State Information Technology Agency (SITA) briefing

Defence

14 June 2007
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Meeting report

JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
15 June 2007
STATE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AGENCY (SITA) BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Montsitsi (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:
State Information Technology Agency (SITA) Information Brief

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SITA website

SUMMARY
SITA provided a comprehensive insight into the organisation. The pertinent issues that arose were that SITA has a broad mandate and provides services for a wide client base, which can prove problematic in terms of focussing and implementing strategies and frameworks.

The Committee pointed out that SITA had a reputation for slow turn-around times and poor customer satisfaction. Focussing on the Department of Defence (DOD) in particular which was SITA's second largest client, the Committee were particularly concerned as to system security levels.


SITA highlighted their excellent track-record in terms of security. Communication and all defence issues were discussed by a specially comprised SITA/DOD board, which had proven successful thus far. The challenges faced by SITA included the ‘poaching’ of skilled workers by the private sector, low staff-retention figures, their sometimes ‘overbroad’ mandate as well as the volatile and fast-changing nature of the industry. SITA was actively attempting to improve procurement and client relations in order to expand its client base.

MINUTES
SITA briefing

The delegation from SITA comprised of Mr Peter Pedlar (Acting Chief Executive Officer), Mr Tau Mashingo (Head: Business Performance), Ms Femke Pienaar (Head: Client Business Units) and Mr Cisco van Schaik (General Manager:  Department of Defence (DOD) Business Unit).

Mr Pedlar began the presentation by outlining SITA’s mandate and services; financials, transformation and strategic objectives. With regard the Department of Defence in particular, Mr Pedlar highlighted the business relationship between SITA and the DOD, and commented on the DOD’s budget and their last spend, while concluding with a brief summary of the Defence Information Systems Master Plan (DEIS MP).

Mr Pedlar emphasised that SITA was a Schedule 3a Public Company, mandated by the SITA Act of 1998 (a amended), with the objective to improve service delivery to the public and to promote the efficiency of departments and public bodies through the use of ICT and related services. The strategic imperatives of SITA are to radically improve service delivery and to prioritise ‘citizen-centric’ projects. It was important to emphasise the best demonstrated practice in people management and leadership, and to overhaul internal and external communication to improve SITA’s transparency, visibility and overall image. It was also emphasised that long term financial sustainability was actively being pursued. The Auditor General (AG) had given SITA a very favourable audit report, and the company was improving and faring very well.

Mr Mashingo continued that, particularly with transformation, the process was continuous but added that SITA had progressed commendably thus far. The share of BEE procurement revenue was up to 60%, and employment equity, the company had fared well particularly in relation to gender. Mr Mashingo was pleased to point out that the client satisfaction index had shown an increase from 46% in 2004/5 to 62% in 2006/7. However SITA would not rest on its laurels, and would pursue greater achievement in this respect.

Mr Cisko van Schaik noted that the DOD was SITA’s second largest client, and that a strong relationship existed through formalised engagement channels. There was strong contract management, and the DOD had an excellent payment record. He continued to discuss the DEIS MP, stating that all priorities and initiatives between SITA and DOD were guided by this master plan, and in future a co-operative engagement between DOD, SITA, Armscor and the industry was envisioned.

Discussion
Ms P Daniels (ANC) asked what was being done about the provision of information to the Department of Defence via SITA, as this was urgently required in order to facilitate the DOD’s effective operation. She asked if SITA had envisioned a co-operative agreement between the DOD and the Department of Home Affairs, and if so, what was being done to facilitate such an arrangement.

SITA was asked about its offices nationwide, and also what SITA’s relationship with government departments was like. The Department of Education was mentioned, particularly as SITA was largely a training - focused institution.

Mr K Mokoena (ANC) asked, in light of SITA’s efforts to improve service delivery, why some departments are reluctant to go through SITA. He asked that SITA break down the problems already mentioned, and point out exactly what the core issues are. He had heard many complaints about SITA’s ‘snail pace.’

Mr Mokoena asked how many departments had opted out of using SITA within the last few years. He asked why this had been the case, and whether any reasons had been given by the departments. SITA was asked to explain what was being done in the area of skills development, particularly youth recruitment. Who was being targeted, and to what extent such an initiative, if any, had progressed? Did SITA have a workable staff retention strategy, as one could not be a training institution without the requisite rare skills?

In light of the statement that there had been no proven cases of corruption, Mr Mokoena asked SITA to comment on the reported cases of corruption, if any were within the knowledge of the delegation. He also asked what strategies were in place to minimise corruption.

With reference to the Auditor General's report, Mr Mokoena asked what measures were going to be put in place to rectify and solve the problems pointed out by the Auditor General such as supply-chain management.

Mr L Diale (ANC) commended SITA on their presentation. He asked how SITA interacts with the public, and how accessible SITA was. SITA was asked to provide numbers as opposed to percentages for equity target performances. With regard to the SITA/DOD regulatory bodies outlined in Slide 25, he requested that SITA highlight its challenges and weaknesses.

He asked if Armscor and Denel were included as clients, and were the DOD networks spy and/or hacker proof, and would it affect the DOD’s defence capabilities? Would the time lag in terms of renewal of technology adversely affect the DOD’s combat readiness?

Mr M Booi (ANC) asked exactly how much SITA cost the tax payer in various categories and DOD situations. For example, if the DOD had to deploy peace-keepers, what would the taxpayer’s SITA contribution be?

The Chair emphasised that the meeting at hand was primarily an introductory meeting, and its sole purpose was to acquaint SITA with the Committee.

The Chair asked if the emails that were virus-ridden and accordingly blocked were targeted at SITA per se or were they targeted at the respective clients and departments. He asked who sits on the DOD/SITA board.

The Chair also referred to the problem experienced by the DOD with the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF). Often information was not captured and this resulted in individuals not receiving their pension payouts. This was primarily due to a lack of data and poor co-operation between the departments. Increased co-operation between various wings of government was required, and he asked SITA if it could get involved in solving any of these issues.

On the matter of corruption, the Chair asked if any ‘networking with regard to tendering’ was experienced, and if so, could SITA elaborate on the occurrence of such a phenomenon.

He concluded by asking how involved SITA was in other projects, particularly within Africa.

Mr Pedlar responded that SITA was a diverse organisation with a diverse client profile, which made it difficult to stick to their mandates. The industry was fast changing and extremely volatile. In his time at SITA, he had seen immense changes in the organisation, particularly in the area of procurement. SITA was increasingly being expanded to other departments on request, and it had helped extensively with the Department of Transport’s recent E-NATIS problems even though the department was not officially a SITA client.  The Department of Justice had terminated SITA’s contract but had recently requested SITA’s services once again. He added that there are numerous such examples.

The SITA Act required the organisation to have offices nation-wide and that it must provide services to national and provincial government. It had the option to provide services at municipal level. Currently there was a SITA office in every province. In terms of public accessibility, SITA did not deal with the public directly but rather with various governmental organisations. However, there were walk-in public training centres which did facilitate interaction with the public at large.

With regard corruption, one had to be careful when phrasing such a question, but one should focus on the areas of contract and project management when analysing corruption and respective loopholes, etc. SITA was very transparent with respect to unfruitful expenditure, and the controls were very stringent. The Auditor General had categorically stated that the quality of the information and the controls in place were a vast improvement from the previous financial year.

He continued that SITA’s weaknesses and challenges were not ignored. The private sector’s poaching of rare skills was a major problem. With regard staff retention, there had been seven CEOs in three years. Also, approaching the client base could sometimes be problematic. A uniform approach did not suit the entire client base due to their vastly different characteristics.

Mr Mashingo said that there were board vacancies but the quality of the current members was excellent. The board members were not remunerated. Senior members from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were sitting on the board. Mr van Schaik added that he himself sat on the board. Generally, strategic issues were discussed, and these were aligned with national issues.

With regard the question focussing on levels of system security, the initial figure of 1.2 million virus attacks had been reduced to 7000 virus attacks, which was a commendable effort from SITA. SITA had written internal anti-virus programmes which were of the highest quality. The key to such success was that the bulk of the incoming viruses had been stopped before they enter the system.

Mr Mashingo emphasised that GEPF was a separate statutory body which reported to Treasury and not SITA, and accordingly SITA did not have control over the information held by such an entity.

Mr van Schaik stated that the 720 organisations mentioned did not include Denel and Armscor. SITA provided the systems but did not manage the information. Treasury, not SITA, owned the vast majority of the information databases and accordingly SITA could only facilitate co-ordination and could not actually provide information. With regard to security, he admitted that the DOD was a sensitive core, but added that it was completely ring fenced from the rest of government. This did come at a negative price with regard economies of scale, but added that connectivity also became difficult. However, the system was very secure and there have been no successful hacking attempts or virus infiltration to date.

There was a lag in terms of renewal technology, but this was not a new problem and it was experienced in all government departments. Due to funding constraints, technology had to be stretched over longer time periods but this had been done very successfully up until now, and it should not affect combat readiness.

In terms of peacekeeping and operations beyond the borders, generally SITA did not deploy with SANDF, but rather assisted via satellite if any problems did arise. However, every year five or six members of SITA were deployed to assist with the operations.

Ms Pienaar emphasised that SITA was an enabler for government, and had an extremely broad mandate which SITA was actively attempting to focus. However, the nature of the mandate made it difficult to ‘please everyone.’ She emphasised that the company’s objectives were structured in such a way as to improve service delivery, minimise corruption and improve procurement. The above could only be achieved through defining the framework and policies and focusing on their implementation. She added that, in terms of the Act, there was a voluntary or optional component which introduced an element of competitiveness into SITA.

Mr Pedlar concluded that the SITA CEO should be available to the entire country, and added that he was freely available for consultation. He was very optimistic about the prospects of SITA and felt there was much room for growth. Encouragement as to what SITA was getting right would be very much appreciated.

The Chair concluded by stating that this was only the beginning of the acquaintance between SITA and the Committee, and asked for all relevant information to be furnished to the Committee if it should arise. He added that intellectual property issues would need to be discussed, and that it might be useful to draw up a Code of Conduct in this regard.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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