Jidaw Systems
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How to lay a solid foundation for electronic governance

According to Henry Kissinger, "The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been".  What is the role of Information Technology in governance? Is government doing enough to empower the people through IT? Many government agencies are now using web sites to provide information on the activities of government. Nigerians should be able to ask questions about public issues and make their views known to government.  Stone age tools and concepts will not empower the people.

IT in government should allow for greater public participation in governance. It makes sense as we live in a world of email and Internet. Let's raise questions about the expected role of government in today's Information society.  What is the place of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the business of governance?

Democracy should promote greater participation and interaction in governance.  By using the Internet, the aim of government is to encourage more interaction with the public.  But the Internet is only one of many IT solutions available in the process of governance.  IT in government is not limited to the provision of Internet facilities in government institutions.  Widely accepted all over the world, IT is an optimal tool for improving performance - social, educational and commercial.  "ICTs actually present societies and individuals with the opportunity to question fundamental assumptions and institutions, to re-think existing approaches and mechanisms to collectively conceptualizes and generate new ideas and community-based alternatives and even, sometimes, to catalyse social change".

This was UNESCO's contribution to Working Group of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) on Information Technology for Development and to International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Areas of the public sector requiring sector IT strategies include: finance, agriculture, health, education, population, public utilities, tourism and trade.  What UNESCO calls the "intellectual areas of development" - education, libraries, scientific research, environment, culture and mass media, require massive investment  in IT. The actions of these critical areas, act as a driving force for pushing the nation into an Information Society.  They have a natural role in advising, teaching and engaging the public to meet future challenges.

IT combined with telecommunication and/or broadcasting techniques, provides unlimited possibilities for increased interactivity and access.

So, back to our question.  What is the role of government? The purpose of government is to provide an environment for its citizens to pursue personal and civil development. Patriotism is a strange word in the absence of opportunities of self-development. The public services can't continue with outdated concepts of organization and information in today's digital age.  The effects of a backward state of affairs are: stalled national development, wastage of public funds, limited human development, inability to key into, benefit or contribute to the Information Society and Superhighway.  Further delay can be dangerous. In order to lay a solid foundation for the use of IT in governance, certain issues need to be addressed.

 

People

Let's start with the stakeholders. Computerization doesn't end with the installation of computers in data centers.  What about peopleware? IT requires operators, managers and other professionals to function. What about the people (staff, users, public)?

Inhouse, people who know what they're doing.  Are staff competent?  Do staff understand what the project is all about? Are they aware of their roles?  Have staff been trained? Motivation is key.

Does the public understand the benefits? What impact will it make? Are stakeholders willing to pay for this solution or must government fund it?

Project Management

IT has certain risks attached to it.  Controls in an IT project should address issues such as supervision, personnel, segregation of duties, project monitoring and security management. Effective project management is not a luxury. Most public sector IT projects often fail because of the low quality of project management.

For example, if a government institution's website project is properly managed, the web site must contain current information, which is updated regularly. It follows that there must be prompt response to enquiries, questions and views.  It has to be informative and responsive, otherwise it will simply be a "dead-man-walking site."

Purpose

Can you see where the project is going? Mere acquisition of technology will not do.  What is the purpose of technology?  How will it allow our institutions key into the benefits of the information society?  It is not enough to spend money.  The question is:  On what are we spending money?  Computerization is a necessity.  But that's no excuse to computerize blindly.  It is good to automate in-house operations and provide online data. What are our goals?  How can IT enable us achieve our goals? But how many understand that IT is not just an operational tool but also a strategic resource? It's about being creative. Can you see why management and understanding of IT are so important?

Part of the role of government is to provide an environment that ensures that IT aids national development. Law, politics, education, environment, health are all important, and so is Information Technology. But what do the national conferences have to say about IT? Is it just about providing electronic mail addresses? Or will the revolution just "happen" by itself? It depends on the environment.

What is the use of Internet in government and how effective is IT in governance, if the populace lacks access to reliable and affordable Internet facilities?

Computer Illiteracy

Ignorance is a monster retarding the growth of IT in Nigeria.  Despite the media buzz about ICT, e-commerce, e-banking and e-everything, the truth of the matter is the level of computer literacy is still scandalously low for a nation of Nigeria's size.  Government must actively promote policies that will encourage mass computer literacy.

Computer literacy is not a luxury.  A revolution is needed in the educational system through genuine literacy efforts and not tokenist gestures: Make practical Computing an examinable subject at all levels; Provide adequate computer facilities in schools: Additionally, promote policies that will bring down the cost of computing and encourage indigenous IT development.

Real Appreciation and Leadership

To do all these, public leaders need to have 'real' appreciation of ICT. How do public sector leaders spread the use of IT within their organisations? Appreciations goes beyond the speech-making or abstract level.  Real appreciation of information technology has to be practical.  And it's not just about operational day-to-day needs - it's about strategy. You cannot give what you do not have.  It is not enough to threaten staff to be "computer literate." 

Are you adopting creative methods? Attitudes and ideas of leaders in the public sector need to change.  Leadership that is ignorant is part of the problem. Do they understand the real meaning of technology? Do they understand the real purpose of technology? Do they? 

Why is it so difficult for leadership to understand one, that the growth of the ICT industry is critical for Nigeria and two, that this industry needs incentives - keep your money in your pocket and create the right environment! Period! I really wonder when I hear the argument against incentives: ICT is a "goldmine" and for that reason investors in this field are too rich for incentives. Give me a break!

Creative thinking is obviously needed. Public needs now and in future should be the driving force behind IT strategy. With the right appreciation, government should adopt investment strategies and programmes concerning ICT that are relevant to our needs-nationally and locally.

In particular, decision makers must marry short-term needs and long-term objectives.  Direct and immediate benefits are not enough: what are the spillover effects? Government should not do everything, but is it creating the right environment for mass IT usage and development? For example, there is no reason why government shouldn't provide an environment that further encourages the establishment of more cybercafes and public surfing centers and Internet Service Bureaus - in higher institutions and public places, such as libraries, hospitals and hotels. 

Infrastructure

Cost, reliability and availability of supporting infrastructure need to be addressed. Something just has to be done about public power supply.  Telecom is becoming more available. quality still needs to be addressed to bridge the Telecom infrastructure divide here.. The endless wait to solve the problem of infrastructure is a luxury Nigeria cannot afford. 

Putting all government agencies on the Internet will not have the desired effect until infrastructure is affordable, reliable and available to the majority of the populace.

Public

The public too has a role to play.  Citizens too shouldn't be passive ICT consumers or watchers of the ICT show.  We need to develop the mindset that stops seeing ICT simply as a consumption issue. Are leaders focusing on issues that will equip the citizens for the Information society? Is ICT a priority? Task the leaders.  Is ICT investment and strategy implemented in an atmosphere of sincerity, accountability and transparency? Ensure the leaders are competent, not just using IT as a platform to acquire power. They want to lead us in the digital age but what is their take on the present state of ICT? Concrete programmes are required, not window dressing or vague promises.

 Where should the nation be with IT? How does it get there? Enough of dinosaurs in government houses!

Investing in IT may be a step in the right direction, but the real role of government is to make IT an effective enabler in Nigeria.

Jide Awe

Jide Awe is the Publisher of Jidaw.com

For more coverage and information related to this topic, Visit Nigeria's Information Technology and Telecommunications Center on the Web:

http://www.jidaw.com/digitalnigeria.html

 

 

 

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Comments

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November 21, 2008

 

Jude Ali of Abuja says:

 

 

My name is Jude Ali, I live and work in Abuja, words can not express the dimension of joy that flow through my soul the moment I discover that your noble outfit-JIDAW COMPUTER , will be in Abuja on 29 Nov for an ICT Seminar, please i want to know the VENUE and TIME for the Abuja seminar.

 

 

November 11, 2008

 

Joy of Lagos says:

 

 

Jidaw, this article has a fantastic message to deliver. And it is applicable to all other concerns.

 

 

November 5, 2008

 

Phillip Olise of Abuja says:

 

 

It's true. Abuja is a city of contradictions. Very expensive and yet with poor slums. But we must really explore the digital options. Very good.

 

 


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DISRUPT THE STATUS QUO!

     
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