Written By Joseph P. Gallagher, Partner for Communications and Media for IBM Middle East & Africa
Delivering transformative e-services that support national development has long been a government objective. With the arrival of significant new bandwidth connections and the maturing of mobile, big data and cloud technologies, many of the components necessary for effective e-government are now in place.
However, there are certain issues and potential pitfalls that need to be addressed before this e-government vision can be fully realised.
Crucially, stakeholders need to avoid the trap of believing ‘if we build it, they will come’. As seen by the success of services such as M-PESA and MoDe in Kenya, any solution or service must address a specific need in the market, in the right way, if they are to succeed.
Understanding what the citizens need, and how these needs should be met, requires dialogue. Technology can facilitate this dialogue in a meaningful way, by providing both the connections and the platforms necessary.
E-services cannot be entirely successful if they meet only the needs of one side, however. Effective e-services that support development must speak to the goals and needs of both the government and the people.
What is needed is a benefits-driven model. The SARS platform, for example, is a mature and well-implemented developed platform that meets needs on both sides.
Extending to people
However, in many other areas, we see ICT and e-services meaning different things to different people, with the result that many departments may have e-government initiatives in place, but they are still missing the vital extension to the people.
So, while many of the key components necessary for e-services now exist, they must be developed and coordinated strategically, in order to realise the vision.
We need to move beyond a focus on the infrastructure too, to centralise the funding and deployment model create an avenue for return path traffic and ideas, and develop an ecosystem for sustained growth.
Universal access is crucial for connecting with the people. Central to realising the vision of universal access is the deployment of a National Broadband Network.
But while most South Africans now have access to mobile connectivity, sufficient, affordable and high quality access is not yet within reach of everyone.
To achieve it, South Africa needs to move beyond its divergent funding model for broadband, to a concentrated funding model, where a pool of capital is provided for a national broadband initiative.
In addition, better use needs to be made of Telkom’s infrastructure, the biggest national telecommunications asset South Africa has, as the backbone of enablement.
With the cost of service delivery still far too high in South Africa, we need to look to lower cost solutions through cloud based services.
With a narrower focus and a benefits-driven model, e-services should be provided through smaller, focused clouds delivering in specific areas, such as education or e-health.
By defining the ecosystem, enabling access and reliability, then moving to a benefits-driven ecosystem enabled by the cloud, the public sector is able to create a foundation for e-services that lends itself to repeatability and future integration, as well as the support of future technologies and demands.
E-services present the potential to underpin social transformation, but the challenge lies in achieving this ideal.
Doing so depends less on the technologies available and more on the realistic execution of programmes to convert policy intent into behavioural uptake and execution. It requires collaboration from all parties – from government agencies to telecommunication service providers, businesses and citizens.