Government departments are under increasing pressure to deliver services – and effective IT governance could be the factor that drives success. 

With the rapid pace of change in both the public and private sectors, and the diminishing opportunities for the creation of significant benefits from limited resources, organisations are compelled to depend on technology to achieve meaningful changes in performance. And gaining those changes depends in turn on the effective governance of the technology systems, services and solutions to which companies and government departments look for performance gains.
This is the opinion of Ismail Mamoojee, partner & public sector industry leader at Ernst & Young South Africa, who believes that with the South African government facing pressure on several fronts, effective governance of its technology investments is critical.
“Government is dealing with financial pressures, increasing expectations for performance and delivery of services and the requirement for the transparent and fruitful expenditure of taxpayer’s money. These situations all depend on technology as the primary enabler for change – the very essence of transformational government,” he says.
Transformational government, explains Mamoojee, is more than racial equality. It is a commitment by government to extend services to citizens previously denied even basic infrastructures, while also ensuring that the quality of delivery is of an acceptable standard. This commitment places enormous demands on limited capacity – demands that can only be realistically met if available tools such as technology, are put to their most effective use.
He points out that the South African government is embarking upon some of the biggest and most complex technology-enabled change programmes ever seen, even globally. “Few parallels can be found regarding such transformation government programmes – yet government must succeed to deliver step change improvements in the public sector.
Programmes include improvements to the social grant system, the introduction of the transversal integrated financial management system, as well as attention to the systems necessary for the management of the home affairs and judicial environments.
There are complex considerations associated with the large scale investment in and deployment of technology systems, he notes.
“Capability and capacity to deliver these programmes will need to be drawn from within the public and private sectors, sophisticated commercial arrangements with mutual incentives for success will have to be established and keeping stakeholder commitment will be effort-intensive and complex. Managing the delivery of these technology solutions will also demand the very best of expertise."
This is a formidable challenge, he says. “The response by government IT must be multi-faceted – and IT governance must become a core competence in order to make transformational government a reality."
However, he notes that IT governance is sometimes viewed as synonymous with onerous processes, endless committees and bureaucracy. This is not necessary. “Guided by a few simple principles, not procedures, IT governance can ensure successful outcomes from technology investments, systems and processes."
Effective IT governance, explains Mamoojee, starts with the practical alignment of business aspirations with technology potential.
“It is then sustained through strength in joint business and IT leadership. Successful transformation depends on a shared vision of future outcomes, and this is particularly the case when cross-cutting collaboration, such as that required by transformational government, is necessary."
Achieving the target outcomes of transformational government will require sophistication in establishing and managing commercial agreements, continues Mamoojee.
“True partnering with third parties will be necessary to provide the necessary capacity and capabilities. Success in complex, large scale programmes which will underpin transformational government will demand commercial maturity between government and key suppliers. This will mean genuine risk and gain share, mutual incentivisation and commercial agreements that reward achievement of outcomes – and not merely outputs."
He advises that excellence in established practices of programme management and governance are expected, though even established IT governance models should be adapted to suit the cross organisational and multi-supplier challenges of delivering transformational government.