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Getting the basics right
Wednesday, 04 July 2012 06:17
Written by Ilva Pieterse
How realistic are the DOC’s ICT delivery commitments for this year?
The latest Department of Communications’ (DOC) budget vote, delivered on 8 May, identified the top priorities for the financial year 2012/2013 as the development of a National Integrated ICT Policy, the rolling out of a national broadband network, and implementation of the digital broadcasting migration policy.
Of the National Integrated ICT Policy, DOC Minister Dina Pule stated in her speech: “This policy review should address availability, accessibility and affordability of broadband.”
Chris Norton, regional director of VMWare SA, says a national policy will bring about a great many benefits for government. “With this, it will be able to put measures such as a community cloud in place, where they will be able to leverage resources, take advantage of the centrally-managed and cost-efficiency benefits of this community cloud. It will provide consistency across all divisions, allowing agendas to be better focused.”
Such a policy will also have several benefits to the industry at large, who will be able to take advantage of more transparent transactional dealings with government. “This will ensure that decisions are based on the best possible information at hand, and not just hearsay,” he says.
The DOC’s current major focus on driving broadband growth, notably in the form of a national broadband network, is based on Pule’s assertion that, “Broadband is an essential digital resource for accessing basic services, products, commerce and job creation. Broadband has the potential of creating opportunities and opening of new markets that allow businesses, particularly SMEs, to grow.”
However, according to Norton, the challenge with successfully rolling out such a network is competition. “One needs to take into consideration the many private companies that have made privatised national infrastructure investments, outside of Telkom, and who are servicing the community today,” he says.
“If it could be done and if we could get it past the existing investments made into the current infrastructure, as well as the international funding and investors of these, then there might be some benefits. But here we need to ask would the broadband be run like a business or a government department? In what time would it get to market, and when it does get to market, would it simply be too late as technology has marched on?”
He continues, “So in a perfect world where this could be a business case then the benefits would be pricing, as the bandwidth should by all accounts be government subsidised. But again, how will this infrastructure be paid for, and what pot will we be digging into? If it were to turn into another e-toll debacle then serious thought needs to be put into the model before it even becomes a seedling.”
Another benefit could be information access to all, he points out. “But at what costs? Would we be destroying investor confidence in the country? If there is already an infrastructure in place surely you should look at how you can leverage it and build on it instead of reinventing it – unless you have a very clear business case, I think the idea of a national broadband network is a very big vision that cannot be considered lightly.”
As part of the broadband network vision, Pule further asserts, “Given the strategic importance of this enabling infrastructure, the DOC, together with the ICT industry, have committed to delivering 100% broadband penetration and delivering a million jobs by 2020. Our partnership with the ICT industry gives us confidence to galvanise sufficient resources to deliver on this commitment.”
According to Norton, however, this may prove overly ambitious. “This is a very broad and sweeping statement – a statement like this assumes you will give every single citizen access to broadband and every one of these citizens will take you up on the offer. It does not take into consideration old people, illiterate people, people in rural areas who don’t necessarily want nor need broadband.”
He believes this figure should be more realistic before it can be seriously considered. “If 100% penetration was possible, and there was a business case behind it, then surely MTN and Vodacom, as an example, would have done it already?” he points out.
“In my opinion, what we need to do first is get the basics right – keep people safe, deliver on their service delivery demands - give the basic needs of the corporate citizen to the people and give the people the right to make money around the fringes of business instead of trying to take control of everything,” he advises.
Edgar Mabothe, district sales manager of EMC believes the lack of achieving strategic funding objectives for government has much to do with a disconnect between IT and business.
According to Pule’s speech, the DOC has been allocated R1.7 billion for the coming financial year.
“Annual departmental IT audit reports indicate a general lack of adherence to governance protocols and emphasise the sheer risk exposure facing IT systems,” Mabothe explains. “Government departments sit with sizable chunks of funds and the glaring need to deliver on the objectives set out in their strategic objectives, yet every year there is under-spending and lack of project progress when it comes to IT delivery.”
“As the driver of IT delivery, the office of the CIO (ie IT custodians) needs to be empowered by internal service level agreements (SLAs) under the auspices of the director general (ie business custodians),” Mabothe says. “These SLAs should stipulate sign-off business processes, business requirements and priorities, which can then be made available to IT professionals to develop the requisite technologies and solutions so that the strategic objectives can be realised.”
He also believes government departments need to embrace new models, such as cloud computing.
“The rapid growth of data and the massive volumes of information which these departments need to manage render the task of information management cumbersome using conventional methods,” he says. “The advent of big data and cloud computing solutions enables government departments to realise immediate value, as they allow for the provisioning of IT services with very minimal interruption of systems.”
In addition, Mabothe continues, by adopting this approach, government departments can ensure they stay abreast of innovation, which has a direct, positive impact on departmental business priorities. “When government agencies start to fully embrace these models, lack of spending on appropriate technological initiatives will be non-existent,” he says.
Norton believes considered automation is one of the immediate wins government can take advantage of. “With process automation, IT can assist government to move to faster, aiding automated time to decision in departments, and allowing them to make better use of resources in their departments, as they won’t need as many people on the ground doing as many things if the processes are automated.”
He also believes government can benefit from an innovation hub, using virtualisation, where through single resource driven innovation centres they can consolidate their hardware footprint as well as reduce the number and value of their maintenance contracts.
“In short, IT needs to be used to assist government in getting the basics right. Once the basics are in play then they can start taking advantage of processes and business values that have a positive impact on each department,” Norton concludes.
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