The South African government's concept of an ‘e-government strategy', aimed at increasing the back-office administration capacity and data integration systems of government departments in order to offer improved service delivery to citizens, was only at stage one of service maturity, or the basic capability level, and needed to be brought back on track.
Addressing delegates at the 2008 Gauteng Shared Services Centre e-government conference in Johannesburg on Monday, Department of Public Service Administration (DPSA) chief information officer Michelle Williams said the e-government strategy, as a concept, continued to hold "great promise", but it needed to be reworked, and brought back on track.
"The reality remained that most departments were still carrying our very manual processes and drowning in paperwork - for the most part everything is done manually and this is quite horrifying," she added.
She explained that it was not for lack of investment that government was struggling with inefficiencies. She also said that there was no lack of willingness from different departments to collaborate and cooperate, but rather that delays stemmed from procurement issues. Governance and complexity issues also needed to be addressed.
In her honest presentation, Williams stated that government could learn a lot from the private sector, and indicated that if one considered the advancements of online banking, for example, one could see how far behind government really was in its strategy and capability.
She confirmed that "some fundamental shifts" in the strategy would be taking place, and the new ‘next-generation e-government initiative' would be broken down into smaller manageable tasks.
Six services to enable and automate had been identified, with a citizen centred service delivery strategy, rather than a department centric strategy informing decisions. "We must take smaller steps and carry out catalytic projects," she said.
These six projects, with a ‘pro-poor slant' which could likely yield good results were: the application for an identity document, the application to register a birth, the foster child grant application, the old age pension application, the application for a maintenance order, and the application to give notice of death.
She added that the propensity to over promise and under deliver remained a challenge and was not something that the DPSA wished to do.
She added that the government, through the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) was looking to the private sector for assistance, as they could offer different types of skills and solutions. "Politicians are more interested in the benefits that the technology can bring to citizens than the technology itself," Williams added.
Private sector involvement would "allow the government departments to do what they do best and maintain a higher level of service", said SAP Business Objects solution manager for business intelligence Michael Jones.