From its humble beginnings in 2006, the government technology (GovTech) conference has become an important feature in the government planning cycle. Thirteen (13) years later the conference has remained both steadfast and true to its founding philosophy to mobilize the public sector behind the need for government to adapt to, and adopt new and innovative ways of serving citizens and delivering services including the use of ICT technologies.

A capable, ethical and developmental state is a priority underlining the government’s and the country’s determination to respond to the imperatives of the fourth industrial revolution. Like with any other revolution, the intentions are noble, to give birth to the new order, which in the words of the President “it is a new world of work that is reshaping the global economy and redefining the social relations.” To succeed as people, we need a serious culture change.

Over the years the conference has become a strategic platform for thought leadership in the quest by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) in line with its legislative objective to improve service delivery by government through the provision of ICT technologies and other systems in a secured environment.

Implicit in the above mandate is the industrious search by government through SITA working with the GITOC and other partners to change the culture of the public service and introduce willingness and readiness to embrace change management in digitally transforming the state. After all behind every systems and technologies, there are people, and public servants are critical to the social compact as they represent the government at work, and therein lies the strategic significance of GovTech.

At the time that government (through the Presidential Commission on the 4IR) is assuming leadership and laying concrete foundations for the national response to the fourth industrial revolution through the development of the SA’s blueprint on 4IR, the public sector becomes a critical stakeholder. It becomes important therefore for the public sector to be mobilized, knowledgeable and competent so as to make valuable input, essentially making SITA and GovTech completely relevant to the national dialogue currently trending.

This year’s event takes place against the backdrop of a heightened focus on digital transformation and fourth industrial revolution hence the theme: Digital Transformation – Gearing towards 4IR And Beyond, which is a calling on all the attendants to leave no stone unturned in their quest to position the public service as the pioneers in the realization of the ideals enshrined in the National Development Plan Vision 2030 and the National ICT Policy White Paper.

The policy framework is unequivocal in its call for the creation of a digital society underpinned by the knowledge (digital) economy as an end state. Both digital access, transformation and inclusivity have been identified as three critical pillars to that end state and in consideration, government wants to applaud the work that men and women do under the banner of GovTech - to change mindsets, develop skills, promote innovation and transform the industry. There is room for improvement though.

Digital skills development as an output of the programme needs to come out strong to address the question of digital access. For this reason government welcomes the element of hackathons and other community initiatives within GovTech to encourage innovation and build a digital skills base. As a nation, we have lofty targets to meet in creating digital skills sets pertinent to the 4IR and digital economy.

Ensuring that the SMMEs and co-operatives are drawn into the digital economy remains the pre-occupation of this government to realize digital inclusivity therefore the role extended to the small businesses to partake, benefit and grow from their association with the event has been a regular sub-theme of the conference and that is laudable. In our efforts, we need to reach out to the remotest areas disadvantaged by geography and history (underdevelopment), and bring out hope for development, growth and transformation.
At the centre of the government’s focus as we respond to the imperatives of the fourth industrial revolution, is a people-centred approach. It would be a travesty to leave millions of our people outside the benefits of the 4IR despite the circumstances that our history bestowed on them. As policymakers, we need to be cognizant of the will of the people, their attitudes and sentiments to the 4IR and their yearning to work and grow together with government.

As all stakeholders gather to deliberate, let us be reminded that digital transformation should be about our people and the impact of our decisions and actions on their wellbeing. Infrastructure and technology are merely means to an end – to eradicate poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. We should continue the trajectory of GovTech being a platform to find solutions to government business problems including the use of digital technologies and other technology for the convenience of all our citizens.
As we do so, let us guard against any retrogressive tendencies which might render the conference either a government talk shop or a sales and marketing pitch for the industry. There is a need to remain true to the priorities of the sixth administration and harness the GovTech platform as a vehicle for expediting government outcomes including localization of new technologies, ensuring that SMMEs are drawn into the digital economy, supporting the e-commerce and implementing e-government. Both the form and content of the conference should continuously be evolved to achieve the necessary impact.

Let the sound of the boots and hoofs hitting against the tarmac at GovTech 2019 be another reminder of the 4IR army on the march, towards a South Africa that we all are called by President Ramaphosa to dream about and achieve – “a high-tech economy where the advances in e-health, robotics and remote medicine are applied as we roll out the National Health Insurance”.