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ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHN0LOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 May 2002
IBM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Ms M Njobe
Documents handed out
IBM Electronic Presentation
IBM briefed the Committee on ways in which electronic information could be shared to enhance e-business, e-learning and e-government. Interaction between various government departments in accessing and sharing of data in a scale previously unknown was envisaged. Globally, governments had started to digitalize access to information to improve service delivery to benefit citizens.
Mr Mark Harris stated that researchers and scientists would be able to interact and defy geographical boundaries due to the Internet revolution. However researchers could no longer afford structures of e-commerce and new innovative methods were developed for storage and data processing. This would ensure the coordinated usage of data resources.
IBM proposed adopting a three stage approach to ensure collaboration between government departments, business sector and institutions of learning. To ensure efficiency in business operations in transactions for example, citizens should be able to apply for business licenses through the internet. The need for cooperation between business and government was imperative if e-government and e-business was to succeed.
Such developments would transform product utility, product life cycle and result in reduction of costs. The government was urged to build a solid technology infrastructure to deal with changes in technologies. However, dependency on single vendors could result in enormous problems, as was the case with Germany. He proposed an open-framework with a variety of service providers for governments. The integration between various government departments was important in order to coordinate access to technologies. One such collaborative effort saw Nordic countries establish a project called Naestved Information Society-2000, whereby citizens could communicate with governments. The media was becoming more pervasive and deep computing methods were necessary. Deep computing involves storage of large volumes of information and more processing power.
The technology infrastructure for e-business must be responsive to customer needs and be flexible enough to deal with rapid change in technologies. It has to be robust and scalable, thus building capacity for reliable services. This would eventually impact positively on business operation of many corporations.
Mr Harris pointed out that almost everything would be online in the future and that technology would be faster and cheaper due to competitiveness. Consequently customer service would dramatically improve and there would be reduction of costs for companies. This would create a visual community with enlarged computing energy and fixed storage power.
Mobile computing would be regularly applied with Internet facilities found in motorcars and cellular phones. He gave an example of navigation system of certain motorcars and use and cellphones to send e-mail. Pervasive computing will emerge with devices such as radio and television used to interact with new technologies to reduce reliance on PC'S. The Desktop technology is fast developing in motorcars and banking industry. He said that IBM offers wireless technology in schools, especially in rural communities. For instance, IBM could utilise radio and television to interact with technologies to enhance e-learning. People no longer had to be house bound and learners not be desk bound as these computer devices would be customized using desktop strategy.
Future computers would carry more storage and Biometrics was already being used in Holland to identify passengers at airports. The carry cards would eventually disappear as biometrics in improved. Satellite communications are key in creating network infrastructure. The technology of the future must be capable of self upgrading and have additional capacity to detect virus and automatically upgrade without human intervention, he asserted. He also informed the committee of the need to integrate islands of information networks to increase access to citizens. Grid and Autonomic computing that enabled us to share large volumes of information. The need for grid computing arose for efficient use of existing compute resources and maximizing information sharing. He also highlighted a growing trend in outsourcing by World Wide Web companies. The more people understood these technologies, the more services would be outsourced.
The challenges facing governments were issues of privacy; security and policy in exchange control regulations. Therefore he suggested that governments must initiate discussions and involve people at the grassroots, including NGO'S and community leaders. One such challenge was the need to bridge the digital divide, especially when Africa is lacking behind other countries.
Ms S Motubatse expressed grave concern over the dumping of technologies at schools without proper training of learners and teachers at public schools. What was being done to accommodate the use of indigenous languages in computers.
Mr M Harris pointed out that South Africa and Africa was lagging behind in the use of languages compared to countries like France and Japan. However said that language barriers could be overcome by adopting certain mechanisms like voice recognition devices attached to computers.
Mr Harris replied and that dumping computers in schools had to be stopped. The need for educating the teachers becomes greater, he added. Mr. Harris responded and said that there is need for early introduction of technologies to learners. Mentioned the Kid Smart Project in which children were learning about computers while playing. And the potential for development of these youngsters is enormous, he added.
Ms M Motubatese asked if there was a more comfortable way of learning computers for adults like her.
Mr Harris conceded that most adults without basic computer skills experience problems but added that mechanism can be put in place to enable such people to interact with the technologies and make them more user friendly.
IBM initiated programmes not just for schools but also lifelong learning projects. The learners could use computers to access information on mathematics and science. Therefore he said schools have to embrace the changes in technologies.
Prof J Mahomed asked if there was security mechanism to deal with fraud and tax evasion in the use of Internet banking.
Mr Harris replied and said that in general this is responsibility of government to implement tracking devices to clamp down on those breaking exchange control regulations.
Prof Mahomed also asked if there was a way of avoiding spending more time searching for a Bill. The response was that there is other software which could be utilized to download such information, alternatively the Bill can be detached from the e-mail box and put onto the floppy disc.
Mr Dithebe asked if the challenge of bridging the digital divide required government to change its strategy in line with central priorities of NEPAD.
Mr Harris replied that this was the biggest priority of NEPAD in building technology infrastructure. If infrastructure was not sufficient, education and training was needed as well. He expressed the hope that progress was being made in that regard.
Mr Cassim asked why there were no specialised libraries where learners could access data on mathematics, science and other subjects.
Mr Harris replied that this would require cooperation between government and business sector.
Mr Cassim also asked about the use of Linux in schools.
Mr Harris said that linux would need to be part of the university curriculum before it was introduced to schools.
An organizational official asked what the impact of new technologies was on job economic empowerment of the previously disadvantaged.
Mr Harris said concerning black economic empowerment, IBM was forging partnerships with small and big IT companies owned by blacks. It was also promoting a disabled employees programme and employing women and the disabled.
The meeting was adjourned.
ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHN0LOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
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