Technology in Focus | ICT Authority to improve gov’t efficiency
For many Jamaicans, renewal of one’s motor vehicle registration or certificate of fitness can take up to an hour or more, because of long lines at the offices of Tax Administration Jamaica. Depending on the hour, day or month, this experience can be time-consuming. However, according to information and communications technology (ICT) experts, the establishment of the ICT Authority will eliminate the long lines and help to ease doing business with government entities.
The ICT Authority will be a body, established by the ICT Act, to develop or drive a sustainable digital agenda in the government and wider society, thereby streamlining and consolidating the delivery and management of ICT services in all public bodies through a shared services model.
A bill to establish the ICT Authority was recently passed by the House of Representatives and is to be considered by the Senate for approval. It seeks to improve the use of technology and interoperability of systems and technologies across the government and to drive a sustainable digital agenda in the government and the wider society.
“Individual persons will experience shorter waiting times, and they will no longer need to visit multiple agencies to perform a single transaction; or may be able to conduct transactions without leaving home,” said president of the Vector Technology Institute, Dr Wayde Marr. “There will be less stress and an improved perception of government services.”
Marr informed that the authority, when established, will provide a framework by which the process of ICT design, development, implementation and use can be managed through a common systems approach, rather than the current splintered way where individual ministries are responsible for their respective development and deployment of ICTs. This, he stated, results in systems not communicating with each other and equipment and subsystems not being compatible with each other, among other things.
“Other benefits will include: improved management of ICT spend, use of best practices, standardisation, better use of ICT assets, enhancement of the ICT skills base, standardised or coordinated approach to procurement, reduction of ad hoc investments, increased shared services and reduction of redundancies,” Marr said.
Senior software developer with responsibility for talent acquisition and development at MC Systems, Nathaniel Nation, said that businesses stand to benefit greatly when the authority is established, as they will be in a better position to validate their customers, and will know if their customers are compliant (KYC), in the case of financial institutions.
“It will allow for a business to reduce some of the personal information they may choose to keep about customers, thus reducing unnecessary storage. Companies can also perform background checks when employing staff, to eliminate persons who could be seen as a threat to their company,” said Nation.
“Businesses can also find that there will be improvements in the level of service and efficiency being rendered from the Government, resulting in the reduction in the turnaround time to complete government-related activities,” he added.
Pointing to other advantages when the ICT Authority is established, president of the Jamaica Computer Society (JCS) and head of the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica, (UTech), Dr Sean Thorpe, said there will be increased digital access through the ICT Authority, which will provide companies having to deal with government with greater convenience to do both domestic and international business, as well as business-to-customer transactions.
Thorpe said it will also provide greater opportunities for trade and investment. “With the current electronic single window initiative, for example, the single portal will help companies appreciate how the speed of a transaction can make the difference between the retention of current revenues and forecasting quickly on new revenue streams,” he explained.
However, Thorpe encouraged more Jamaicans to become digital literate, so that they can grasp the advantages which the ICT Authority will create, as the future of jobs will rely on increased digital access.
“Hence, digital education and awareness through leveraging technology will be more evident with time, through the ICT Authority. This will be a means of engaging the national public as interaction with more government platforms become digitised,” said Thorpe.
The JCS president observed that the ageing population should not be left behind, as they are, for the most part, still digital migrants and not digital natives. Hence, the transition from paper-based to completely digital service offerings has to be managed, as part of any service-delivery model, and to promote a culture placing prominence on digitising society.
Marr warned that the transition is expected to pose significant ‘people’ challenges and will take time, noting that the changes will not happen overnight.
“I expect that there will be many reasons for resistance, due to differences in departmental and agency cultures, loss of autonomy, and restructuring of organisations,” said Marr.
Nation said that one of the major potential disadvantages of the authority was the prospect of loss of information because of malicious intervention or disaster, natural or man-made.
“As such, it would be very critical to have these systems highly secure internally and externally, with the necessary efficient disaster recovery plans in place, which includes having the ability to switch from primary to secondary systems (failing over), and from secondary to primary systems (failing back), and also having adequate procedures in place to revert unwanted or problematic updates (rolling back). Having these plans in place are pertinent, as these systems will contain and transmit massive information and the Government must aim to achieve business continuity in any disaster,” he cautioned.
Nation said that there were also concerns over the storage and hosting of information. He noted that if another country is going to store Jamaica’s information, this could be a risk to citizen privacy, as their data could be exposed to trespassers in foreign countries.
“Lack of proper regulations is a disadvantage. As it relates to providers who may seek to offer ICT service to the Government, proper regulations/standards need to be in place to avoid money being taken for services not rendered. This is something that Kenya faced and tamed in January 2017, and Jamaica should learn from this and other cases,” said Nation.
However, Thorpe noted that Kenya was also a good reference point for a workable ICT Authority.
“Their operations are heavily driven by policy standards, with a focus on digital education and capacity development, securing the critical infrastructure. What stands out uniquely is that the Kenya government is using the ICT Authority to drive spatial data initiatives,” said Thorpe.
The JCS president noted that Kenya’s spatial data initiative was a unique feature, which aims to build transportation access and use.
“This is consistent with our own country’s position to provide increased logistics and augurs well for Jamaica to look at the Kenyan model, as we move in the direction of launching this ICT Authority later this year,” he maintained.