Cafes stimulate ICT conversation that matter

Cafes stimulate ICT conversation that matter

This year’s prestigious Government Technology Conference (GovTech) 2016 drew to a close with three Conversation Cafes geared at stimulating important discussions around government’s digital “e-strategy”. Conversation Cafes were a unique feature to this year’s conference.

This “outside-in” approach allowed delegates to engage in an interactive and informal manner to identify inclusive digital solutions to public sector challenges in line with this year’s theme. It is just one of a number of initiatives introduced by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) geared at stimulating more engagement at this year’s conference and reducing the overloading of the conference by powerpoint presentations, in what the organizers termed “death by powerpoint”. 

This is in line with the very nature of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry and “e-government” at large to move away from paper based in favour of fully automated public service processes.

Café 1 focused on transforming government. Hosted by Marguerite Conradie of MTN, points of discussion were mobile, cloud, data and social technologies. 

Café 2 focused on re-inventing government and was hosted by Wanda Ndlovu of EOH. It focused on re-inventing government, focusing on citizens, businesses, governments and employees.

Chris Roos, Vodacom’s managing executive, facilitated the third Café which placed credence on enabling government through the effective deployment and use of information and communications technology (ICT), effectively building on the strategic discussions carried out in the Executive Leadership Engagement on Sunday by unpacking the challenges and solutions that were needed to facilitate access, integration, security and collaboration. 

This session reiterated government’s own views that South Africa’s “e-strategy” needs to be undertaken in the context of a developing economy. 

Roos provided the context needed to tackle some of the challenges government was facing, in terms of seamlessly rolling out its digital agenda, which will improve service delivery to all citizens of the country – in line with goals underlined in the National Development Plan.

He pointed to the need to focus on adequate content and relevant devices, as opposed to only emphasizing speed and coverage of the network infrastructure.

Roos noted that while the vast majority of the population had access to cell phones, only a small number used the Internet. 

“I do believe that entry level smart phones are all that is required to provide better access to services. Focus should be given to finding the correct device to encourage greater use of the Internet. Content is also critical. Bear in mind that many universities have not been able to take advantage of free Wi-Fi services simply because they do not have the necessary content,” he told delegates at the event.

Earlier in the conference the Ministry had agreed to suggestions that more government content be made available and produced for the benefit and improvement of citizens.

While government and its private sector partners face a number of challenges in seamlessly developing an “e-government”, the executive noted that government had already made significant strides, especially in the field of “e-health” and “e-education”. These were both major points of discussion at this year’s event.

During the breakaway sessions, participants identified a number of key areas that needed to receive due priority to achieve access, integration, collaboration and security, and agreed that these challenges would be sufficiently addressed by the rapid execution of the formidable ICT policies developed by government.

The session supported the commitment made by the Honorable Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, at an Executive Leadership Session ahead of the event on 29 October ahead of GovTech and the high-level plenary marking the first day of GovTech. 

Dr. Cwele said that “it was time to take action” and execute the great policies developed by state to drive its “e-strategy”. This includes implementing the Integrated White Paper, which was approved by Cabinet earlier this month and a central theme at this year’s event.

GovTech 2016, which was hosted by SITA at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng from 31 October to 02 November, remains the premier platform for discussing all matters pertaining to government’s “e-strategy”.