Local governments’ ICT budgets are expected to have grown by 22% by the end of this financial year, and a further 13% in 2007/2008. 

This is according to ForgeAhead’s ICT in Local Government Research Report, presented at ForgeAhead’s recent ICT in Local Government Summit.
“The main purpose of the ICT in Local Government programme is to identify the current status of strategies and policies relating to ICT. Successful implementation of ICT requires strategy and policy documents,” says Adrian Schofield, ForgeAhead’s head of consulting.
He says the purpose of ICT is to enable efficient function in other activities. “Technology enables effective decision-making, hence the adoption of geographic information systems (GIS) and billing systems.
Schofield adds that the objective and validity of the ForgeAhead research is to create a more effective public service.
“This allows local municipalities and districts to share and learn best practices from each other’s successes or challenges. It creates an opportunity for private sector to understand the challenges of local government and tailor their solutions accordingly.”
He says it is apparent that the billing/finance system is critically important to municipalities to enhance service delivery. He also says that ForgeAhead research shows SITA (State IT Agency) plays a limited role in local government when it comes to choosing vendors.
Commenting on whether municipalities understand the importance of ICT within local government, Schofield says: “Some municipalities see the vision of ICT as a tool – and that’s often the larger municipalities. Smaller municipalities still view ICT as a computer instead of seeing the bigger picture.”
He points out that skills, staff shortage and budget are still key inhibitors of ICT implementation.
“The trend is similar to that of 2005, with 66% of our respondents saying budget and staff shortages are their main challenge, with 63% voting for skills shortages.”
According to Schofield, the trends have shifted from streamlining workflow as a key driver as reported in ForgeAhead’s 2005 study. “More municipalities are moving toward information sharing. Our research shows that 67% of respondents are moving into shared services and 66% are integrating their systems,” he adds.
While the ForgeAhead research shows roughly three in five municipalities use leased lines, Schofield says the trend is moving towards wireless broadband.
He says it is exciting to see that 34% of municipalities are slowly being managed by the IT division, 32% by finance, 17% by corporate service and 6% by municipal managers.
“Also critical to note is that nearly all senior personnel are expected to use laptops, a trend reported by 82% of the municipalities. It is also evident that Internet access and E-mail are mostly limited to those personnel in senior positions.
“About half of the South African municipalities have no intranet and, according to the research findings, by 2009 about 65% of municipalities will be using wireless technology,” he says.
Schofield adds it is disappointing that the majority of ICT personnel (70%) within the municipalities have no idea about the purpose and functions of IGR and that less than 20% of municipalities have implemented ICT strategies and Master Systems Plans.