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June 14, 2018

GITOs should be empowered to do more than just set up your email

By Xolile Ndlangana, Director at Boxfusion

In the digital age, we see rapid innovation and technological developments emerging from the private sector on an almost-daily basis, whether it’s sending people to colonise Mars, or developing AI. Whichever way you look at it, digital is integrated into our lives, improving, automating, and streamlining everything we do.

So why is it that government is not yet playing a foremost role in digital transformation in South Africa?

In 1999, former-president Thabo Mbeki set up a precedent within his cabinet to include Government IT Officers (GITOs) in every department. This move was intended not only to recognise the vital role technology should play in the public sector, but also to drive more digitally integrated government processes.

Fast forward to 2009 and the King III commission provided specific guidelines for effective IT governance, both in corporations and the public sector. These guidelines should have encouraged GITOs within government departments to play more of a crucial role in providing strategic leadership when it comes to using technology in the public sector.

And while government has come a long way in automating back-end processes, so much more can be achieved through technology when GITOs are given a strategic leadership role within their departments.

Offices of the CIO/GITO in government should be seen as the vital resource for and principal driver of a department’s innovative strategy on digitisation. Such a drive can enable the public sector to become more efficient in what it does, more cost-effective through use of digital solutions, and ultimately increase service delivery to constituents.

But it’s not just about driving internal efficiencies however.

Putting ICT in a foremost position within government departments has great potential to help government transform the portfolio it oversees.

Take an example from experiments with drones in agriculture. Technologists can use drones to map an orchard, and then use an AI robot, which can detect which fruit is ripe, and which is not, to harvest. The use of such of technology can improve efficiency, while saving time and money.

Now apply this example of deeply-integrated use of technology to government departments. Thinking deeply about and developing sustainable technological solutions is how GITOs, and government as a whole, should and can approach governance and logistic challenges.

We live in an age, where using digital, anything conceivable is doable. If some of our brightest minds who work in government turn to technological solutions, we can imagine a South Africa where the Social Development Department relies on easily-accessible technology to process and pay out grants removing any elements of fraud, and getting much-needed funds to the poorest in society.

We can imagine a Department of Higher Education that sees more graduates collect degrees and empowers learning through digital platforms across the country.

We could believe in a legal system that’s no longer congested, but where justice is delivered swiftly and accurately. All through home-grown technological solutions yet to be developed.

This dream is not light-years away.

We already have the legislation in place to support this, and the talented people in GITO positions in departments across the public sector. All we need to do is enable them to become the strategic resource they are, that will allow digital transformation to reach deeper into departments for timeous solutions that involve more than just setting up email accounts.