The hybrid cloud market is rapidly maturing and has become a central part of the transformational journey for government entities of all sizes and types.

With 60% of South African executives reporting that digital transformation is increasing in priority, we are seeing how every aspect of society – from individuals, small businesses to the largest organisations is challenged by the unprecedented disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is great potential for government to leverage cloud for improved citizen experiences, shared services and new business models as well as new revenue streams.

South Africa has just emerged from a second wave and as we enter the third wave, there have been renewed calls to stay home as much as possible and operate remotely as a national lockdown continued. Through this, we have seen Covid-19 shape the operations of government at all levels – increasing demand, expectation, complexity and constraints.

During these periods where the majority of the population worked remotely, there was an increasing demand for services to be delivered digitally. From driver’s license renewals, postal services, tax submissions to applications for smart identity cards and admissions to public schools, citizens’ turned to digital platforms for a large number of activities.

As demand for services increases, so too do citizens expectations for improved and enhanced access to services through multiple channels. Faced with a public that expects the agility and efficiency found in the private sector – the government was challenged to provide convenience, quality, transparency, promptness and personalisation in services across channels.

How, in the face of these multiple disruptive forces, does government address the demand for services? How do you set out to help connect citizens with multiple social services – such as food, shelter and cash assistance in one instance – seamlessly and securely, in one place.

As many departments and agencies navigate these challenges, we’re seeing hybrid cloud emerge as a central element to this growing need for digital transformation. Hybrid cloud allows for more convenient access to the latest technologies like IoT, high-performance computing and blockchain to reimagine business processes and ecosystems – while enabling companies to modernize at their own pace.

We’ve looked at businesses in South Africa and our research shows that organisations across the country have become more trusting of what technology can do and they are pushing ahead with digital transformation. Many are planning for COVID-19 recovery to include investment in technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, and cloud. The benefits long extolled by technophiles have become more broadly embraced across organizational leadership.

I believe this is no different for the government. But decision-makers across all layers in government are constantly asked to do more with less, and cloud technologies can help agencies accomplish this. Hybrid cloud can create real efficiencies that go beyond simply shifting the cost burden and ultimately saving money, and will allow departments and agencies to innovate and react to change more quickly.

Hybrid cloud will enable all areas of government to integrate existing on-premises investments with cloud services such as analytics and artificial intelligence. The result: innovation that improves the user experience for citizens and employees, and accelerates time to value.

Enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing, flesh-and-blood experts will find more time to focus on activities where human judgement and experience has a greater impact. AI-enabled tools can make filing taxes faster, easier and with more precise results.

Access to important personal identification documents like birth certificates and driver’s licenses will become a customised interactive task. Network technologies such as blockchain, which enhances the security of online records, will redefine many core government functions such as global trade, customs and visa processing, rendering them more trustworthy and efficient. Once a record is added to the blockchain, it is permanent and difficult to tamper with.

In time, the full value of the massive amount of data brimming with insights will be unlocked. Ai-based systems can build knowledge, understand natural language, provide confidence-weighted responses and identify new patterns and insights – something particularly relevant in complex government information environments.

As with any strategic shift, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to help government move seamlessly and efficiently to the cloud. Instead, each department and agency will move at its own pace, making its own decisions about how various clouds can best fit their particular needs, today and in the longer term. Significant technological and process challenges will have to be overcome. For the government, as for any organisation, cloud adoption is a journey

For the government, in particular, the timing for a game-changer couldn’t be better. Disruptive forces are complicating the missions and operations of departments and it has become more crucial than ever to find new ways of working to achieve sustained success. One can anticipate a long journey to get there. But by embracing digital technologies, governments will be better able to deliver on the promise of a digital future.

  • Hamilton Ratshefola: Country General Manager – IBM Southern Africa
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