Governments in the 21st century cannot deliver services effectively without proper technology support.

This is among the conclusions from a research study, “The potential use of cloud computing in the South African government environment” conducted by the research unit of the JCSE (Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering) and Wits University’s LINK Centre.

The JCSE’s Adrian Schofield adds that the information needed to make effective use of information technologies, including the cloud, but that government needs to find and apply it. “Without doing it effectively, we are holding ourselves back from the future we deserve,” he says.

Among the risks and issues holding government back from implementing cloud computing services are ownership of the data, data security and confidentiality, protection of citizen data, consumer protection, vendor lock-in, effective contractual design and management and – above all – the appropriate skills at all levels of government.

However, Schofield says there are four areas that will enable government to improve service delivery through the appropriate technology, which includes cloud computing.

They are:
* Do we have the research capacity to design the systems that will work. This need not necessarily reside in government, but needs to be in organisations that would work with government.
* We need to have the appropriate human resources capacity to manage the adoption and procurement of systems to deliver value.
* Do we have the level of advancement of ICT and electronic communications service across the various levels of government operation.
* The institutions, policies, laws and regulations exist to enable the use of ICTs and cloud. “There is nothing to stop government implementing hosted services without changing a word of legislation,” Schofield says.

The LINK Centre’s Luci Abrahams points out that the history of ICT in government has traditionally been about the ICT itself rather that the purpose or value of the technology and its role in transforming institutions or enabling service delivery.

In terms of the survey, she says the cloud needs to be situated in the bigger context of where ICT is taking the country. “And it’s taking us to the knowledge economy. We see the movement; but when we look at the building blocks too many of them are weak. There is a local of understanding and a sense that there are more constraints that there actually are.”

The four building blocks, Abrahams adds, are innovation in ICT network infrastructure, enabling a policy and regulatory environment, e-development and human resources development.

South African consumers are ready for e-government services, she says, and are already using a variety of e-services provided by the private sector – and this adoption is across all income levels. What’s needed now is for this adoption to carry across to the public sector.

“To achieve this we need to focus on infrastructure: and we need to have multiple players in this conversation. This could make the conversation quite complex and this could be one of the inhibitors. We need to find more creative ways of getting this message out.”

Skills are a massive challenge, Abrahams adds. This relates to people able to manage the systems as well as helping citizens to use new services.

In implementing e-government services, he says, government would be well advised to focus on specific areas like education and health where there are existing strategies or policy papers.

“There was a massive investment of human capital in the SARS systems; but I don’t think we’ve seen that level of human capital knowledge or intensity going into health, education or tourism.”