Kathy Gibson is at the SITA private cloud launch in Rosebank – SITA has launched its private cloud, which will be the platform for modernising government ICT and more effectively delivering services.

Digitalisation is key to modernising government and catering to the changing needs of citizens.

SITA is driving the modernisation programme as the central element of its own turnaround, says Dr Setumo Mohapi, CEO of SITA.

“If we had a credibility index made up of perception of SITA by suppliers, parliament, staff members and customers – you would have got a very low number,” says Mohapi.

“There was a fundamental problem with the reason for SITA’s existence.”

With government obligated to deliver services to citizens, it was clear that modernisation of the ICT functions was required, and three years ago SITA embarked on this project.

“We looked at our stack, at the complete systems that are required to deliver services,” Mohapi says. “We realized they were not up to date.

“We also looked at the hosting environment, at the servers that were in the, the cost of maintenance and the cost to upgrade.

“We then looked at our application portfolio.”

Some applications were written in 1980, he explains, making any changes or policy implementations difficult.

“We looked at the speed at which we could create new applications; and there has been little to show since we started modernizing in 2003.”

The approach to modernisation starts with cloud. Following consultation with the industry, SITA came up with a specification which it took to market for proposals.

“We needed to build a cloud platform that would sit at SITA and be owned by the state, operated by employees. We needed to give comfort to people concerned about security. And this type of data must sit at a national key point.

“The second part of the specification was that we accept there are a number of investments that are coming, that have been approved and landed, that we can exploit.

“For instance, once we have the infrastructure in place we need to enable things like artificial intelligence, big data and more.

“We want to exploit the best that this country has.”

The tender also asked for an orchestration or co-creation functionality that would allow for other cloud or hosting providers to connect.

“So we have engine, and an algorithm. We have to comply with procurement, but it shouldn’t take 90 days to make decisions. So the algorithm will determine the best place to put a workload depending on requirements. The cloud ecosystem will allow us to get results very quickly.”

The cloud platform is delivered by Gijima, IBM and Huawei, delivering cost-effectiveness, agility and optimised spend, Mohapi points out.

“Finally, we can say to government: let’s do more IT – let’s move into the fourth industrial revolution.

“This is going to change not just the perception of SITA, but of government too.”

Robert Gumede, chairman of Gijima, says SITA has reclaimed its leadership role as the government ICT provider.

“It is a anew dawn, with SITA taking its place as a thought leader,” he says.

Gumede points out that the model of public-private partnerships as piloted in Malaysia, has paid dividends in the SITA cloud project.

“We are launching a valuable and first-in-the-continent cloud solution,” Gumede adds.

“In fact, no government in the world has launched such an ambitious cloud project – we are the first.”

Gumede also called for the establishment of a presidential advisory service made up of ICT private sector leaders to advise government on industry trends and directions.

The equipment and software is already delivered and is being validated now, Ronald Raffensperger, chief technology officer of Huawei, explains. It will be ready to deploy by the middle of December.

The next step is to bring the first applications to the platform, he adds.

“We are confident: this is the same technology we have deployed worldwide, so the capability is there. What we really want to do is show some quick success to build confidence. It’s key that all departments have the confidence that they will get the benefits they are expecting.

“I am excited about the opportunity,” says Raffensperger. “We may say this is an invisible thing, but it will be very visible to the citizens of South Africa when they no longer have to stand in queues to do simple things.

“I believe the opportunity SITA is bringing to citizens by providing this cloud that will allow citizen services to be executed and accessed from phones and mobile kiosks will be life changing.

“This is a more aggressive project than many I have seen around the world,” Raffensperger adds. “We are committed to making it a milestone for governments around the world.”

Maphum Nxumalo, chief operations officer of Gijima, comments: “This is a real milestone for us how, at this point in time, we can have a government private cloud hosted at SITA.

Gijima is the architect of the system. “The platform is solid,” Nxumalo says.

Hamilton Ratshefola, country GM of IBM, says the launch of the government private cloud is a momentuous occasion for IBM.

It is a pleasure to see government take bold steps to lay foundations for the fourth industrial revolution. As a long standing supplier of SITA, we are happy to be part of the new dawn to help SITA offer better services.”

Mandla Ngcobo, government chief information officer (GCIO), urges all government departments to exploit the cloud opportunity.

“For us it is the beginning.. The fact that there is cloud is well and good. We have to see how this translates into government spending less on services,” he says.

Mohapi points out that the cloud programme was conceptualised around the beginning of 2017, and is being delivered before the end of 2018 – complete with industry consultation, design, tendering, validation, auditing and contracting.

“We are delivering infrastructure as a service (IaaS) before the end of December of 2018. This is a transformation that is not necessarily visible, but affects a lot of people.”