The inaugural Public Sector ICT Forum, sponsored by MTN Business, was co-hosted by ITWeb and Brainstorm at the Four Seasons Hotel, Westcliff, yesterday.

Over 80 C-suite information technology executives from across the public sector listened to talks by some of the brightest thought leaders in IT today in South Africa. The biannual Public Sector ICT Forum event will tackle topics that are most relevant to the sector, with a specific focus on digitalisation.

The first event looked at three key themes: if other African countries can get digitalisation right, so can we; how has the world of work changed and how will this affect you in the future; and lessons learnt the hard way from an integral player in the public sector.

The proceedings were introduced by Peter Ndoro, programme director for the morning. Ndoro is one of the most noteworthy aficionados in the ‘New Age of Business' as he spends his day interviewing leaders in government and business as an anchor for the weekly current affairs programme "New Age Business Briefings" on SABC.

Mandla Mzkwanazi, chief process officer, Transnet, and chairman of the Public Sector ICT Forum, explained how the forum was founded. Five or six years ago, he and a number of other public sector representatives spoke in earnest about collaborating over the cost of ICT and shared learnings.  Initially, they were unsure this level of conversation between peers was possible.  However, prioritising dialogue between departments on their service delivery strategies can only ensure improvements all round, he emphasised.

Mzkwanazi explained the forum focuses its efforts on collaborating over best practices; networking for future conversation and shared learning; and continues to invite high-level speakers and thought leaders from both the public and private sector to speak on topics of interest.

If you don't change, you don't grow

The CIO of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Mmamathe-Makhekhe Mokhuane, represented the Government Information Technology Officers Council in her role as chairman.  She discussed the role of CIOs within government and explained that South Africa's uptake of technology is in "painful decline". This needs to be rectified through collaboration around "pockets of excellence". Her hope is that we can bring back inter-ministerial deliberations, with ICT having its own platform outside of infrastructure. She congratulated the newly formed Public Sector ICT Forum, wishing it well in its "fruitful deliberations".

David Mphelo, general manager, MTN Business, welcomed all as the event sponsor and a firm supporter of the forum and its objectives.  Mphelo explained that being a CIO was tantamount to running on a treadmill where you stand still and the ground rushes beneath your feet.  The ground speed is determined by the company's clients and the citizens of the country. The role of the public sector is to keep the country running and it is being asked to do so with archaic infrastructure and old technology. He trusted that the forum would provide a starting point for conversation between all the players in ICT.

Said Ndoro: "The client is driving us forward into the digital era. They are clever, we need to be cleverer."

Victor Kgomoeswana, a consultant on African Business Development, gave insights into Africa and provided much-needed food for thought.

He asked: "Do we have e-commerce, e-learning, e-wealth, e-health?  The mandate of government is to provide solid answers to poverty, ignorance and disease. The real architects of digitalisation are those that respond to this need."

He explained by way of example:  "Don't tell people from a far-flung corner of South Africa that to register a business they need to print five copies of a massive 30-page document, transport it via wheel barrow on dusty rural roads to drop into a box, before the deadline, or else they will be penalised.  Then have the audacity to respond by e-mail telling them you would be happy to meet regarding fee negotiation. This is messed up. This person is now broke after having made his/her five copies and jumped through all the necessary hoops only to have you contact him/her by e-mail requesting a meeting. If we are going to talk about digitalisation we need to tell it how it is."

Kgomoeswana said Africa is open for business we just need to imagine what it could look like. "The rest of Africa is in the headlines," he says. "If you aren't, then you don't matter."

He cited the trends in the following headlines a showing that the African Continent is becoming digitalised:

Facebook founder lands in Kenya to meet tech-entrepreneurs; after Lagos.
AfDB facilities digital finance inclusion for small scale farmers in Togo.
62% of Nigeria's GSM subscribers (92m) have internet subscription.
Drones to deliver medication in 15 min (from 15 hours) in Rwanda.
iROKOtv raises $19m for growth and original content.
Melvyn Lubega's GO1 online platform offers over 60 000 courses.
SADCs integrated regional electronic settlement system transactions top $120bn in two years.
Thules Telcoms secures 50 000 T-Touch mobile phone exports for $10 - $350 each.
Slok ready to launch its range C3 and D1 devices.
Kaapema Yelpaala's access mobile revolution health sector in East Africa.

Kgomoeswana challenged the audience by saying: "If you don't recognise these headlines you aren't managing the risk, you are the risk!"

He left the audience with a few key pointers:  "Backlog is opportunity – for you or someone else. Don't budget for bribes – that is not sustainable. Lose your fears. Learn from continent. Poor people value quality more that you think. Think regional. Partner governments not connect crooks. View the continent from the continent."

Reimagine the way you think

Lee Naik, MD, Accenture Digital, asked: "So what's going on in the world?"

Digitalisation is intrinsically who we are, he says. A government's task is to serve the citizens, and as such, must understand them. "Citizens only want three things: accountability (that government explains what it is doing, and does what it says); transparency (to build trust); engagement (consulting people before government acts). This is reasonable right?

"Citizens also want collaboration (co-production of value when we come together). What if we could reimagine everything we do – challenge it. As CIOs in IT you are intrinsically part of this reimagining. CEOs and ministers are changing their thinking. Why are they telling you about new technologies? It is time that you learn the language of the boardroom and make your presence known."

The way of work is changing, Naik continued. "Citizens only care about what we do, not how we do it. We are moving from me, me, me to we (we have to collaborate to get the best outcomes). Millennials want balance – and they are telling the board (in an untucked shirt and slops) that they have absolutely no clue what is going on out there. If you haven't heard about Mooc, now is the time. Talent search for skills, not degrees. The virtual and augmented reality is here, it is time to embrace it."

Mthoko Mncwabe, group CIO, South African Post Office (SAPO), said SAPO's historical archives told a story. They showed what to do and what not to do when it came to leadership and how to run an organisation.

"The moment you issue a tender of $100m, you are already corrupt. The tender process needs to be fast-tracked if things are to change in service delivery in the public sector.  It is vital to ask questions when you put something out for tender and know the answers: what is the supply cost of a laptop for example. If it is R1 000, why are you considering paying R2 000 as part of a tender," he pointed out.

Mncwabe walked the audience through the profit and loss streams of the Post Office past and present, and explained how it is reimagining the way services are delivered to the remotest regions of southern Africa.

"A stable leadership results in profitability, and it is time for smart choices, not choices that serve a few. SAPO's leadership aims to take the organisation to the next level in terms of digitalisation."

At the close of the event, delegates were given the opportunity to direct questions, thoughts and comments at a panel comprised of the aforementioned speakers. This sparked some debate and ruffled a few feathers, but the key takeaway was that collaboration was essential for the success of service delivery in the public sector. Attendees agreed to continue the conversation, and not leave it hanging until the next event, as often happens.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Public Sector ICT Forum, would like to be invited to future events and kept up to date with the forum's activities, visit the Web site: http://www.brainstormmag.co.za/event/PSICT2016/?page=membership