The ongoing skills shortage is, unsurprisingly, still top of the list of challenges facing CIOs in their quest to provide ICT service within national government. 

Following the welcome that its "ICTs in National Government" report received from the public sector community, ForgeAhead has announced a top-five list of ICT trends for the South African public sector.
Adrian Schofield, head of research at Forge Ahead, says the top-five list is a rough guide to the trends public sector CIOs area encountering while driving government’s overarching goals of using ICTs for developmental goals, lessening the digital divide between the three tiers of government and enhancing the ICT sector as a whole.
“The market should think of this list as a ‘cheat-sheet’ to the priorities CIOs may cite as key over the coming year, when doing business with the public sector – and looking at past priorities public sector CIOs have cited, it’s not surprising that the skills shortage is at the forefront this year.”
Schofield says in ForgeAhead’s latest set of research, CIOs reported they continually faced staff capacity issues and budgetary constraints for human resources.
“The CIOs surveyed told us that they felt that the market was growing faster than the pool of available skills,” he adds. “Additionally, they felt that Internet technology is increasing job fluidity at a national and international level, meaning that there is less of a need for some of the ‘traditional’ management skills and a greater emphasis on leadership.
“This leads us to believe that a couple of long-term solutions could be employed.
“Government needs to promote the development of ICT skills and Leadership/Staff Management through the various entities like the Government Information Technology Officers Council (GITOC),” he says.
“Government should also develop a plan of how to attract and retain skills in the public sector by recruiting directly from university; emphasising the global nature of the IT industry, exploiting the industry’s professional and aspirational image, identifying the IT industry as one that requires specific expertise, one that offer’s above average packages; and one that provides a variety of challenges.”
By "marketing" ICT correctly, Schofield believes that a turnaround can be effected and government can create a "pull-effect" towards ICT as a discipline.
Looking at the second major trend identified by the report, Schofield says government is seeing a strong growth in open source adoption.
“Currently, just under 50% of the departments in the Social, Governance and Administration and Economic Clusters are using open source software,” Schofield says.
“While this is good progress, these clusters have future plans of increasing their open source software usage to 90%-100%.
“The predominant areas of focus for these departments will be firewalling, intrusion protection, spam, junk mail, risk management and security dashboard; as well as productivity applications and more,” he says.
The challenge remains however finding the skills required. Schofield says however, that the same solutions to the skills shortage and skills development domain apply.
“The third trend that’s come to light through our research centres on securing government information and information systems, while at the same time making provision for an electronic environment that’s safe for international visitors.”
He says that the vulnerability of e-security has fallen under the spotlight in the past year to two years, especially since a high-influx of foreigners is expected for the 2010 World Cup.
“Security around foreigner’s electronic transactions is a high priority,” he says, “and although government remains committed to more openly sharing information with its citizens, certain government information must be kept safe and sound.
Schofield says the market can thus expect the government to centre more heavily on investing in information security software especially in anti-virus, firewalls and spam protection software; new and innovative ways of thinking.
“Trend number four is e-government and ForgeAhead’s research has indicated that less than half of all national government departments have e-government policies in place,” Schofield continues.
“Yet it’s one of the most used terms in public sector ICT circles today,” Schofield comments.
“Without clear vision and e-strategy, national government will experience difficulty in identifying what needs to be done or how to prioritise their actions.
“The findings of our study therefore suggest that national departments need to create the basic skills for e-government and that the process begins with a working policy and strategy for e-government,” he adds.
“Government needs to evaluate how strategic e-government policies are developed, communicated, and integrated into the work environment. Without the proper understanding of the importance of e-government initiatives, employees and citizens will not place high value on e-government implementation,” Schofield says.
Schofield says the fifth trend identified by Forge Ahead centres on the fact that ICT budgets are shrinking across national government.
“Government departments differ in how they regulate and monitor spending to ensure adherence to budgets and, in some cases, the Department of Treasury exercises strong central control over spending, reviewing allocations to departments and approving major expenditures.
“While government CIOs rated budgetary constraints as the third major impediment within their ICT divisions, insufficient budgets are a challenge experienced by almost all National government departments.
“Infrastructure investment – which is an expression of government policy – is driven by 2 primary criteria – The Minister of Finance’s Budget speech (2007) and the 2010 World Cup preparations.
“34% of the overall National government budgets will be invested in operating costs.  In line with the past trends in South Africa, the minimal spend will be in software development,” he adds.