Why SA Gov websites fail and why the Western Cape Government will shine.

Success-Failure government e-government

The title of this post is a definite generalisation and obvious assumption. But, how have I arrived at this point of view? Yesterday (25th February 2012), saw the first GCIS Website Content Managers Workshop for 2012 hosted in Pretoria. For the “un-Governmentalised”, GCIS is an acronym for Government Communications and Information Systems, the national body mandated to provide clear website guidelines for all national government departments and provinces. As part of the contingency sent to this workshop, it gave us a good chance to speak to other government website managers. It was a successful workshop with many of the attendees asking that it be held quarterly and not annually as it is currently.

Why SA government websites fail:
Of course there are a number of reasons why government websites in our country seem antiquated and irrelevant. I’ve chosen to focus on the ones that I heard most while at the GCIS Workshop. After this post I hope I get invited to the next one.

1. A general lack of e-Government understanding.
Before we approach this point, click here for more info on e-Government. Unfortunately this is a common problem within many, if not most, government departments. Sometimes it manifests at the top with website managers unable to convince their MEC’s and/or Ministers that they require support, whether that support may be financial or advocacy. In rare cases, lack of e-Government understanding occurs on the operational level, with IT managers who see their sites as online brochures and nothing more.

2. Split between Communications and IT.
The lack of e-Government understanding, and it’s transversal qualities inevitably leads to the scenario of this point. A website team split between the communications department and the Information Technology unit. And here the website floats in limbo. Caught between a communications team, who consider websites and online platforms a “nice to have”. And the IT unit who hate being pestered by the Comms people who always want changes and new features on the website. It’s not uncommon to find whole departmental websites maintained by one or two people.

3. No Strategies or Policies for Site content, Mobile or Social Media
Websites being the adopted child in the unholy marriage between government Comms and IT cause another fatal blow to the websites success. Caught between these two oft warring factions, websites are left without a clear development roadmap. Research into new technologies such as mobile and/or social media becomes a mere luxury. And once funding for the website finally dries up, all the operational team working can hope to do is keep the lights on while mom and dad are out painting the night red.
3. Forced to use SITA services
After this, my first year in e-government, I have quickly realised that the unpopular guys in the rooms tend to be SITA. Government Departments and provinces are compelled to use SITA for all IT related services (There are some that secretly bypass this). What this means is that procurement becomes a nightmare. It took us a more than a full year to employ one more website developer. All websites are hosted by SITA, who sometimes (I’m being kind) are unable to provide adequate infrastructure despite signed Service Level Agreements. This is a big point but I’m cutting it short here.

4. Their websites are still built with HTML pages
So, without any strategy, basic IT support and minimal funding are we surprised that many of our government sites and still built with manually linked HTML pages? This is the equivalent of going to a Transport conference to discuss the new features our cars should have and some of the guys pull up with a horse and cart. Fortunately, many departments are now doing Content Management System assessments.
Western Cape Government new logo

Why the Western Cape will shine and lead e-government in South Africa
As before, these are a few points that I have selected for this post and are by no means the determining factors

1. MiGov 2019
The Western Cape Government currently has a draft version of its e-government strategy. The first draft of this document carried the title “MiGov 2019”. Which highlighted the two key areas of our e-government focus, namely “Mobile” and “Integrated”.  E-Government has gained a lot of traction within the Western Cape Government, and I’m proud that our superiors put so much faith and support into our unit. The e-government strategy will be released for public comment before it is finalised, this is a great opportunity for citizens to provide input.

2. E-government for Citizens
e-Government in the Western Cape is not split between communications and IT. We are housed within the IT Department with a great working relationship with our communications colleagues. We have a content team representative that attends key communications briefings, as this keeps us up to speed with developments across the province. Perhaps our greatest strength is that our directorate has Content, Usability and Design as well as Technology workstreams all insourced under the same roof. Communication and collaboration is as easy as working a few steps to a colleague and chatting about our ideas.

3. Mobile and Social focus
As the Web Portal Manager it’s a no-brainer that I steer the Portal toward objectives that fast track our move to mobile optimisation and social media integration. Initial workshops with our team have beared fruitful conversation with exciting implementation possibilities. With being a government organisation, there are processes to be followed before any implementation. Having followed due process I’m looking forward to our upcoming implementations.

4. Digital Industry, e-Government Forum and Meetups
Those familiar with the history of capegateway.co.za will recognise that the Westerncape.gov.za website did not always sail with the wind in her sails. Our site was at a time in the same lifeless doldrums as the websites I previously spoke of. And as is common place, all our team could do during that time was try their utmost to keep the website chugging along on fumes. Thankfully the new administration has embarked on programme to raise e-government awareness and return the Western Cape Government website to its former glory. As we start this journey we look to our digital partners in industry and extend a welcoming hand. The Western Cape, home to the majority of South Africa’s digital startups and entrepreneurs, will become a hub of e-government innovation. A project that we are keen on implementing is an e-government forum (any ideas for a sexier name), that will operate both online and off. Scheduling Quarterly meetups where we discuss digital tools and services for our citizens.
I’ve been advocating a Western Cape Government API, as this would be the catalyst enabling the digital industry to build the applications and mash-ups, we in government would never have thought of.

I’d like to end with this line I heard at the GCIS workshop. For those who question the ROI of e-government and why it should receive funding when compared to Health and Education:
“Information availability IS service delivery” – Tyrone Seale, Chief Director GCIS communication and writing

– Aslam levy

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