South African government bridges digital divide with Microsoft
By Lillian Barnard, Public Sector Director, Microsoft South Africa on December 12, 2017
Filed under Microsoft in Government
At the end of October, I participated in GovTech 2017, sponsored by South Africa’s State IT Agency (SITA) to provide a thought leadership platform that showcases the latest technologies, solutions, and trends around technology in government. The conference brought together diverse stakeholders across the public and private sectors to discuss how we can all use technology to improve South Africa’s future. Given Microsoft’s vision of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more we must frequently ask ourselves, how are we making a difference? In May of this year, Microsoft announced that we will deliver Microsoft Cloud services—including Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics 365—from datacenters located in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa in 2018. I’m excited because this investment represents a tremendous opportunity to enable digital transformation for the government and people of South Africa. Right now, South Africa’s biggest challenge is determining how to take advantage of new digital technologies to deliver transformative services that unblock obstacles to education, employment, or financial stability for our citizens and drive economic development. I believe Microsoft can be the strategic partner to help the South African government deliver those services and to bridge the digital divide.
At GovTech, I actively engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges of and finding opportunities for delivering services through technology in areas with large social impact, like water and sanitation, public works, education, and healthcare. Microsoft has already partnered with the City of Johannesburg to train one million residents in adult digital literacy skills that can help them find jobs. Residents can attend programs at their local public libraries to learn how to use productivity tools like Microsoft Office, perform basic coding, and develop collaborative and entrepreneurial skills for the modern workplace. Providing the fundamentals of digital literacy helps to drive economic empowerment for citizens and create a thriving job market and entrepreneurial opportunities.
And in June of this year, the South African government took its first big step toward digital transformation by adopting Office 365 to provide a modern workplace that enables employees to be more productive and innovative in developing products and services for citizens. By moving to the cloud, SITA has the opportunity to provide cutting-edge technology, avoid IT costs and administration, and enable employees to focus on new programs. Employees across departments or even across agencies in different parts of the country can collaborate and work better together using tools like Microsoft Teams and OneDrive for Business collaborate in a secure way, and agencies can ensure that employees have secure access to the right level of information helping to create unity around programs and improve communication and collaboration across the government.
With Office 365, government employees also have access to easy-to-use, self-service analytics tools like Excel and Power BI to unlock data to access information and understand what’s happening across communities. With Power BI, employees can share data in easily consumable visual dashboards. Employees can also see data in real time, to help solve problems faster through smart citizen services, like citizen portals built on SharePoint Online that enable them to report problems with public infrastructure in real time. That information can be analyzed quickly to make changes in public transportation networks or to call out maintenance crews. Citizens can also search for information on public transportation online, so they can be aware of delays or outages due to events like construction or weather, which helps them plan for other ways to get to work or school. In addition, agencies can use the data they collect to inform programs for better city planning, to reduce traffic congestion, to help reduce crime, and to target services to the communities who need them most.
A big driver in SITA selecting Office 365 was the fact that the new Microsoft Cloud regions in South Africa will offer enterprise-grade reliability and performance combined with data residency. These local datacenters will also help government agencies and other public-sector institutions meet security and compliance challenges. As part of the Microsoft Trusted Cloud initiative, the Microsoft Trust Center provides clear documentation that describes Office 365 compliance and any updates and changes in regulations. Accessibility is also an important part of Office 365, to help drive inclusivity for government workers and citizens alike. At the highest level, Microsoft incorporates digital accessibility into all our designs using an inclusive design process when building capabilities for Office 365, and we continuously validate and refine those designs through conformance and usability testing.
At Microsoft, we are excited that South Africa has trusted Microsoft to be a part of its digital journey and named us as a strategic partner for government. I know that we have only just begun to recognize the far-reaching opportunities for digital transformation in areas like education, health care, public safety, and government administration. Learn more about Microsoft’s plans to deliver Microsoft Cloud in South Africa.