The writer says Cloud has the potential to transform the government and how it provides services to citizens. Photo: Bethany Drouin/Pixabay

JOAHNNESBURG – In today’s world, government applications – from policing and criminal justice, to healthcare, education, transportation and even tourism – should be aided by digital technology. 

These tools should help respond to citizen queries, detect fraud, carry out medical procedures, assess criminal risk, provide travel assistance and optimise medical emergency response.

Cloud has the potential to transform the government and how it provides services to citizens. With less downtime, fewer outages, improved citizen experiences, shared services and new business models – it could be a major force in government innovation and transformation. 

The cloud is ubiquitous and citizens experience services delivered through the cloud daily through the music they listen to, storage solutions on their devices and the communication tools they use every day. Citizens now expect the same level of digital services from the government as they do from private enterprises such as Apple or Netflix.

With pressure to deliver on innovation that improves the user experience for citizens and employees, cloud technologies are redefining how government IT units develop and deliver solutions to employees and citizens with departments that have leveraged the cloud seeing how they can become more efficient, and innovate more quickly and effectively.

Government departments recognise the importance of cloud and its impact on the people they aim to serve – but with seemingly never-ending budget pressure, legacy systems and workforce challenges, the hurdles can seem insurmountable. 

With clearly set out goals in the National Development Plan, the government has stated its intention to use technology to transform the economy and transform how individuals and communities communicate and function. But how does an environment as vast as the government with sensitive and strategic applications reap the benefits of cloud?

While cloud can save the government the pain of duplication as citizens move from the police to the courts, between schools and hospitals and from city to city – some departments are often held back by specific regulatory and legal requirements while others do not want their strategic assets to leave their environment. 

The benefits of a cloud architecture may be obvious but control is key and protecting data is critical. Through a single cloud, government can conquer Herculean tasks, such as listeriosis tracking, smart electricity distribution, analysis of crime statistics, and education. Cloud computing is also widely recognised by government as a means as addressing the skills gap with the South African public sector – but how do departments make the right, transformative choice?

Public clouds with all their security and well-designed infrastructures can sometimes be breached. Private clouds are fenced-in, providing benefits of a public cloud with additional control and security – but can limit flexibility. 

The government needs a cloud which can securely host its applications. If applications are going to be innovative and responsive to the demands of the digital age, the cloud platform has to be secure, up-to-date and reliable. It needs to provide the tools, speed and flexibility required to build critical applications – even in a sensitive and highly regulated environment.  

Achieving all this might seem like a mammoth task, given the complexities associated with bringing this dream to life. 

What if the government could be empowered to deliver competitive, innovative and elastic apps and integrate them with existing applications, data and processes? What if administrators could be enabled to exploit and manage the dynamics of cloud while still addressing compliance and regulatory requirements? And what if it could do all of this while maintaining the flexibility and freedom to exploit services from multiple cloud providers? 

This is a very broad set of needs, but it reflects the challenges that government departments face when it comes to delivering transformations to address disruption.

The State IT Agency (Sita) has set out to ensure government departments are set up to be responsive to these needs. Sita has set out to promote government-wide adoption of cloud computing while developing, overseeing and enforcing standards and vendor certifications as well as providing support and resolving any cross-organisational issues. 

Their goals is to serve as the national cloud service provider for the South African government departments and IBM has set out to assist Sita to develop efficient cloud solutions that will assist the government to consolidate all ICT Infrastructure into a unified common platform. 

Sita needed a common and consistent platform for government departments to rapidly innovate while retaining the flexibility to use public clouds and services. They needed a solution that is integrated with business-critical applications, data and processes and allowed government to enter the new world of applications built for the cloud. 

In the end, the cloud platform that Sita builds will be easily accessible across departments and enable digital capability to citizens. 

It will allow developers to tap into several options for modern run-times, development tools and services to turn ideas into working code quickly. They will be able to integrate into existing systems and modernise existing applications while the operations team can access a consistent and flexible set of built-in management tools that extend and integrate these capabilities with existing management tools and processes.

In 2018, the Department of Higher Education and Training was Sita’s first cloud client – becoming the first 100 percent government cloud customer. The Departments of Labour and Basic Education, the Gauteng Provincial Government, National Home Builders Registration Council, and the South African National Space Agency have since followed.

The goal for all government departments is improved service delivery and with the right tools, processes and skills to enable continuous delivery of new features and ensure service quality, cloud is no longer a mere buzzword for the government. 

Hamilton Ratshefola is the country general manager, IBM Southern Africa.

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