Industry association the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) has questioned the need for the creation of a State Digital Infrastructure Company (SDIC) and High-Performance Computing and Data Processing Centre (HPCDPC), as outlined in the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies' (DCDT's) draft National Data and Cloud Policy.
The plan aims to consolidate excess capacity of publicly-funded data centres and deliver processing, data facilities and cloud computing capacity. The government also plans to develop information and communication technology special economic zones, hubs and transformation centres.
However, the IITPSA questions the policy, given the implementation model and costs associated with some of the plans.
“The draft policy raises questions around why the government would create a new platform and State-owned company to focus on data and networking, particularly since the primary purpose of the government should be to set, implement and monitor policy. The private sector is well placed to partner with the government on the implementation of an HPCDPC,” says IITPSA board member Moira de Roche.
The IITPSA points out that there is a Centre for High Performance Computing in Cape Town that is run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and says there is an opportunity to expand the scope of existing centres.
“If the private sector is brought in, and they can run the centre in a way that affords small and medium-sized businesses access to cloud computing at a reasonable price, then it could be very beneficial,” she says.
In its draft policy, the DCDT states that South Africa’s effective response to these challenges will depend significantly on the extent to which it exploits opportunities presented by the digital economy, through the development of policy frameworks that harness the economic and social potential of data and cloud computing.
Such policy frameworks should be citizen-centric and support already existing government initiatives of universal access and affordability of services. Most importantly, the frameworks should ensure that challenges associated with lack of access to digital infrastructure, devices, software, applications and digital skills are addressed.
Notwithstanding the reservations voiced, the IITPSA is encouraged to note that the government recognises the importance of advanced digital infrastructure, digital development and skills transfer, IITPSA board member Kudzayi Chipidza says.
“Digital progress is crucial for business development, the creation of employment and broad economic progress. As the industry body for IT professionals in South Africa, the IITPSA and its members offer our expertise to support the government on achieving the goals of these initiatives in the most cost effective and transparent way possible,” he says.
The institute has welcomed the government’s commitment to strengthening its digital capacity and moving the country into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and members of the IITPSA board say this provides further evidence of the government’s commitment to digital progress.
“The draft policy indicates that the government is considering the gravity of the 4IR and taking a progressive stand on digital development. This is an indication that the government is moving to try to overcome challenges that have hampered its digital progress in the past – such as concerns about security when storing and moving data of national importance,” IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane says.
“Simultaneously, the draft policy indicates a willingness to address issues such as small, medium-sized and microenterprises' access to digital technologies, a lack of digital skills in the country and the barriers to entry preventing millions of South Africans from benefiting from the 4IR.”
The IITPSA has long motivated for efforts to support progress through universal access to the digital world. With low-cost, or free, universal access to the Internet for all citizens, South Africa would have an opportunity to achieve public service delivery excellence, quality and equitable education to all, e-healthcare, vocational e-learning programmes and new business development opportunities, Mashegoane states.