Who is willing to step up and take ownership of delivery?

Robert Sussman, joint CEO at the Integr8 Group

Sometimes it’s good to know that we are not alone. This week, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office called for clearer legal definitions of ‘personal data’ if it is to carry out its mandate of enforcing the contentious Data Protection Act.

We have also seen the European Council of Ministers fumble over their definitions of net neutrality and how the Internet should be governed to ensure fair and equitable access.

These two international stories highlight the fact that the South African ICT ecosystem is not so different from any other in the world. The fundamental disconnect between political bureaucrats and the industry which provides ICT services is not peculiar to SA.

The recent local storm over the definition of broadband and how the Advertising Standards Authority has decided it should be described proved once again that what lies at the heart of SA’s delivery problem is the lack of a cohesive, unambiguous national ICT policy.

However, the problem goes deeper than the Department of Communications (DOC’s) inability to get its ducks in a row. At the moment, there is no clear ownership of ICT. There are a wealth of initiatives aimed at ‘bridging the digital divide’. Some rest within the DOC, some with trade and industry, some even with the departments of education and science and technology.

What is urgently needed is for one entity to stand up and take ownership and therefore responsibility. This role should fall within the office of the Presidency. It should be ruthless and it should happen immediately and it should start with a thorough audit of all the ICT initiatives supported by government.

Once we have a clear picture of all the projects we would be able to prioritise, assign resources and, most importantly, define objectives and measurements of success.

The result would be less obscurity, a significant reduction in tender irregularity and greater delivery.

One of the main reasons why delivery fails is that the devil is in the detail. We need clear definitions of terms, clarity in our laws and certainty around who is responsible for enforcing them. And while it is comforting to know we are not the only country struggling with this, it does not excuse the perpetuation of a flawed system and the lack of political will to find a solution.

DATE:  13 OCTOBER 2010