived costs and lack of skills.
Key to addressing these issues, ForgeAhead believes, is the state information technology agency (Sita). Although the agency seems to have lost direction over past years, government still needs a centralized coordinator to act as a consultant and facilitator for all government ICT projects, who is also able to separate vendors’ marketing speak from relevant business value.
Sita would need to focus on its key competencies, rather than acting as a service provider to government, something that needs urgent and critical evaluation, says Schofield. Sita can play a role in stimulating the local ICT industry, he says.
Closing the gap
Improving service delivery from government’s perspective through ICT is a two-way street, and, while the private sector should be making more of a concerted effort to understand government, government, in turn, should be doing more to share knowledge with the industry.
This will enable public private partnerships (PPPs), for example, to better design solutions geared at linking national, provincial and local government, which is one of the top needs.
While no definite figures are available, government is still the single biggest ICT purchaser in SA, accounting for an estimated R8 billion (US$1.2 billion) a year.
A coordinated and well managed approach to investing in the right technologies, and reaching open standardization across the technologies used throughout government agencies, will seriously help government to reach its ICT goals and, many seem to feel, will be money well spent.