Advancing leading ict practices in the local government sector (RSA)
Advancing leading ICT practices in the Local Government Sector:
A view point on the lack of ICT Strategy alignment to Business Strategy in Local Government and how this has resulted in the Qualified Audits in recent years.
By: Samuel Mandebvu
Monday, 10 March 2014
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the longest of time has been highly misunderstood by business and Local Government (LG) has unfortunately been no exception. The enigma that is ICT has its roots in Process Automation and like everything else, it has changed a lot over the years! ICT continues to change at an even faster pace. The struggle to align ever changing ICT and Local Government business strategically, is a battle that wages on.
Local Government, for the purposes of this article refers to the lowest tier of South African Government, municipalities. Most of today’s Municipalities where birthed in the December 2000 local government election and were elevated to a sphere of government with the inception of the 1996 constitution. The new constitution gave municipalities’ institutional integrity and this autonomy of power meant that whilst there is a national set of mandates and objectives, each municipality must form its own. Municipalities through chapter 2 and 5 of the Municipal Systems Act No 32 of 2000 are required to form Integrated Development Plans (IDP). IDP’s are 5 year strategic plans for a municipality.
The Auditor General (AG) rarely refers to ICT strategy directly in most reports, but the AG makes constant reference to ICT Governance, which is the management of ICT risks whilst optimising resource allocation to maximise returns on ICT investment. Governance and Strategy are very closely related. ICT Strategy is the plan for how ICT will enable business to reach pre-set business objectives, whilst ICT governance is about setting up an environment that is conducive for the achievement of ICT strategic goals. Such an environment is cultivated by creating accountability for ICT investments and resources, implementing policies and procedures in order to have defined approaches to ICT processes and lastly; setting and monitoring Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for both investments and resources. ICT Governance, according to King 3 is the responsibilities of executive management and ICT strategy is a mandate of the ICT Governance forum.
What is ICT Strategic business alignment? It refers to the degree to which the ICT portfolio converges with business strategies. This convergence is attained with the clear understanding that ICT is an enabler of business. ICT is a means to an end; business objectives. ICT can lead the process of the enabling of a business objective through ICT enabled business processes, but it should never be a means to its own ends. Figure 1 shows the alignment of ICT strategy to business strategy. The misalignment of these two has resulted in poor returns on ICT investments and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link! In the 2009/10 year 96% of municipalities had ICT AG findings, in the 2010/11 year it was 96% and it was 93% in 2011/12.
One of the biggest challenges ICT faces within LG is the level of priority accorded to it. Often as you would have it, ICT being the step child of any organisation will result in ICT being the weakest department and most crippled in enabling business objectives because it is starved of the resources and attention it would require from business.
“IT is still not recognised by management as a strategic priority.” - Consolidated general report on the AG outcomes of local government | 2010-11
“The lack of priority given to IT governance also led to an absence of strategic alignment between IT and the business.” - Consolidated general report on the AG outcomes of local government | 2011-12
The low prioritisation of ICT has an undesirable domino effect. One of the most debilitating results, is the lack of skilled resources and vacancies. This forces municipalities to look for outside help in the form of consultants. In 2011-2012 71% of municipalities were assisted by consultants, a 3% increase from the previous financial year. The use of consultants alone would not be bad but if accompanied by under skilled ICT staff this will often result in poor service delivery as the client (LG) would have insufficient understanding to determine the quality of service delivered.
The misalignment of ICT strategy and business in LG has resulted in missed opportunities to leverage upcoming technologies such as e-governance. South Africa dropped in rank from 97th in 2010 to 101 in 2012, in the United Nations Global E-government survey. This regression in the use of ICT to deliver state services to the community can be noted as one of the greatest travesties of ICT Strategy and LG Business miss-alignment.
Another domino effect of poor alignment is high exposure to risk, both information and asset risk. According to the Municipal Structures Act (MSA) and the Municipal Financial Management Act (MFMA), the Municipal Manager (MM) is also the Information Officer. This makes the MM ultimately responsible for the security of all information held and handled by the municipality. Risk to the security of the information is contravention of the Access Figure 1: ICT Strategy Alignment
to Information Act, which makes the MM responsible for the security of sensitive information which has resulted in many AG audit findings.
“The absence of IT skills at auditees meant that they were not aware of the risks to which their IT environments were exposed.” - Consolidated general report on the AG outcomes of local government | 2011-12
It would almost seem like the ICT landscape within LG is as decrepit as Hiroshima after 1945, but there is hope and mitigating factors. One such fact is the maturity of ICT structures that assist municipalities and the lack of standards to assist ICT managers in implementing tools necessary to archive productive alignment. Only 3 years ago there was no local governance framework, to this day the issue of ICT alignment at an LG level is yet to be addressed by state support parastatal such as SALGA and DPSA.
“There is no IT governance framework to address the lack of IT risk management and strategic alignment of IT with business and structures to actively monitor service performance by internal and external providers.” - Consolidated general report on the AG outcomes of local government | 2010-11
Zimele Technologies has worked with many government departments at all tiers of government to develop our LG ICT environment. Not all is bad, there are exemplary departments and municipalities within South Africa, but there is evidently still a lot of work to be done. Zimele uses standardised tools such as CoBIT assessments to help municipalities develop a clear understanding of their ICT processes state and chart attainable goals. We understand that at times municipalities may not be in a position to effectively assess the calibre of work we produce. To assure our clients that they get what they paid for, we have internal Quality Assurance processes for all client deliverables and we stick to international best practices with clear and testable deliverables.
Zimele understands the LG ICT space is a unique environment. We understand that state parastatals by virtue of being public enterprises, are highly regulated. We understand all the legislation that shapes strategic and functional environment of ICT and have assisted municipalities forge ICT strategic alignment that is in line with legislation.
ICT is not aligned with business in LG but with the right partnerships and enough awareness and capacitation of resources, we will continue to move in the right direction at an even faster pace. Currently ICT in many municipalities is placed under the custodianship of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) because it is seen as a cost centre. With this approach, ICT is vicariously represented at senior management level by a manager who in most cases is ill-equipped to articulate the value ICT can bring to the organisation and thus ICT remains the stepchild of the organisation. Awareness at a senior level is starting point to bring about lasting change.
ICT Strategic alignment is not an attainable actualization state we can ever truly attain. Neither the ICT nor the Business environment is static, so since all pieces of this puzzle are in constant morphosis, the effort to align the two is a continual endeavour. LG can only and must continue to aim to fully align ICT with their business strategies in order to maximize returns on investments and minimise future AG findings.