In what it described as one of the most important conferences ever held in South Africa, the State IT Agency (SITA) hosted some of the most important players in local IT for its first annual Govtech conference at Sun City recently. Leaders from the private sector, government, research and development facilities, and academia gathered with the primary objective of debating, and formulating, solutions to improve service delivery to the citizens of the country. Mark Davison reports. 

Often perceived as a thorn in the side of the local IT industry and a hinderance in rolling out government projects, the State IT Agency (Sita) took a giant step forward towards improving service delivery to South Africans with its inaugural GovTech conference at Sun City.
Over a period of four days, industry leaders not only had the chance to attend a multitude of varied presentations, they were also presented with the opportunity to interact and debate with the agency in one of the most open IT forums in years, if not decades.
Mavuso Msimang, CEO of Sita, hailed GovTech as a major breakthrough for the local IT industry.
“This really is the most important ICT indaba I can think of in that we have brought together all the people that can assist in mapping out the route to better service delivery in ICT,” he told delegates at a gala dinner. “In the next few days, there will be a lot of work on these plans and I hope that this is just the first in a series of meetings as we go forward towards improved service delivery for our citizens.”
Msimang added that the support of 46 corporate sponsors along with Sita for GovTech was a clear indication that the whole industry was taking the issue of service delivery seriously.
“This is a show of solidarity between us,” Msimang says. “It seems there are people – in the press and so forth – that want to put a spanner in the works and who don’t believe we in government deliver.
“This nexus between us, the private sector, academia and people from R&D may prove them wrong as we all work together here to find this way forward.”
In his keynote address, Msimang stressed the importance ICT had to play in the continued development of nations such as South Africa, but also emphasised that it wasn’t the sole responsibility of government.
“What’s been said about technology,” he asks. “We have been told of its promise to change the world; and of its promise to make government better and more efficient, but also change how we work.
“Whole developing nations have made giant strides using technology – look at the development of India, of China. But there is still a lot of work to do [locally] to get the most out of ICT to improve service delivery.
“Instead of making it a government issue, we need to forge partnerships,” Msimang adds. “Perhaps this conference can help with this aspect.”
Msimang says that since democracy, there have been many changes in South Africa and that even the “most rabid opponents” had to admit that many of these have been positive.
He cited improved delivery of services such as potable water, housing and in the health sector as examples of this positive change.
“With all this change, came the recognition of the pivotal role of ICT and this led to the establishment by government nine years ago of organisations like Sita,” he continues. “But there has, over the years, also been a mindshift from government being the sole delivery mechanism, to a collaborative approach.
“This has introduced a number of other players from the industry’s private sector,” he says. “This conference brings all these people together and within this group is a wealth of expertise, knowledge and experience – and best practices – that we can leverage to iron out the problems we are faced with moving forward.”
Msimang says that Sita will continue to paly its traditional role in terms of government procurement, but that it welcomes input from the industry.
“Sita will continue to broker cost-effective deals based on economies of scale. It will continue to maintain infrastructures, host data and run networks,” he says. “But there are challenges before us.
“Given the breathtaking advances in the ICT world, how does Sita or others playing in this field position themselves to deliver on our mandate? Can we afford unambiguity in the way we enable e-government? Do we understand what is going on in the ICT space? Is it right to use legalities to protect our turf?
“These are just some of the issues we are looking to find answers to,” he adds. “And that is one of the reasons for calling this conference – we want to move towards better service delivery to our citizens.
“People now want what is due to them. How do we ensure our mandate is executed? What skills are needed in this country and where are they to be found? Where and how do we deploy these skills?”
Moving towards a knowledge economy is never easy but, based on the experience of other countries, there is almost always a factor that triggers this transformation.
Msimang cites a few examples of these triggers: “In the UK, the need for British Telecom to address bandwidth issues in that country was the trigger; in New York, 9/11 assisted it in leapfrogging its e-government services.
“Is it possible that 2010 presents us with that [similar] opportunity?” he asks. “And if so, is the industry willing to come to the party dressed in patriotic colours? Who has the formula and what will it cost us?
“These are some of the questions that are relevant to us, and we have called on the best in the world [for this conference]. We have the creme de la creme.
“But we will have failed if we leave here without taking something that is implementable within our existing budgets … something that we can report back on next year on how far we have gone … something that will really benefit our people within the next 12 months.”