The social impact of the deployment of information and communications technologies (ICT) has to be given more priority, despite the country having already made significant strides in terms of transforming into a digital economy.
This is the view of prominent players in government’s “e-strategy”, who participated in the plenary session marking the first day of the Government Technology Conference (GovTech) on 31 October at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng.
High-level representatives who shared their insights with the more than 1 600 delegates who attended the event included Honourable Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, Honourable Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, and Honourable Gauteng Premier, David Makhura.
They were joined by the State Information Technology Agency’s (SITA) chairperson, Z.D. Nomvete, and Dr. Setumo Mohapi, who believes that the deepest impact can be made by focusing on developing small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the South African ICT industry. To complement the line-up, was the international guest speaker, Mr. Bruno Lanvin who is the Executive Director, INSEAD and the co-author, World Economic Forum Global IT Report and focused in his presentation on the comparative analysis of the global digital competitiveness.
“SMMEs remain the biggest potential generators of economic growth and should therefore be the focal point of digital initiatives of state. We need to find ways to develop robust and vibrant participant s in this sector,” Dr. Mohapi said.
He said investments made into government’s “e-strategy” had to firstly be geared at addressing the socio-economic aspects, before focusing on deploying technology to improve the economic competitiveness of the country.
“The effective deployment of ICT entails better training of citizens to ensure that they have an appropriate input into the economy. It involves having healthier citizens that are also more productive. This is what should be guiding the innovation agenda to drive economic growth,” he said.
According to Dr. Mohapi, there was a causal relationship between the country’s ICT readiness as characterized by its investment and the global economic competitiveness and the reality was that between 2010 and 2016 the state’s investment in ICT grew albeit disproportionately to the ICT usage and effectiveness with lesser impact on the society.
Dr. Mohapi’s call for equitable distribution in the industry was reiterated by the other prominent participants in state’s “e-government” strategy at the session.
Giving a global context, Mr. Bruno Lanvin asserted that the state of ICT readiness in any country was largely driven by the environment as expressed in the quality of infrastructure, the level of skills and the element of affordability. Only once the environment was conducive would there be improvement in the usage by the government, the business and the citizens and this would determine the social impact.
Honourable Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, said that accessibility remained a significant challenge, especially in the rural areas of the country, despite the significant progress made in areas of the country, in terms of improving connectivity. Continuous investment in infrastructure development, improvement of the bandwidth and the proliferation of citizen-centric e-government services among others would improve accessibility levels.
“We have a highly unequal society. Some towns in the country boast more than a 200% connectivity rate and others areas have not benefitted from any access. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the rural areas of the country remain unconnected,” said Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize.
She echoed Dr. Mohapi’s views that tackling access challenges in the country had to transcend traditional models, calling for a high impact project that would also see the employment of more youth in ICT and “e-government” initiatives. She said that the younger generation already had the intellectual property” in ICTs to innovate and improve service delivery for all citizens.
“Government’s digital strategy needs to be viewed as a vehicle that will have a massive impact on gross-domestic product, but meet an inclusive growth agenda,” the deputy minister told the more than 1 600 delegates who attended the event.
This year’s GovTech is being held in Gauteng, which has already made major strides in positioning itself as a “smart” province, and is enjoying the outcomes thereof, especially in terms of government operations.
Honourable Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura, said the provincial department was well on track to achieving the status of being knowledge-based economy by 2030, a goal enshrined in the National Development Plan.
Referring to the success of three leading towns in the province in terms of rolling out free Wi-Fi to its citizens, Makhura said connectivity and, more importantly, broad-band infrastructure had become just as essential as other utilities, such as water and electricity, for successful operation of a modern city.
“Gauteng was in the forefront of driving the Africa programme on digitization as characterized by its promotion of smart technologies, smart cities and smart government,” stated Premier Makhura.
The plenary sets the scene for the more in-depth discussion around access, growth, development and innovation that commences on 1 November 2016 in line with this year’s theme: How Technology Improves Service Delivery for Citizen Empowerment.