Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on May 20 said partnerships between government, the private sector and communities were necessary and that government acting in isolation would not succeed in providing universal information and communications technology (ICT) access and services.
Further, she stated that the government's starting point for the digital transformation of public services and electronic government (e-government) was the repurposing of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) from its main traditional focus on the procurement of ICT goods and services to a State-owned digital services company acting as a digital transformation partner of government.
The government's main focus is on the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and big data, and digital government is one of the pillars for enabling a digital economy, she said.
"Data and cloud services are key enablers of the digital economy and, with this, we will enhance the development of evidence-based strategies and government will be able to swiftly interact with citizenry in the course of service delivery," noted Ndabeni-Abrahams.
The use of ICTs plays a fundamental role in achieving the objectives of the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030, she said.
"Public service, like other sectors, can only ensure [delivery of] smart services to the public if it embraces digital technologies as they evolve. As government, we are aware of the need to keep the legislative and regulatory framework sensitive to the changing environment."
It is important to remember the limited public capital investment, given fiscal constraints, and the NDP calls for greater collaboration with private sector investors to create connectivity, the Minister noted.
The National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper and the 2013 Broadband policy framework are key interventions to promote universal services and access.
"Here, the focus is on addressing supply-side issues, broadband infrastructure roll-out and restructuring the institutional landscape to achieve an inclusive and innovative digital knowledge society in South Africa. A new Digital Development Challenge Fund framework is being developed to provide universal services and access, with the key being the promotion of universal digital services."
The policy further seeks to ensure the ICT regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, makes regulations for universal digital services obligations, provides designated licences that carry such obligations, regularly reviews such regulations and ensures reporting in such obligations by licensees.
"As technology changes in speed, so must our regulatory framework keep pace to avoid becoming a hinderance to development.
"Recent reviews have taken a more expansive view of the role of ICT, with the public service using digital government to improve the way it interacts with citizens as part of efforts towards public sector modernisation, which includes e-government projects on business modernisation and the redesign of the national e-services portal," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Further, converging technologies have expanded in scope, such as artificial intelligence, wearable devices, drones and robots, and these are the main elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) or transformative technologies.
The government has begun with policy review in line with changing conditions brought about by 4IR and the Presidential 4IR Initiative aims to proactively respond to rapidly emerging technologies.
"We are beginning the process to implement its recommendations."
Emerging technologies continue to provide applicable solutions and digitise the delivery of services across all levels of government. Public service has begun to take advantage of IoT, cloud, big data and mobile innovations.
Government is making strides to provide creative public services based on IoTs. In a society where everything is connected, new and innovative services will be developed and the services will significantly transform our lives and contribute to a new social foundation, she said.
IoTs will provide personalised services and enable predictive analytics and optimal decision-making capabilities, and improve social and economic systems.
"Our department is currently reviewing comments from the industry and civil society on the national data and cloud policy, which was developed as a catalyst and enabler for South Africa towards a digitally driven society and economy."
The policy highlights the digital hub and digital transformation centres for the development of digital solutions, including applications, software and technologies in support of small, medium-sized and microenterprises and the establishment of digital special economic zones to support local and foreign investment in data and cloud infrastructure and services is envisaged, she added.
The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies will convene a digital economy investment virtual conference in September for potential investors and businesses, Ndabeni-Abrahams pointed out.