GovTech, Durban – Government's ICT systems are not in a healthy state, with most areas scoring "poor" on an assessment by the Department of Public Services & Administration.
This is according to Michelle Williams, government CIO, who told GovTech delegates that the only areas to receive an "OK" assessment are telecommunications, application development and maintenance, and data centre services.
Areas graded "poor" were help desk, desktop capacity, production capacity, web hosting and integration and procurement services. No areas received a "good" grade.
"There is a need to be honest," she says. "And, if this is a priority of government's, we need to ask what is the reason for this performance, how we can analyse and diagnose the reason,"
The DPSA is developing an IT strategy, she adds, which will help to bridge the gap between where systems are today and where they need to be.
"An IT strategy must comprehend the business context, the applications, technology, organisational approach and governance," Williams adds.
Williams was participating in a panel discussion on ICT into the future.
One department that is enjoying some successes in the implementation of ICT is Social Development.
According to its deputy director general: social services Selwyn Jehoma, the department used to battle with issues including fragmented sysems, poor supplier management and the under-utilisation of technology. In addition, there was no integeration with other departments, such as Home Affairs, where information could be shared.
The department began its journey to modernisation with the formation of a single agency, SASSA, which redefined and re-engineered the processes on paper.
In addition, using SAS analytics, the department was able to significantly reduce fraud.
Today, 13,6-million people are paid by Social Development each month, 99% of them receiving payment within 5km of their homes. This is achieved through the use of mobile vans with online capabilities and satellite connectivity.
Other technologies being used to assist in social services include GIS (global information system) and data warehousing.
"There is still a lot that can be done," says Jehoma. "Examples include better processing, moving to a payment industries platform, integrating data and ensuring live links with other departments."
The Department of Home Affairs is not quite as bullish about its IT services.
"As a government, we have not exactly covered ourselves in glory concerning our ICT,' says director-general Mavuso Msimang.
"We don't have a common strategy; we don't have an ICT infrastructure that is centralised; planning – whether in-department, inter-department, national, provincial or local – is fragmented and piecemeal."
He highlights a lack of co-ordination even within departments, with different parts of the same organisation working independently of one another.
"Over the past 10 years a lot could have been achieved with a supply of good thinking, planning and integration."
Two of the biggest challenges, he says, are human resources – talented staff quickly move to the private sector – and financial constraints – not necessarily in availability of funds, but its allocation.
"It comes back to not having a common ICT delivery strategy and a lack of integration," Msimang says.
"Government must take a serious look at re-evaluating the delivery of ICT systems, otherwise everyone's best efforts will be to no good."
The DPSA's Williams agrees that a master plan for ICT in government is essential, and many of the current woes can be attributed to the lack of an ICT strategy and plan.
"We talk about the business of government and the way government needs to be structured to deliver its mandate, but we continue to operate in silos.
"One of the biggest challenges is horizontal integration."
Another major challenge lies with the governance framework, Williams says.
Social Development's Jehoma believes one of the biggest challenges is in payment systems.
"Nect year, we will be handling R100-billion in payments," he says, "And about 80% of these are cash payments."
He estimates that using the National Payments System could cut the departments costs by R1,5-billion.
Jehoma would also like to see more sharing of relevant citizen information, and a common data schema.
On Msimang's wish list is a task force, led by the presidency and comprising leaders from the DPSA, Communications and Science & Technology to sit down and work on a common ICT strategy.