The writer says the Sassa bid is basically restricting participation to Hewlett-Packard (HP) partners and distributors. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG – The South African national government machinery is in a constant state of change. After the May 2014 national elections, 49 pieces of legislation were transferred from one department to another.

The question is whether the reorganisation of the legislation delivered value for money as the costs are far from negligible and reorganisations inevitably involve disruption and a loss in service delivery. 

A more deliberate and carefully planned process makes sense before such costs are incurred. 

The 2014 reorganisation included the establishment of the National Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, now called the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. 

This move resulted in the Department of Public Services and Administration (DPSA) being deprived of “its tool of trade”, the State Information and Technology Agency (Sita).

Sita was established on April 4, 1999. The key elements in the IT model up to this point were consolidation of a dispersed and fragmented government IT capability into a central IT model – the basis for the establishment of Sita.

One of Sita’s objectives was to facilitate transformation in the IT sector of the government and reduce government spending by sharing IT resources. More than 20 years down the line this remains but a dream deferred as demonstrated by several failing disparate IT initiatives in government.

Recently, I wrote to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu requesting her to intervene and seek the withdrawal of a tender issued by the Social Security Agency of South Africa (Sassa). The tender invited “Service Providers to procure Hardware Maintenance and Support for ‘Hewlett-Packard (HP)’ equipment for a period of 36 months.”

The IT policy of government states that “the government should seek solutions that keep as many IT vendors in the competition as possible. Competition ensures that government service delivery is not singularly dependent on any one IT vendor in the event of collapse.”

The policy goes on to indicate that the government should also urgently address the issue of designing and implementing a coherent hierarchy of architectures, encompassing the major domains of business, applications and technology.”

The Sassa bid is basically restricting participation to Hewlett-Packard (HP) partners and distributors. The outcome is predetermined and is in violation of the guidelines. This is vendor lock-in, also known as proprietary lock-in or customer lock-in. It makes the government dependent on HP for products and services, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs.

The selected supplier for the tender may be the same supplier of the vendor lock-in so the tender is actually a waste of time and effort and the vendor lock-in continues. 

If Sita was under the direction of the DPSA guidelines, structures and systems would exist to monitor violations of government IT policy.

Is it not time to transfer the Sita Act back to DPSA for the efficient and effective use of resources and to improve the management and functioning of departments regarding IT?

Sello Rasethaba is the former chairperson of Sita and current chairperson of the African Entrepreneurs Council.