As universes collide, ANC policy fails ICT: Analyst

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Two universes exist in South Africa and these two are often parallel yet have very few common touch points. The Recent ANC NGC 2015 policy discussion documents that was released preceding their conference highlight how far we have come since 1994 but clearly show how much further we have to go.

The key focus of the NGC is that of large macro societal matters. The key issues of poverty alleviation, social inequality, and of course the growth and wellbeing of the ANC is discussed in some depth.

The world as we know it is undergoing huge change, with economic and social revolution breaking out across the globe. The rise of technology in all its forms is an interwoven thread in all of these changes. Never in the history of man have we been able to communicate, share, and experience so much of humanities bright, and dark moments in so much detail and in such depth.

Communication with a special mention of mobile communication, along with the precipitous rise in social media, have changed the face of the globe fundamentally. An uprising or social revolution in places that would have been ignored 50 years ago becomes global news in seconds. The butterfly affect has never been so apparent. Social and political currents that moved in decades or centuries often take minutes in our new connected society.

The ANC NGC 2015 policy discussion documents makes much of social and societal issues, as it should, and touches on a broad range of topics in some detail. The unequal nature of our society and the tension between the first world and third world component is clearly understood and the reconciling of the needs of each are articulated.

Technology or ICT’s as the document notes, is seen clearly as an enabler and potential solution to assist in some of the challenges the document highlights. In my opinion this is a huge lost opportunity. There is no doubt that housing, health, and provision of basic services, is of more importance to the poorest of the poor than shiny technological gadgets, and the upliftment of those in rural areas is key to the long term growth and wellbeing of the country, but the NGC treats technology as a narrow tool for social upliftment and policy execution.

Technology has many forms, and it is not only ICT, Information and communication technology, it is far broader than that. Connected societies have fundamentally shifted in their use and application of sensors, data, mobile and fixed communication. In more developed societies where the basics that the NGC addresses are not such a problem, the impact of technology has been deep and profound. From communication, both fixed and mobile, to the internet, along with big data and analytics based on these platforms and systems. Throw the transformative power of social media and society at large has transformed at all levels.

A tragic picture of a child who drowned in the family’s desperate attempt to escape war and poverty and migrate to Europe changed an entire movement from a scourge into a humanitarian relief exercise almost overnight.

The broader societal changes being wrought by simple smart devices are barely touched on in the document and this fundamental enabler in the hands of even those in deep rural communities is going to accelerate exponentially.

Technology is no longer a simple tool. Just as electricity and the stream engine preceded and then fuelled the industrial society that transformed the world from a rural agrarian basis to a technological industrial base. Electricity also started the growth of industries that rewrote the fabric of society on a global scale. Technology today and the rise of the information society is now doing the same thing.

We are in the midst of the next revolution fuelled by technology. It is not simply a tool to be used, thought there is that factor, it has become the tool that manages, creates, and fulfils almost everything that we do.

No business transaction can occur without some technological intervention, apart form some small barter trade on a local level.

No government or business origination can exist without deep integration of technology in order to function. Governments and society at large use the tools yet the ANC does not see the need to make technology an inextricably linked core of all the processes and functions that must be managed.

The NGC document is clearly a policy document based on deep research and understanding of the ANC’s vision of South Africa. The glaring omission of Technology and its benefits will hamper and frustrate many of the key items the ANC wish to achieve.
A perfect example is how technology could be used to clearly understand what rural people actually do, where they travel, and how they consume basic services. This can be achieved using the ubiquitous mobile phone even without advanced smart capabilities. This deep integration of technology along with analytics would allow resource allocation and far sharper planning.

The main challenge is however one that is not easily solved. There needs to be a certain maturity of usage in order to make technology truly useful. In the absence of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, and housing, along with structures for basic and more advanced education it is easy to see technology as a nice to have rather than a must have. The NGC document clearly indicates that ICT’s are useful once the other matters have been effectively dealt with.

That may have sounded logical a few years ago but that is not how society or technology world today. Technology in all its forms and its uses is now a fundamental part of the equation in an inextricable way. Technology and ICT must be part of the strategic framework of any solution from the inception to the completion of any project.

If the ANC wish to uplift rural areas and bring education up to acceptable levels, they will have to use platforms, methodologies and systems that are deeply rooted in technology to do this. These solutions rely deeply on technology for their execution and operations in ways that need levels of education along with platforms that must exist in order for them to operate efficiently.

Broadband is one such platform, just as electricity, broadband must be provided on a utility basis to power the mobile communication platforms and other communication initiatives to achieve national goals. These platforms themselves can’t exist with the basic building blocks to make them useful.

In short the needs of two parallel and almost mutually exclusive societies are a major challenge today in South Africa. The NDG rightly focuses of the needs of the lower end of society recognising that inequality creates social tension and nothing can be achieved unless that is addressed.

The fundamental issue here is that I CT’s or technology, is treated as a useful but hardly a necessary tool in the provision and implementation of these initiatives, and not as a fundamental building block that informs, drives and facilitate the very change the ANC advocates.

– By Steven Ambrose, CEO: Strategy Worx