The Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) has welcomed the government’s commitment to strengthening its digital capacity and moving the country into the 4th Industrial Revolution but has questioned the need for the government to create a new SOE, and the implementation model and costs associated with some of its plans.
Responding to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ draft national data and cloud policy, which outlines plans to develop a State Digital Infrastructure Company (SDIC) and High-Performance Computing and Data Processing Centre (HPCDPC), members of the IITPSA Board said this was further evidence of the government’s commitment to digital progress. The plans aim to consolidate excess capacity of publicly funded data centres and deliver processing, data facilities, and cloud computing capacity. The government also plans to develop ICT special economic zones, hubs, and transformation centres.
In its draft policy, the Department states: “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.
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Policy should be citizen-centric
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.”
IITPSA President Thabo Mashegoane says 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,” he says. “At the same time, it indicates a willingness to address issues such as SMME 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.”
Mashegoane says 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.”
Why create a new SOC if the private sector is well placed
IITPSA Board member Moira de Roche notes that the draft 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. She says the private sector is well placed to partner with the government on the implementation of a High-Performance Computing and Data Processing Centre (HPCDPC). She notes: “While a Centre for High Performance Computing exists in Cape Town, run by CSIR, there is an opportunity to expand the scope of these centres. If the private sector is brought in, and they can run the centre in a way that affords small and medium businesses access to cloud computing at a reasonable price, then it could be very beneficial.”
IITPSA board member Kudzayi Chipidza says it is encouraging to note that the government recognises the importance of advanced digital infrastructure, digital development, and skills transfer. “Digital progress is crucial for business development, 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.